The Denver Broncos have faced a number of roster issues post-Super Bowl 50, but over the last two years, the team has progressed and gotten closer to where it needs to be. This offseason can be the one that finally gets Denver back to contending in the playoffs. For that to happen, though, this roster needs some finishing touches.
To prep for free agency and the NFL Draft, it's time to take on the Broncos' roster and focus on where they really need to upgrade. Today, I'm going to lay ou whether free agency or the draft will be the best avenue to take to fill the roster holes currently plaguing the team.
In the video above, I break down why the Broncos being armed with (projected) 12 selections is a great thing and how that arsenal of draft capital can be best utilized. And most importantly, why the Broncos' five selections in the top-100 should preclude them from trading up in the first round.
Let's take a look at the team's roster needs heading into this momentous offseason.
Right now, the Broncos have four QBs on the roster, but that will likely change during the offseason. Drew Lock is the starter, and that isn’t being questioned. The question is, who will be Lock's backup?
Joe Flacco is likely to see himself cut by the Broncos, while Brandon Allen is poised to be a restricted free agent. That would whittle it down to two quarterbacks on the roster, though the Broncos will likely look at bringing Allen back. Brett Rypien is an option for the No. 3 quarterback/practice squad spot.
The QB room has potential, but to help maximize it, these signal-callers could use some competition. I don’t see the Broncos' going after a free-agent quarterback, but one during or after the draft? Potentially.
There is no doubt that Phillip Lindsay is the guy, but after him, it's a mess. Devontae Booker is an unrestricted free agent, but don't expect him to return to the Broncos. Royce Freeman struggled in 2019 and looked slow and lost out there on the field. Freeman dealt with a lot of early contact, but part of that is due to how he lacks the burst to get back to the line of scrimmage before the front seven penetrates.
Denver also brought in Theo Riddick late in training camp, but he got hurt in the preseason and was lost to injured reserve. It was only a one-year deal, so Riddick may not be back with the Broncos.
After him, the Broncos have Khalfani Muhammad and Jeremy Cox at running back. There is just no depth, and the Broncos could use a day two pick on a running back, as well as bringing in more competition after the draft.
As for fullbacks, the Broncos are pretty set. Andy Janovich was extended during the season and Andrew Beck showed a lot of promise in his place and offers up position versatility. I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to add anyone else to the fullback room.
That running back competition I've alluded to should come through the draft and not free agency. Running back is so ubiquitous that there is no reason to bring in a player with any tread on their tires.
Courtland Sutton is great and the growth he showed in the 2019 season was huge. My colleague Lance Sanderson did a wonderful job breaking him down here.
The Broncos' WR issues are after Sutton on the depth chart. Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton have shown potential, but they don’t help the spacing issues the Broncos have. This team needs competition for the WR3 spot in the offense. Neither Patrick nor Hamilton fit as a WR2, which renders it a huge need.
For depth, Denver has 2019 sixth-rounder Juwann Winfree, Fred Brown, Trinity Benson, and Kelvin McKnight. These receivers either barely played, or were stuck on the practice squad, which makes it difficult to be high on them as a group, but they can help stoke competition with outside talent being added.
Diontae Spencer is the returner and is likely to remain in Denver, as he is an exclusive rights free agent. But it'll be as the punt/kick returner.
At the receiver position, the Broncos need a guy who can take the top off the defense, a yards-after-the-catch wideout who can take screens and actually make something happen, as well as another receiver to compete with the bottom guys.
While Denver could use three receivers right now, the team can go utilize both free agency and the draft to address the need. This WR draft class is very deep, and there are some good options out there in free agency as well who can fill these roster holes.
Noah Fant is the top guy here after being selected in the first round last year. Jeff Heuerman is a solid TE2, but he can be upgraded. Heuerman is limited, but there isn’t a rush to upgrade him because he is reliable as a blocker and receiver.
