The Denver Broncos finalized their 53-man roster for the start of the 2020 season, and we now get to see who the Broncos will have available for their Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans on Monday, September 14th. Along with every NFL team that made roster cuts over the weekend, the Broncos parted ways with several players that were initially thought to be key contributors this season. We’ll be taking a look at the final Broncos’ roster for 2020 and breaking down the most significant cuts as well as the players that did make it, and their role going forward.
Broncos keep the quarterback decision simple
There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Drew Lock wasn’t going to be “the guy” going into 2020. The biggest quarterback battle going into the 2020 season was who would be Lock’s backup, which is a refreshing sight considering the turmoil that the Broncos have gone through at the position since the retirement of Peyton Manning. Free-agent signing Jeff Driskel ended up beating out second-year quarterback Brett Rypien, the former undrafted free agent out of Boise State. The team announced they’ve waived Rypien on Saturday.
Driskel, who has spent time with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, was the clear choice to be Lock’s backup, given his experience in the league. The team will keep Rypien around on the practice squad to give them another option that has experience within the system. Rypien still needs more time to develop as an NFL quarterback, but the team seemingly does not trust him enough to be Lock’s full-time backup.
Denver’s running back committee stays put
Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon were locks to stay on the Broncos final roster in 2020 and be the primary backs in Pat Shurmur’s offense. However, there was still a big battle for the third running back spot behind the two featured backs. Third-year back Royce Freeman was in a battle with undrafted free agent LeVante Bellamy out of Western Michigan and Jeremy Cox, who signed a futures contract with the Broncos earlier this year. Freeman ultimately won the job, and both Bellamy and Cox were waived.
Somewhat surprisingly, Denver will keep both Cox and Bellamy on the practice squad, but with the expanded rules, it was always a possibility. Bellamy scored 23 touchdowns in his final season at Western Michigan and was making an impact in Broncos camp, but a revamped and improved Freeman proved to be the better option for the final roster.
The Broncos wide receiver group remains deep
After drafting three wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft, the wide receiver position was going to be one that had a lot of competition in Broncos camp. First-round pick Jerry Jeudy and second-round pick K.J. Hamler were both going to make the roster. Still, seventh-round selection Tyrie Cleveland had the most challenging road to the Broncos’ final roster in 2020. Cleveland battled with 2019 sixth-round pick Juwann Winfree along with Trinity Benson, Cody White, Kendall Hinton, and fan-favorite “Downtown” Fred Brown. Cleveland’s ability to produce on special teams and in the offense made him a difficult player to leave off the roster.
After waiving White, Benson, Hinton, Winfree, and Brown, the Broncos’ final wide receivers include Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton, Jeudy, Hamler, and Cleveland, along with Diontae Spencer who will handle return duties. The Broncos now have one of the deeper receiver corps in the league and will have the firepower for Lock to succeed.
Is this the end of the road for Juwann Winfree?
When the Broncos spent a sixth-round selection in 2019 on Winfree, they were banking on his upside, but a combination of injuries and small sample sizes never really showed who Winfree was as an NFL player. While he spent most of the 2019 NFL season inactive, he did play in three games but was mostly on special teams. I don’t think that being waived by Denver is the end of the road for the Colorado product. Winfree has some traits that are desirable at the NFL level, but he was a very raw prospect who didn’t have much production in college and needed more time to refine his skills.
The Broncos hold on to more tight ends than initially expected
After parting ways with veteran Jeff Heuerman early into training camp, the Broncos still had a lot of tight ends competing for roster spots in camp. Jake Butt, who has notably dealt with severe knee injuries in the past, was one of the players who appeared to be on the Broncos bubble, mainly due to his inability to stay healthy. Butt made the cut for the Broncos roster, beating out Troy Fumagalli who was waived, and Austin Fort who was placed on injured reserve. The biggest surprise for the tight end group wasn’t Butt, however.
Usually, in Shurmur’s offenses, he will keep four tight ends and rarely uses a fullback in his offensive formations. The Broncos kept tight end/H-back Andrew Beck on the final roster, which came as a shock to many, as that left the team with five tight ends, including Noah Fant, Nick Vannett, Butt, and 2020 fourth-round pick Albert Okwuegbunam. Beck does offer a lot of versatility and is another option in case something does happen to Butt or any other tight end in the group.
The offensive line features little change and little surprises
Going into the 2020 season, the Broncos’ offensive line looked to be one of the best groups that the team has had in recent years. After losing Ju’Wuan James for the season, Elijah Wilkinson has stepped back into the role he played last season when James went down with a knee injury. Garett Bolles will be the team’s starting left tackle next to 2019 second-round pick Dalton Risner at left guard. Rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III, who didn’t start taking first-team reps until just a couple of weeks ago, earned the starting job over Austin Schlottmann and Patrick Morris, who was waived by the team on Saturday.
