Cut-down day is a cruel reality for many NFL players. Trimming 90 players down to 53 is a difficult task.
Many players who have toiled through training camp and preseason will be on the outside looking in and some may never get a chance again to live out their professional football dreams. Players can hopefully take solace in the fact that every year there are surprises that nobody saw coming — moves that have seen experienced veterans leaving with their walking papers to make room for the unknown or unheralded up-and-comer.
For the Denver Broncos, they are not a team immune to a cut-down day shocker that has left many talking heads, well, shaking their head. It's early in the evaluation process, but here are three darkhorse players who will still remain on the team come the first week of September.
Surprise 1: Horace Richardson, CB
Richardson is on his fourth team since he entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2017. He has bounced around a few practice squads and has seen zip for playing time in a regular-season game.
His NFL pedigree would suggest that he would be a solid camp body, contribute during preseason games when starters weren’t going to play, and then land on the Broncos' practice squad if he was lucky. However, the solid impression he made in the Hall of Fame Game against the Atlanta Falcons has to have the team taking notice.
After reviewing the film, Richardson simply made plays all evening. One play, in particular, came early in the game when he read a screen pass perfectly, beat the block, and made a sudden tackle causing a loss of yardage on the play.
He stuck with his receivers, did not yield any significant yardage, and played well on special teams. More recognizable names like Isaac Yiadom and De’Vante Bausby seemed to get more spotlight that night, but Richardson played just as well. Spotlight or not, he had a solid statistical night logging five total tackles, two for lost yardage and contributed in ways that don’t show up in the box score.
If he keeps up this type of effort through preseason, the Broncos will have a tough time cutting him. Having Kareem Jackson in a hybrid role, may ease the need for five cornerbacks, which would be unfortunate for Richardson, but he has shown so far that he can be a regular contributor.
Surprise 2: Brendan Langley, WR
Langley has done nothing to stand out at the wide receiver position and had a big gaffe in last Thursday’s game when he muffed a punt. That usually doesn’t bode well for making the team.
Luckily for him, nobody else really separated themselves for the sixth wide receiver position either. The muffed punt, although a huge error, wasn’t a simple lack of concentration while fielding an easy punt.
It was a play that Langley was hustling to make a catch on a short punt so that the ball would not bounce for more distance. Coaches have to appreciate that he was involved in a “hustle” play and made a mistake. He has to make that catch, but it wasn’t a nail in the proverbial coffin.
Furthermore, Langley's only competition from a player who can receive punts and kickoffs is River Cracraft. Cracraft has dealt with injuries and has to make up some serious ground over the next few weeks to make the team.
Right now Langley hasn’t played himself on or off the team. His roster status isn’t because he has shown bright, it’s more that he is one of only a few options that can contribute in both the punting and kicking game while being a sixth wide receiver.
What he does bring is significant versatility. He is valuable on special teams, can contribute with deep speed on the offense, and play cornerback in a pinch. The game today values that type of versatility and those players tend to stick.
Surprise 3: Malik Reed, OLB
Reed came in as an undrafted rookie with significant potential. After a college career where he logged 22 sacks and 38.5 tackles for a loss, it is clear he can make some impact plays.
The big question was, could that production translate to the NFL with Reed’s undersized frame? Having only one game to answer this question (the Hall of Fame Game), it would be a 'yes'.
Reed dominated the players across from him. Granted, it is lower level of competition in preseason, but he can only play against those players the opposing team puts out on the field.
He used good burst off the snap to get after the quarterback, logging a sack and a hit. He also made a tackle for a loss in the run game to go with four total tackles. He was a disruptive force and the Broncos will be hard-pressed to part with him on cut-down day.
Furthermore, injuries to the inside linebacker group could force rookie Justin Hollins to be a backup inside until all are healthy, which would leave room for Reed on the outside. All said, Reed has some talent and the team has needs which bodes well for him.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.