The Denver Broncos will kick off their 2020 NFL season on September 14th against the Tennessee Titans. However, prior to the Week 1 slate of games, the first wave of cuts will take place. The Broncos have plenty of star power on the defensive side of the ball, led by veterans Von Miller and the newly-acquired Jurrell Casey, but there some areas of the defense that make it difficult when breaking down the potential depth chart for the Broncos in 2020. Who will be the cornerbacks behind A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan? Will the Broncos keep seventh-round draft pick Derrek Tuszka on the 53-man roster?
We will take a look at the significant training camp battles on the defense and see who we think makes the Broncos final roster. Who will be the most prominent names left off the final 53-man roster?
Predicting the Broncos defensive line
After the departure of veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe, the Broncos were looking for someone to fill the void he left. Denver quickly replaced the veteran by trading a seventh-round draft pick to the Titans for the perennial Pro-Bowler Casey as well as re-signing the fan-favorite defensive end, Shelby Harris. The team also retained their most significant surprise of the 2019 season, nose tackle Mike Purcell. Seeking more depth along the defensive front, Denver selected Arkansas defensive lineman McTelvin Agim in the fourth round.
The starters for this group are pretty set in stone, as the starting three will likely be Casey, Harris, and Purcell handling the middle. Dre’Mont Jones is looking to build off his strong rookie campaign, while Demarcus Walker is still trying to show that he belongs on the roster. Newcomers Christain Covington and DeShawn Williams are unlikely to make the final cut, as the Broncos will most likely keep just six defensive linemen in 2020.
Final predictions for the Broncos defensive line
If they do indeed keep six defensive linemen, we’ll see the starting three in Casey, Purcell, and Harris, followed by Jones, Agim, and Walker. Agim’s versatility and potential will be excellent to have behind Casey, who is one of the league’s most versatile defensive linemen. Walker is in the final year of his deal, and while I think he will make the final roster, there is still a lot that he must show to head coach Vic Fangio even after having a career season in 2019.
Cut: Christian Covington, DeShawn Williams
Looking at the Broncos outside linebackers in 2020
Getting Bradley Chubb back from his devastating ACL tear in 2019 is truly a blessing for this Broncos defense, as his presence was greatly missed last season. Miller, who has come into training camp with a completely refreshed mindset, looks to show Broncos Country that he can still play at a high level. With those two locked as starers, the biggest competition at this position remains in the depth behind the starters.
Jeremiah Attaochu was pleasantly surprising in 2019 and was brought back by the team to back up Miller and Chubb. Malik Reed, an undrafted free agent in 2019, is looking to build on his rookie year but has competition behind him with Tuszka, the seventh-round pick out of North Dakota State. However, with Justin Hollins possibly playing a similar role that he did in 2019, both outside and inside linebacker, Tuszka’s true competition is Malik Carney. Still, Tuszka’s versatility and explosiveness make him the ideal player in Fangio’s system. While Tuszka has a strong chance to make the final roster, he looks to be more likely a practice squad stash for the Broncos as he refines his skills for NFL competition.
Final predictions for Denver’s outside linebackers
Miller and Chubb are guaranteed to make the roster. Attaochu proved last season why he could be a reliable backup, and Reed filled in nicely when Miller was forced to sit out because of an injury. Tuszka will most likely be put on the practice squad and be one of the players they protect under the new practice squad rules. It is tough to imagine the team parting with Hollins due to his versatility, meaning that Carney is likely the player the team moves on from.
Cut: Malik Carney
Practice Squad: Derrek Tuszka
Who will be the Broncos inside linebackers in 2020?
Broncos rookie Justin Strnad will not play in the 2020 season after suffering a wrist injury that required surgery. The team brought in free agent linebacker Mark Barron to fill that role and be a security blanket in case starting inside linebacker Todd Davis, who has been dealing with a calf injury during camp, suffers a severe injury and cannot play alongside the rising star linebacker Alexander Johnson. Barron, who played with the Steelers in 2019, will have a vital role in the Broncos defense, as he will likely be tasked with covering running backs and tight ends. While Barron may be a lock to make the final roster, there are still several others fighting for a spot in the linebacker room.
As I mentioned before, Hollins’ versatility all but ensures that he will be on the final roster. Josey Jewell, Joseph Jones, and second-year linebacker Josh Watson are all fighting for the final linebacker spot with Strnad on injured reserve. Their role will heavily depend on their ability to produce on special teams, something that both Jewell and Jones have been exceeding at. Watson looks to be the odd man out, but he looks likely to be a possible practice squad player that the team will keep stashed away.
Final predictions for the Broncos inside linebackers
Johnson and Davis will start the season as the Broncos inside linebackers, with Barron being used in nickel packages to provide pass coverage. Hollins will likely serve a split role between inside and outside linebacker, and I think Jewell takes the final spot due to his contributions on special teams. Watson will be placed on the practice squad in case of another injury to the group.
Cut: Joseph Jones
Practice Squad: Josh Watson
Examining the Broncos defensive backs in 2020
The cornerback group was arguably the position group that had the most question marks on the Broncos’ depth chart when it comes to the defense heading into the 2020 NFL season. After the departure of long-time Broncos corner Chris Harris Jr., Denver traded for a new number one guy in Bouye, acquiring him from Jacksonville for a fourth-round draft pick. Bryce Callahan, who missed the entire 2019 season with a foot injury, appears to be healthy and will make his Broncos debut in 2020, primarily as a slot defender in Fangio’s defense. The third spot is one of the hottest competitions of Broncos camp thus far.
With multiple players like De’Vante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom, Davontae Harris, and 2020 draft pick Michael Ojemudia battling to be the Broncos third corner, Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will have their work cut out for them when filling out the Broncos 2020 depth chart. Ojemudia seems to be a perfect fit for this defense as a sure-tackling corner, but Bausby’s play in 2019, prior to a season-ending neck injury, warranted enough for him to be the starter in 2020. Fangio did say at the NFL Combine that the team would be coming out in more nickel and dime looks defensively, so keeping more corners and specifically, slot defenders looks to be the plan. Undrafted rookie Essang Bassey appears to be on the outside looking in but could have a developmental role on the practice squad.
Is safety a position of concern for the Broncos?
Safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson will return in 2020 as one of the most talented secondary duos in the league. However, while the Broncos have strong starters at the position, they lack quality depth. Trey Marshall played well in his two starts for the Broncos in 2019, and will likely play a significant role this season. Alijah Holder and Duke Dawson are two players that can provide versatility within this secondary, as both could play a hybrid role as a box safety and cornerback, a position that was previously held by Will Parks.
If either Dawson or Holder can emerge as the versatile secondary player in this scheme, it could mean the end of the road for P.J. Locke III, who could have been a good developmental player behind Jackson. It could also spell the end for 2020 undrafted free agent Douglas Coleman III, who could still end up being a practice squad player.
Predicting the Broncos defensive backs in 2020
Bouye and Callahan will be the top two starters in the cornerback group, but I think Bausby will end up coming away with the third cornerback role. Ojemudia will likely be close behind him, possibly even starting at some point during the season. Still, he has been dealing with injuries during camp, and that could hamper his playing opportunities. Harris and Yiadom will round out the corners, with Dawson securing a hybrid role.
The safety room may remain thin with just Simmons, Jackson, and Marshall. Still, with Dawson playing a more versatile role and Barron also being another potential option in the secondary, there’s more room for the Broncos’ defense to carry extra corners on the 2020 depth chart.
Cut: P.J. Locke III, Alijah Holder
Practice Squad: Douglas Coleman III, Essang Bassey