The coaching staff of the Denver Broncos has some very tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. Several players who contributed significantly to the 2013 Super Bowl run will not make the roster, and some talented young players will be playing for other teams after August 30th. Although the decisions are tough to make, this is a good problem to have as it indicates the depth and talent of the current team.
Already at this point in the preseason the roster is loaded with sure bets to make the roster. I see 47 players that are a lock (or near lock) to make it, leaving a battle for six spots between 20 players who have a legitimate shot at sticking.
Barring injuries, this is how the roster will shake out for opening day.
Running Backs (4)
Wide Receivers (5)
Tight Ends (3)
Offensive Line (10)
Defensive Tackles (4)
Defensive Ends (5)
Special Teams (3)
The two players making the grade, who may come as a surprise to some people, are Matt Paradis and Corey Nelson. Some have opined that the Broncos will try to sneak them onto the practice squad. Nelson is the most likely candidate for that, but I doubt the Broncos will risk sending both players through waivers in an attempt to get them on the practice squad. I just don’t think the Broncos are willing to let two of their drafted players, who have shown promise at times during practice, play for other teams.
The biggest reason Paradis will make the roster is Will Montgomery. Since Montgomery can play center or guard, his versatility will give the Broncos flexibility to hang onto an additional prospect at any spot on the interior of the line. If a starter at guard goes down with an injury, Montgomery will be the first to fill that spot and Paradis would then become the back-up center and Ben Garland will remain the back-up guard.
Nelson will make it for two reasons; he will show he can contribute significantly on special teams in the next two preseason games and has more upside than Steven Johnson. I really like Johnson, but for some reason the coaching staff isn’t sold on him and Nelson is more athletic. They may very well go with one of their draft picks this year because of the upside and the team will need a back up weakside linebacker until Danny Trevathan returns from injury.
Norwood has been playing well, but neither he nor anybody else for that matter has really made the coaching staff take notice in the return game. Unless he makes a huge splash on returns in the next two preseason games the Broncos will settle on Omar Bolden for kick-offs and Wes Welker returning punts (mostly fair catching them).
Last year the Broncos only carried four receivers on the roster and a return specialist. This does not bode well for a sixth receiver on the roster in 2014. Trevathan’s injury has also added to the pressure of not keeping that sixth receiver. Norwood or another returner would have to be a game changer to make the Broncos cut someone else to make room, but so far that just isn’t the case. With this offense, having great punt returns isn’t a necessity, hanging onto the ball and not losing yards are, however. (Update: Norwood suffered an unknown leg injury in practice today)
Unrein, Bruton and Ihenacho are good players who are going to be pushed out by better players. Unrein has been valuable and has played solid this off-season, but Marvin Austin has just been so much better. Ihenacho has not been very good this off-season, especially in coverage, but he has skills and contributed last year. The Broncos will have a tough time keeping Bruton because John Boyett has out played him. John Fox really loves veteran players, but Boyett is so much better in pass coverage than Bruton. He has also been around the ball consistently on special teams. Bruton is from the old regime and has never lived up to his potential. Fox will agonize over this cut, but Boyett has earned the shot at the expense of both Bruton and Ihenacho.
This Broncos team has talent and depth at almost every position. Cutting players, especially veterans who have become fan favorites is never easy. Letting go of solid players is a testament to how stacked this roster is heading into the regular season.