Free-agent signing Graham Glasgow will start at right guard next to Wilkinson. The team also brought in veteran tackle Demar Dotson to be a safety net at the right tackle position. Besides Morris, Denver waived five other offensive linemen, including Darrin Paulo, Hunter Watts, Quinn Bailey, Tyler Jones, and Jake Rodgers, who started in Denver’s Week 17 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. After these roster cuts, the Broncos have Schlottmann doubling as both a backup center and guard, Calvin Anderson as a backup tackle, and 2020 sixth-round pick Netane Muti earning a spot as a backup guard.
Muti beats the odds to make the final Broncos roster in 2020
Muti, the sixth-round pick out of Fresno State, wasn’t necessarily a lock to make the Broncos final roster in 2020, especially after starting training camp on the injured list. After battling through injuries most of his college career, the offensive lineman made quite the impression on the Broncos staff and looks to be the next big project for offensive line coach Mike Munchak. He will be a great player to have as a backup to both Glasgow and Risner, as long as he is versatile enough to play either guard spot.
Looking at the Broncos final defensive line depth
Recently I made my final predictions for the Broncos’ defensive line depth for the 2020 season, and I ended up hitting the nail on the head. In my predictions, I had Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, and Jurrell Casey as the starting three defensive linemen, with Dre’Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker, and 2020 draft pick McTelvin Agim providing the depth. The team released DeShawn Williams and traded Christian Covington to the Bengals for linebacker Austin Calitro.
Some had Walker being the one who would be cut, but given his play last year, it’s hard to see why they would move on from him this season. This entire group appears to have depth and talent across the board, including some very versatile pieces in both Casey and Agim. Jones will look to build on his solid rookie campaign and contribute even more in his second season.
The Broncos make a surprising move at linebacker
The biggest surprise of the Broncos roster cuts came when the team released veteran linebacker, and the team’s leading tackler in 2019, Todd Davis. The sixth-year Bronco had been dealing with injuries in training camp and was in the final year of his contract. He also dealt with similar injuries last season that held him out of games during the beginning of the season. After cutting Davis, the only players left on the Broncos roster in 2020 from their Super Bowl 50 team are Von Miller and kicker Brandon McManus.
The team made another surprising cut at the position, waiving 2019 fifth-round selection Justin Hollins. Hollins was one of the more versatile linebackers on the roster, providing depth at both inside and outside backer. It is somewhat shocking to see the team not keep him on the practice squad, especially after losing rookie Justin Strnad for the season. The Broncos also waived former Colorado State linebacker Josh Watson, who was in his second season with the team.
For now, the Broncos’ inside linebackers include Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell, who will be starting next to Johnson in base packages. The newly-acquired Mark Barron will be alongside Johnson in sub-packages, with Joe Jones and Calitro providing depth and special teams experience. It will be interesting to see how this group, and the defense, in general, respond to the loss of a leader like Davis.
Outside linebackers remain intact for the Broncos
The outside linebacker group was all but set in stone this offseason with the return of Bradley Chubb and the retainment of Jeremiah Attaochu. Chubb will start across from Miller, with Attaochu and second-year player Malik Reed providing depth off the edge. The team ended up waiving Malik Carney and 2020 seventh-round pick Derrek Tuszka.
Tuszka ended up on the practice squad, which was largely expected. He needs the proper time to bulk up and get used to playing at the NFL level. The North Dakota State product is an excellent fit for Vic Fangio’s defense, but he needs more time to develop his skills to play at a higher level. He could end contributing late in the season, but all eyes are on him for 2021.
Broncos make several surprising moves at defensive back
After my initial predictions for the Broncos final defensive depth chart, the Broncos knocked over their first domino in their defensive back group when they traded cornerback Isaac Yiadom to the New York Giants for a seventh-round draft pick. From there, the team made another shocking move when they waived CB De’Vante Bausby on Saturday. Bausby, who many had slated as the third starting corner, landed on the Broncos practice squad on Sunday. The final surprise for some came in the form of DB Alijah Holder, who was waived as well. Holder had the potential to play both safety and cornerback for the Broncos.
The defensive back room consists of safeties Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, and Trey Marshall, as well as cornerbacks A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, Davontae Harris, Duke Dawson, Michael Ojemudia, and undrafted rookie Essang Bassey. Initially, I had the team keeping Bausby and Yiadom, while Bassey went to the practice squad, but that changed immediately when the team traded Yiadom. It now appears that Ojemudia may get the starting job across from Bouye, with Callahan in the slot.
Safety remains a position of concern for the Broncos
Throughout training camp, safety has been one of the most prominent positions of concern in Denver and after the final roster cuts, nothing has changed there. Keeping Simmons, Jackson and Marshall were no-brainers, but the lack of depth is deeply concerning if one of them gets injured. Dawson is rumored to be playing a similar role to the one that Will Parks had in Denver last season, but with the addition of Barron, he may stick to more of a slot defender. This is also why the cut of Holder came as a surprise to some, but he is at least on the practice squad.
The Broncos also waived safeties P.J. Locke and undrafted rookie Douglas Coleman III, who struggled to keep up in training camp. The Broncos may look at bringing in a veteran safety before their Week 1 matchup, but, for now, it seems like they are set with the players they have.