ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As April begins and the 2023 NFL Draft creeps closer, the Broncos will soon have an opportunity to add to their roster again.
Following an aggressive approach during free agency, the Broncos have filled plenty of needs in recent weeks. As Head Coach Sean Payton described it at the NFL Annual Meeting, Denver hit the "musts" on its list.
Denver's roster, though, is not yet a finished product. When the draft arrives in late April, the Broncos will have to hit on a high percentage of their five picks to continue to build the football team.
"We certainly have to make some hay in those top thirds and really [with] all the picks," General Manager George Paton said in late March. "We only have five [picks]. Really since free agency finished, Sean, me and a couple of our scouts [have] sat in a dark room and just have hit the draft. I didn't go to any pro days. We've just focused on the draft and specifically those top threes. We're really going to have to make hay."
Before the Broncos add more talent, here's a position-by-position look at where Denver's roster stands:
The Broncos added to their quarterback room behind Russell Wilson, as the team signed Jarrett Stidham in the early stages of free agency.
"The evaluation was pretty crystal clear for all of us," Payton said at the Annual Meeting. "I think he's someone that's going to be great in the room. He's smart. Quietly, that was an important sign for us."
Jarrett Guarantano, who signed with the team last season, also remains on the Broncos' roster.
Denver bolstered their running back corps via a couple of moves, as the team signed Samaje Perine and Tony Jones Jr. As Javonte Williams works his way back from a 2022 knee injury, the Broncos believe Perine is capable of starting for the team.
"Samaje can be a starter," Paton said. "He's good on first and second down, and he's good on third down. He has really good hands, and he's solid in protection."
Tyler Badie, Damarea Crockett and Tyreik McAllister round out the room for the Broncos.
Denver gained a player whose best season came while playing for Payton, as the team signed Marquez Callaway in the second stage of free agency.
Payton and Paton both also emphasized recently that the Broncos are not interested in trading Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton elsewhere in the league.
"We're excited to have them on our football team," Paton said. "[They are] two young players in their prime. I think Sean said it best: We're not interested in trading them."
The Broncos' depth took a bit of a hit as KJ Hamler suffered an injury that required surgery, but Tim Patrick is expected return from a knee injury that cost him his 2022 season.
The Broncos added power at this position in free agency, signing Chris Manhertz to a deal.
Greg Dulcich will enter his second NFL season, while Albert Okwuegbunam is on the final year of his rookie deal. Denver also signed do-it-all fullback Michael Burton, who previously spent time with Payton in New Orleans.
Denver prioritized the offensive line in free agency, as the team signed tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers in the first wave. The Broncos then added center Kyle Fuller to the group, and he has previous experience playing with Russell Wilson.
"That was huge to get both those guys and all our free agent class, but especially the offensive line," Paton said. "Playing against Sean's team in New Orleans, [they were] always kind of built on the inside, and they're always strong on the lines and in the trenches, [both on] offense and defense. We wanted to mold [ourselves after] that."
At the NFL Annual Meeting, Payton said the team views Lloyd Cushenberry III as its starting center.
The Broncos aren't slated to make their first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft until the 67th-overall pick, but there could still be value in the third round and beyond.
In a conference call on Wednesday, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. provided a slew of players who could provide good value for the Broncos — both at the 67th- and 68th-overall picks and later in the draft.
Denver lost Dre'Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams in free agency, but the team added an impressive, ascending player in Zach Allen.
"[We liked his] effort, [his] energy, and we loved how he improved in this past season," Payton said. "Obviously, [Defensive Coordinator] Vance [Joseph] has been with them. When you're in free agency and you have a little bit more intimate knowledge with a player, it's really important."
D.J. Jones figures to be one of the team's other starters along the defensive line, but the team has several young players that could push for playing time at the other open defensive end spot.
One of the few positions the Broncos did not target in free agency, outside linebacker has been noted by several outlets as a potential target area as the draft approaches. Randy Gregory is poised to return from injury, while Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper are among the other players who have seen significant playing time.
"A lot of these guys make that step into Year 2," Paton said of Bonitto. "Nik just needs to get stronger and needs to get stronger against the run game. He has natural pass rush, which we all know. Just continue getting stronger and develop his craft. I think he will."
Denver kept one of its own talented players in free agency, as the team re-signed Alex Singleton to keep him paired with Josey Jewell. Jonas Griffith remains with the Broncos as a strong depth piece, but some mock drafts have pointed to inside linebacker as a position where the team could add depth.
"He was productive," Payton said. "I thought there was a lot of things we did well defensively. If he wasn't [back], then where were we going then, if not [with] Alex. The mistake sometimes — we didn't take that all for granted [and think] 'Oh, he's just going to return.' There's a lot that went into that. Those two inside guys played well, and they were available. The defense in a lot of ways played well considering the time of possession, considering the field position, considering ... it's hard to play good defense if you're not playing complementary football."
The Broncos added depth at the cornerback position, signing Tremon Smith to bolster a group that includes Pat Surtain II and Damarri Mathis. Smith also has experience as a special teams contributor, which has led Payton to envision a specific player for the new Bronco. Denver also re-signed Essang Bassey in free agency.
"With Smith, I see a player that obviously competes outside of corner," Payton said. "I see an elite special teams player. Corner, special teams, I see 24 snaps. You have to look at it that way. So the vision is pretty clear."
Denver retained safety P.J. Locke, who remains in a room that includes Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns and Delarrin Turner-Yell. Some believe the Broncos could still add at the position, according to some mock drafts.
The Broncos made a change at punter, signing veteran Riley Dixon — who returns to the team that drafted him — and moving on from Corliss Whitman.
"I think it's awfully important," Payton said of improving special teams. "I think it's one way to improve your team pretty quickly. I don't think we were very good last year in the kicking game, quite honestly, for a number of reasons. I've got a guy like [Special Teams Coordinator] Ben Kotwica, and a guy like [Assistant Head Coach] Mike Westhoff. Those are considerable resources that I think can help us. It would be silly to have those two along with [Assistant Special Teams Coach] Chris Banjo and then not have a punter or not have the correct holder or even a returner that we're still working on. It's got to be an important point of emphasis. If you believe in hidden yardage and you understand yards equal points, each play you're fighting for those yards. That's an area that we felt like we needed to improve dramatically."