Midweek Musings: Final Roster Cuts Won’t Be That Easy

Hello, Bronco fans! As expected, the chatter at Thin Air has increased now that the first preseason game is in the books. I’ve read a lot of thoughts about who looked good and who didn’t, which is expected. But I wanted to take those thoughts and give everyone some perspective on how difficult it’s going to be to keep everyone you happen to like.

As you know, every NFL team will have a 53-man roster and a 10-member practice squad. I will keep the focus on the 53-man roster so that people understand why there may be some decisions made that you may not like or want to make.

The best way to figure out who is likely to make the 53-man roster is to approach it this way: Start with reserving three spots for your kicker, punter and long snapper, then set aside the spots for players who are roster locks. Once that is done, you will know exactly how many spots are left for players who are on the bubble.

Let’s begin this exercise. First, account for your punter, kicker and long snapper, and that’s three spots down. Aaron Brewer is the long snapper, and you can pick whichever kicker and punter you want. No matter who you pick, you are left with 50 spots.

So what happens to those 50 spots? Let’s start with the roster locks on offense.

Quarterback: This one is easy. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler will be the starter and backup. Down to 48 spots.

Running back: C.J. Anderson is obvious. Montee Ball is not likely going to be trade bait, because he has two years left on his rookie deal and comes at such a low cost, it doesn’t make sense to part ways with him just yet. Ronnie Hillman certainly made a strong case for a roster spot, so I think it’s safe to assume he’ll stick around. This gives you three backs, one who enters the final year of his rookie deal (Hillman), one who has a year left after this (Ball) and one who will be a restricted free agent who the Broncos must decide what level to tender him at (Anderson). With three more spots committed, you are down to 45 left.

Fullback: This one is easy. James Casey will have this spot, because he is outplaying Joe Don Duncan thus far. (Yes, I am aware of another player, but we’ll get to him later.) Down to 44 spots left.

Wide receiver: We know the three sticking around: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. That takes us down to 41.

Tight end: Owen Daniels and Virgil Green are your roster locks. Were it not for Jeff Heuerman’s season-ending injury, he would have likely taken a roster spot. As it is, he’ll go on injured reserve once the Broncos can safely put him there without having to expose him to waivers. Heuerman won’t count toward the active roster, of course, so we have two TE spots locked up and 39 spots left.

Offensive line: Ty Sambrailo, Max Garcia, Matt Paradis, Louis Vasquez and Ryan Harris are the starters and showed no signs of losing those spots. And considering that Shelley Smith and Michael Schofield did well for themselves when they stepped in alongside the first unit in the preseason opener (remember, Vasquez and Harris didn’t play the entire first half), they look like good bets to make the final roster. So we’ll call it seven O-linemen that should make it.

With the locks on offense added, we are down to 32 spots. Now you need to fill out your defense, so let’s begin.

Defensive tackle: Sylvester Williams is a lock. I think Darius Kilgo will be a safe bet as well, as he leads the race to back up Williams. So two more spots are taken, 30 are left.

Defensive end: Derek Wolfe will make the final roster, and even though he’ll begin the season on a four-game suspension, we need to account for his spot. We know Malik Jackson is a lock, and it’s very likely Vance Walker will stick around because he can play defensive tackle. At this point, Antonio Smith may stick around, given there are no new developments with his legal issues. Kenny Anunike played so well in the preseason opener, you have to think he makes it, and not just to fill in for Wolfe while he’s suspended. So five spots are gone, 25 left.

Outside linebacker: You know three who are in: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray. And considering how good Shaquil Barrett looked in the preseason opener, it seems safe to bet he’ll make it. Four more spots taken, 21 left.

Inside linebacker: The likely roster locks are Brandon Marshall, Danny Trevathan and Todd Davis. We’ll stick with those three for now, leaving 18 spots left.

Cornerback: Again, there are three roster locks: Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. So with three more down, we have 15 to go.

Safety: T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart are locks. Omar Bolden tops the Broncos’ depth chart as a returner (he didn’t play the preseason opener because of tightness in his hamstring) and David Bruton is valuable to special teams, so I expect those two are roster locks as well.

So when all is said and done, you are left with 11 roster spots. Just how are you going to divide up those spots? Let’s look at what the Broncos are likely to consider.

* Third quarterback.
* Fourth running back who can be the backup fullback.
* Two or three more wide receivers, one of whom can return punts and kicks.
* One more tight end.
* Two or three more offensive linemen.
* One more outside linebacker.
* One or two more inside linebackers.
* One to three more cornerbacks.

If you take the maximum number of every position considered above, that leaves you with 15 positions you are considering and 11 roster spots to fill them. Now you can see why it isn’t simply a matter of not carrying two kickers on the roster or dropping an undrafted rookie who isn’t performing well.

You say you want to keep Trevor Siemian? That means you have to sacrifice at another position at which you may want depth.

You think Kapri Bibbs should make the final cut because you like him? Then he’ll need to show he can play fullback or special teams well or the Broncos will go with Juwan Thompson.

Oh, you didn’t realize that Ben Garland might be on the roster bubble now? Hard to imagine how that could have happened when he was listed as a starting guard in OTAs. Either Garland didn’t get better or the likes of Garcia and Smith stepped up their games in training camp. Regardless, Garland is no longer a safe bet to make the final cut.

And do you realize it’s not just Andre Caldwell that’s in danger of being a WR cut? Considering that both Solomon Patton and Jordan Norwood flubbed punts, they aren’t exactly helping their cases. On the other hand, the door may be opening for Isaiah Burse, who may have had a fair catch on his one punt return, but he at least fielded it cleanly and was in position to do so. And Bennie Fowler is on the rise, but if he makes it, somebody else won’t.

And what about players I haven’t mentioned yet, such as Gino Gradowski, Chris Clark, Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter, Lorenzo Doss, Taurean Nixon, Josh Furman, Steven Johnson, Lamin Barrow and Lerentee McCray? Those are the most notable names. There may even be a player buried on the depth chart who you thought stood out in the preseason opener.

There are a lot of tough choices the Broncos will have to make to narrow down the final roster. It’s not as simple as carrying one kicker on the roster or cutting a veteran you aren’t fond of. Simply put, somebody you readers like will not make the final roster. So prepare yourselves to make that tough choice when the time comes.

With that said, it’s still early and battles for final roster spots are not over yet. When the first round of cuts comes up, you’ll see the Broncos place Heuerman on IR (because he won’t have to go through waivers at that point) and it’s likely the Broncos will narrow down their QB field (meaning Zac Dysert is in trouble), likely the RB field (either Stewart or Bibbs may be gone by that point) and a few fringe players on the offensive line or on defense (Reggie Walker could be the first veteran cut).

But if you sit down and think about who your final cuts would be, you’re probably going to have to deal with an unfortunate truth: You may have to part ways with somebody you like.

ETA: This post has been corrected to reflect that practice squads will be 10 players, not seven as I originally wrote.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.