The Broncos D looks to be a Top-5 unit again in 2019. (Photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Predicting the Broncos 53-man roster is often an easy exercise, and a hard exercise. The Top 40 spots are no-brainers. Spots 40-50 are pretty easy too, but in this case, when you’re talking about the 2019 Broncos, and because of the length of some pre-season injuries, it is a little trickier this year than in years past.
I asked Vic Fangio Thursday how many roster spots are actually up for grabs, and he suggested a few more than I would’ve expected. “I think there’s still a good bit, myself, definitely in the double-digits,” he said.
Also, it’s worth noting, this is a prediction of what the 53-Man roster will be Saturday at 2:00PM Mountain Time when the initial roster must be set. It’s not uncommon for the John Elway, and really every GM to claim a player or 2 from the Waiver Wire on Sunday. I think this year, it’s a virtual certainty that they will claim a returner. In fact, My 53-man roster is actually only a 52-Man roster, because if and when River Cracraft is on the roster, I think he’ll be replaced Sunday.
This position group is pretty straightforward. If Lock were healthy, this would only be a 2-person QB room, and likely Brett Rypien on the practice squad. I think Rypien is on the practice squad, assuming he clears waivers, and I think Hogan will be gone a few weeks into the season.
Running Back (5)
This room is more crowded than it should be, because if Riddick were healthy, Booker would likely be released, or traded, but he’ll likely be here for a few weeks until Riddick returns. Janovich’s injury doesn’t only effect the running backs room, it also informs the Tight End room. Both backs should be back soon, and when they return a couple of weeks into the season, there are likely to be multiple roster moves to add more depth at other positions and to bolster special teams.
Wide Receiver (6)
Let’s start with the asterisk on Cracraft. I do think they’ll scour the waiver wire for any returner that’s an upgrade. I asked Fangio Tuesday if they’d consider carrying a “returner” who didn’t really play another position, and he said they would, so, if someone like JoJo Natson is released by the Rams, maybe he finds a home in Denver. The rest of the wideouts are pretty straightforward. Winfree will likely only dress on Sundays early in the year if he’s on every special team. He could actually be a candidate to return kicks, but he’s not ideal for that role.
Tight End (4)
I really wanted to put Jake Butt here, but another setback following the Rams game isn’t good for his odds of making the 53. I do think the Broncos will put him on IR again, and hope that he can get back to full strength next year. When Butt was selected in the 5th round in 2017 I proclaimed that he was the “steal of the draft!” I’m gonna hold out hope that he eventually gets the chance to prove me right.
Also, Charles may not be around after Jano returns.
Offensive Line (8)
Player Not Currently on Roster
The starters are obvious. It was encouraging that Leary returned to practice this week. Will his knee hold up will be a question mark all year, but Broncos fans can cross their fingers he isn’t too bothered by it. Wilkinson may actually back up 4 positions, and he certainly will be “next man up” if Leary can’t go. Schlottmann may be a place holder, but because he can snap, and has gotten the most reps as the 2nd left guard, he feels like he’s close-ish to a lock. The 8th lineman is likely not on this team, but maybe, and in this case, hopefully, I’m wrong, and Sam Jones might get more time to develop under Mike Munchak. If not, Jones will be a virtual lock to join the practice squad if another team doesn’t snap him up.
Defensive Line (6)
With Fangio saying that “double-digit” positions are up for grabs, this is likely one of the areas he’s referring to. The Top 4 players are set. It feels like Purcell, Walker and DeShawn Williams are 3 guys battling for 2 spots. Thus, I’m not convicted on the final 2, but I do expect they’ll carry 6 D-Linemen.
Outside Linebacker (4)
This is one of the more straightforward units. When Elway released Jeff Holland and then Dekoda Watson it was obvious they not only like Reed, but after playing Hollins for almost all 69 plays on the edge, after working inside in nickel throughout the majority of the pre-season. Hollins is a work in progress inside, but he was a solid pass-rusher at Oregon and forced 8 fumbles from there.
Joe Jones/Josh Watson
If Jones is closer to returning than we think, maybe he makes the 53. Watson either makes the 53, or more likely, is released, signed to practice squad, or signed to the 53 on Sunday or Monday if Davis and/or Jones ends up on the IR Sunday. Also, this feels like another position where the Broncos will be scouring the waiver wire to bolster.
Chris Harris Jr.
Shamarko Thomas/Jamal Carter
Chris Harris told me that he looks at it as 10 DBs, however you want to slice it. Whether that’s 4 Corner and 6 safeties, or in this case, 4 CBs, 4 Safeties, plus Jackson, who’s kind of both, they’re grouped together. I have Thomas or Carter primarily for special teams. There’s certainly a chance they both make it, and then you’d likely see Jones or Watson and maybe even Bierria not making it, but it could be 9 DBs instead of the 10 that Harris referenced, and is usually the case.
Special Teams has been a point of contention all pre-season. McManus seems safe, and Kreiter was in the Pro Bowl. Wadman booted his best punt in his Broncos career in L.A. Saturday. It was 58 yards and a thing of beauty. I think he starts the year with Denver, unless someone else is released unexpectedly. But, I won’t be shocked if he’s not the punter at the end of the year.
So, to recap, this is an initial 53-Man roster, with changes certainly expected by Monday.