Beyond those two, the TE position is replete with injury concerns and bad play. Jake Butt hasn’t been able to stay healthy and Austin Fort had a serious injury. This past year, Troy Fumagalli was terrible and didn't resemble anything close to the player the Broncos hoped he could be when they drafted him in the fifth round back in 2018. Lastly, there's Bug Howard, who showed out in preseason action before he got hurt.
Of course, the aforementioned Beck can also play TE and he would add competition to the position thanks to his versatility.
There are a lot of injury concerns here. The Broncos can use some help at TE to add competition, but the team needs a reliable blocker. The only decent blocker currently on the roster who can be used as a full-time TE is Heuerman, but he's an average player.
A long term TE2 should be up there on the Broncos' priority list and the team should look to add two TEs to find it. Look for Denver to add one in free agency and one in the draft. Of course, with the new scheme under Pat Shurmur being in place, the value of a second TE does drop.
What will the Broncos do with Garett Bolles? He is entering his fourth year, and Denver has to decide on his fifth-year option. His play to end the 2019 season was fantastic, so the Broncos aren’t obliged to upgrade the position, but they do need to think about a long-term replacement for after the 2020 season, especially if they decline the fifth-year option.
Ja’Wuan James was added via free agency last year but has lingering injury issues that are concerning for the Broncos. The team's depth at tackle is bad, so they will need to hunt for someone who can potentially be a starter at right tackle.
Elijah Wilkinson exemplified how bad Denver's tackle depth was in 2019 but he is going to be moved back inside. That leaves Jake Rodgers if the Broncos ERFA tender him, Quinn Bailey, Calvin Anderson, and Ka’John Armstrong. That isn’t an awe-inspiring group, and the Broncos can look to add another two players to compete with them.
At least one of those tackles-to-be-added should come via free agency. The other could be acquired either through the draft, or the college free-agent ranks.
Interior Offensive Line
The Broncos aren't expected to exercise Ronald Leary's team option, which means he's on his way out, while Connor McGovern is headed to unrestricted free agency. McGovern's potential future as a Bronco is going to depend on his market. Right now, it's hard to see either Leary or McGovern being retained by the Broncos.
As a result, Wilkinson, a restricted free agent, will have a chance to compete for a starting spot and it is expected the Broncos will retain his services. Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottmann will also have a chance to compete for starting jobs at center/guard. We can’t rule out Nico Falah as well, who spent the year on injured reserve.
Dalton Risner is the only interior offensive lineman that is guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. Denver has to add to their interior and with multiple players. The team can use at least two additional bodies, and the more versatile they are, the better.
Adding one via free agency and one via the draft would be the way to go. The free-agent guard class is very strong, while it's weak in the draft.
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Interior Defensive Line
The Broncos have three defensive linemen set to be unrestricted free agents and another as an RFA. Derek Wolfe wants to stay in Denver, Adam Gotsis does as well, but Shelby Harris might want out due to issues with the coaching staff. At most, one of them will be back, but it seems more likely all three of them are gone.
Mike Purcell is the RFA who could be retained by the Broncos, but he is one that can be upgraded with someone more consistent and offering up more pass rush from the nose tackle position.
So who does that leave? Dre’Mont Jones was drafted to grow and potentially be a starter in 2020. DeMarcus Walker got benched, so it's hard to rely on him.
The rest of the D-line depth includes guys like Jonathan Harris, Deyon Sizer, Billy Winn, Kyle Peko, and Jay-Tee Tiuli. None of them can be relied on to make the jump needed to impact the roster.
Denver will need to improve their depth on the D-line and find at least two starting-caliber players. There should be at least three additions to the D-line, with one in free agency and two in the draft. Two of them can compete for the defensive end position, but the Broncos need to upgrade the nose tackle situation.
Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Justin Hollins, Malik Reed, and Malik Carney are all under contract for next year. Jeremiah Attaochu isn’t, and with the year he had in relief of Chubb, he may be looking for a starting role around the NFL.
Denver can look to add one rookie edge defender for added depth and competition, but it isn’t a must. This is one position that is relatively well-off. However, for training camp, Denver should look to bring in three rookies as the team has a good track record of finding undrafted pass-rushing gems. See: Barrett, Shaquil.
