There’s one more preseason game left before final cuts are made. However, there are some indications as to who might not be sticking around on the final roster.
Last week, I made a few observations about the roster decisions and when I expected them to be made. I was wrong about the punter and it’s becoming clearer that the Broncos aren’t that concerned about keeping two receivers who can return punts and kicks. The Broncos also made a quicker decision about the tight end position, though they still need to figure out who will be the third tight end.
Although the fourth preseason game has yet to be played, I’m seeing enough information to figure out a likely 53-man roster and practice squad. So here are my predictions and what I believe will be the Broncos’ reasoning, even if I don’t agree with it.
Total offense: 24 players
QB: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch – Here’s the first roster decision I expect to be made that I don’t agree with. I think it’s for the best for the Broncos to keep three quarterbacks and make sure one is a veteran with some starting experience. However, the reports that the Broncos have contacted at least one team about Mark Sanchez, and are likely contacting others, indicates they aren’t going to keep him if they think Lynch is doing a better job. We’ll see if a parting of ways with Sanchez becomes reality, but there are hints that it will be.
RB: CJ Anderson, Devontae Booker, Ronnie Hillman
FB: Andy Janovich
The popular theory is that because the Broncos cut Britton Colquitt and are thinking about moving on from Sanchez, means that the Broncos will go with the less expensive player by default. However, that’s not necessarily the case at every position, particularly when you have a veteran who is playing with a chip on his shoulder. That’s what Hillman has done this preseason and I believe the Broncos will keep him because $2M isn’t that much to pay for a backup RB who can start a few games if necessary. There’s always the possibility that the Broncos trade Hillman, who would cost just $1.5M for any team who takes him, a very reasonable salary to pay for a backup RB who could start.
I list Janovich here because the fullback will be considered the fourth RB. In other words, don’t count on four RBs who are considered “halfbacks” to make the final cut.
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor
I thought that the Broncos might keep two WRs who can return punts and kicks, but given that the Broncos have let Bralon Addison go, I may be wrong about that though process. If they wanted to have two players who can handle return duties, why let one of the rookies go? And it’s not like Raymond has stood out that much from Addison. But the decision to waive Addison tells me the Broncos are more concerned about a sixth receiver who can best contribute as an offensive weapon when needed. Taylor still needs polishing, but he’s shown more on the offensive side than Raymond has.
TE: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, John Phillips
This one seems easy enough. Krieger-Coble is a candidate for the practice squad, but the fourth preseason game could be his chance to surpass Phillips for the third tight end spot.
OL: Russell Okung, Max Garcia, Matt Paradis, Michael Schofield, Donald Stephenson, Ty Sambrailo, Darrion Weems, James Ferentz, Connor McGovern
The first five should be the starting offensive line for the Week 1 opener against Carolina. Sambrailo and Weems will be utilized at either guard or tackle, depending on what situations arise. Ferentz may be battling an injury, but he knows the system well and has the edge over other linemen. McGovern may be a game day inactive much of the season (at least once Sambrailo is cleared to play), but it’s clear the Broncos have high hopes for his long-term prospects.
Total defense: 26 players
DE: Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, Jared Crick, Billy Winn, Henry Melton
I don’t think the Broncos would sign Melton just to cut him after a couple of weeks of preseason action. It’s more than likely that the Broncos want to evaluate Melton and Winn during the first two weeks of the season, whether in practice or games, to see which player is the better fit for the long term. They can do that because somebody will start the season on the reserve/suspended list (who I will get to later).
DT: Sylvester Williams, Darius Kilgo
While Kyle Peko has had his moments, he’ll need to show a lot in the fourth preseason game to beat Kilgo for a roster spot. Keep in mind that the Broncos will sometimes put three of the defensive ends on the field with one lining up as the DT, so it’s not like the Broncos have to keep more than two “pure” DTs on the final roster.
OLB: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, Dekoda Watson, Vontarrius Dora
It seems unusual that the Broncos would keep six outside linebackers. Watson has made a strong case to be the fifth OLB, but Dora has done a lot to show he deserves a roster spot and that it will be difficult to slip him onto the practice squad. I’m betting the Broncos keep both, with the idea that, once Ware departs after this season, they will have their five OLB option for the future. (Side note: If Dora makes the cut, the Broncos will have another season in which an undrafted rookie makes the final roster in his first NFL season.)
ILB: Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson
I don’t think anyone will debate this one. These four inside linebackers have stood out from the rest, all with quality play.
CB: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster, Lorenzo Doss
Doss is the guy who has made the best case in the preseason to be the fifth cornerback.
S: T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Justin Simmons, Will Parks
At this point, I believe the Broncos not only want to keep Parks on the active roster, but aren’t convinced they can slip him onto the practice squad. I’ll discuss that more in a bit, but let’s get three other positions out of the way first.
K: Brandon McManus
P: Riley Dixon
LS: Casey Kreiter
Those position battles are decided. Now to the player I’ve referred to earlier.
Reserve/suspended list: Shiloh Keo
I believe the Broncos will place Keo here and use the first two weeks of the season to keep evaluating the roster. My guess is the Broncos would prefer to keep 10 defensive backs, but they’ll go with nine while evaluating Henry Melton and Billy Winn to figure who is the better veteran to keep for the defensive line rotation. After two weeks, one of them will be cut and Keo will be moved to the active roster to be the 10th defensive back.
RB: Kapri Bibbs
WR: Kalif Raymond
TE: Henry Krieger-Coble
OL: Lars Hanson, Aaron Neary
DT: Kyle Peko
OLB: Sadat Sulleyman
ILB: Kyle Kragen
CB: Taurean Nixon
S: Ryan Murphy
Bibbs still has a year of practice-squad eligibility remaining, so it’s possible he gets the nod. Among rookies, Krieger-Coble and Peko are who I believe are the most obvious candidates. I went with Hanson and Neary because they are rookies and the Broncos might believe they have a better chance to develop into depth players down the road than those who made the squad last year but haven’t shown progress.
Obviously, the Broncos will look at players who other teams cut or waive to determine if somebody can help out, and they aren’t guaranteed to keep every player they would like to add to the practice squad. Sulleyman might get claimed by another team given the potential he has shown. It’s also possible somebody has their eyes on Peko or Nixon.
Always remember: When you get a front office that does a good job finding talented players, you will have at least one position at which you have quality guys but you can’t keep them all. Some tough cuts will have to be made.