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Upgrade or Downgrade: What RB Nate McCrary & DB Mike Ford Bring to Broncos

Did the Broncos upgrade or downgrade the roster by virtue of their two waiver claims which necessitated two cuts?

By Tuesday's deadline, the Denver Broncos got under the 53-man limit but added two new players via waiver claims. The corresponding moves saw Denver part with running back Royce Freeman and defensive lineman Jonathan Harris. 

The new arrivals are former Detroit cornerback Mike Ford, and former Baltimore running back Nate McCrary. Neither name is likely to trigger a response from Broncos fans so what about these two intrigued the team enough to not only put a waiver claim in but to do so at the expense of a recent third-round draft pick in Freeman? 

Mike Ford | DB

Ford was an interesting name to see hit the waiver wire. Many around the Detroit Lions expected him to make the roster because of his special teams play. That is also why it wasn't surprising to see the Broncos pick him up, who emphasized special teams over their final few roster moves to get down to the final 53. The third-phase unit struggled during the preseason, drawing the ire of Vic Fangio. 

During his time in Detroit, Ford was primarily a gunner on special teams coverage units. He saw 152 snaps on coverage units over his three seasons, though all but eight came in his final two years. He picked up eight special teams tackles over the last two seasons, which may not seem like much, but it is a fair amount. 

There is no doubt that special teams were a large factor in picking him up, but Ford offers more. Defensively, he hasn't been great, but he has shown growth each year and is coming into his own as a player. 

On top of his continued improvement, Ford brings a lot of versatility to play on the boundary, in the box, in the slot, or even in deep coverage. Fangio's history of coaching up defensive backs implies the veteran hopes he can get more out of Ford defensively.

Another factor playing into this acquisition falls with Broncos' GM George Paton having spent so much time with the Minnesota Vikings. Paton got to see Ford twice a year for the past three years and is probably very familiar with the player from afar. 

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Nate McCrary | RB

McCrary has a chance at the third running back spot. Of course, you have to bring it on special teams when you are the third running back, which Freeman didn't do. 

Last year, Freeman played 157 total snaps on special teams, 78 of them on coverage units where he missed two tackles.  Now, there is a question as to whether McCrary offers up special teams ability. 

He had only two total snaps on special teams for the Baltimore Ravens this preseason. However, Coach Fangio made it clear that the team's scouts had been keeping an eye on McCrary for a while. 

McCrary showed a lot during preseason as a ball-carrier with 42 total carries, which was second-most in the NFL. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which was tied ninth-most and was 0.3 yards more than Freeman. However, what really stood out was McCrary's ability to force missed tackles, where he finished fifth with nine total. 

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur likes to use his running backs in the passing game, which is another unknown factor with McCrary. He was only targeted three times, catching all three, but it's a limited sample size. This was something Freeman did extremely well and was probably his best attribute. 

Overall, it is an interesting move to let go of Freeman for McCrary with so much unknown about him, especially as a receiver, as a special teams player, and his poor play as a blocker. However, this was likely a move sparked by the feeling that it was just time to part ways with Freeman and give him a chance to catch on elsewhere.

Upgrade or Downgrade?

McCrary: Whatever the reason Paton let Freeman go, despite the upside with McCrary, this was a downgrade for the Broncos, even though it is only for a few weeks until Mike Boone returns from injured reserve. 

Ford: This was a good move for the Broncos to add more help to a special teams unit that needed it. Plus, Ford's trajectory as a defensive back is on the rise. 

Hopefully, the Broncos can develop both of them and really come out on top. 


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