This is one position that is complex. Not because the Broncos lack talent, but because the guys they have are niche guys. Alexander Johnson had a good year, but he had some issues in coverage. Josey Jewell was solid and took the fall by being benched. The veteran Todd Davis was good against the run and in coverage, until the final few weeks of the season.
Joe Jones is an RFA and Corey Nelson a UFA. I doubt either of them are brought back by the Broncos. That leaves Josh Watson and Tre’ Crawford as the depth. The Broncos need help, and they need an athletic cover 'backer.
There should be at least three linebacker additions for the Broncos. Denver needs to search free agency for one that can start next to Johnson (Joe Schobert?) and then find depth competition in the draft/undrafted free agency.
This position is a mess for the Broncos. Chris Harris, Jr. is on his way out in free agency, Bryce Callahan has a foot injury that comes with lingering concerns, Isaac Yiadom didn’t grow, and De’Vante Bausby got hurt before he could really show what he can do. This is one of the weaker positions for the Broncos on their roster.
With the injuries the team sustained at the position, Duke Dawson and Davontae Harris saw a lot of playing time. The two flashed potential early, but quickly fell off. Maybe they can rebound, but Denver can't bet on it. All that is left is Horace Richardson and Shakial Taylor. Denver needs a lot of help.
The Broncos need to invest a lot of capital to help their cornerback room. To do this, either two free agents need to be acquired — one, a bigger get and the other, a smaller get — along with two or three rookies via the draft. Cornerback isn’t a highly-valued position in Vic Fangio’s scheme, but the Broncos have to improve this room and add a lot of competition to really field the best ones out there.
Retaining Justin Simmons to keep the duo of him and Kareem Jackson in tact is a must. In fact, the Broncos have said they won’t let Simmons go anywhere, even if that means using the franchise tag. Even so, the safety depth is going to need some help.
Will Parks is a free agent, and it seems unlikely the Broncos retain his services. Trey Marshall only made the roster because of an injury to Dymonte Thomas, so we should see a good competition between those two in 2020. Alijah Holder was also moved from cornerback to safety mid-season, so he's one to keep an eye on.
On future contracts, the Broncos signed P.J. Locke, Tyvis Powell, and Kahani Smith. Maybe one of them can step up, but who knows?
Denver doesn’t need a lot of competition here, but adding someone to compete for the No. 3 spot and pushing the bottom of the depth chart needs to be considered. Competition is always a good thing, so if Denver can acquire a viable No. 3 safety in free agency for cheap, that should be the route the team goes. If the Broncos busts out in free agency, both options need to come through the draft.
Brandon McManus is safe at kicker. Long-snapper Casey Kreiter is a free agent, but Denver may decide to go young and cheap here. The Broncos already have potential competition by bringing in Wes Farnsworth.
As for punter, Colby Wadman was bad this past year, prompting the Broncos to sign Trevor Daniel to compete for the spot. Competition can be added for long-snapper and punter, and both should be added as cheap rookies.
During the offseason, the Broncos' roster will balloon to 90 guys. Based on the veterans I foresee coming back in free agency, Denver will have 71 of the 90 spots used up. When you factor in potential free agent signings, that figure grows to a guesstimated 75.
So, the 12 draft picks the Broncos have would bring them up the 87, but you have to factor in the 10-15 undrafted rookies the team typically brings in. The arrival of some of the drafted rookies will lead to cuts of other depth players that the team views as being replaced. Guys like Sizer, Crawford, Bailey, and others, could see themselves cut from the roster to make room for new blood.
The Broncos have a lot of issues with their roster, but it's primarily with depth. It's never a bad thing to churn the bottom of the depth chart, and doing so with fresh-faced rookies is a good thing.
Don't forget to check out video above, where I talk more about how the Broncos can best utilize their 12 picks. And as always, sound off in the comment section on how you view the Broncos' roster needs.