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Breaking down the Broncos' initial 2021 53-man roster


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After an offseason worth of work and three preseason contests, the Broncos' initial 53-man roster is here.

And as always, it is subject to change. Over the coming days, the Broncos could claim players off waivers, execute additional trades or place players on injured reserve. Any of those moves could reconfigure the structure of this roster, one that seems as strong as it has been in years.

For now, though, we're left to evaluate George Paton's moves as he enters his first regular season as the Broncos' general manager.

Read on for a position-by-position look at the Broncos' initial roster.

Note: Players are listed by position group and ordered at the author's discretion.


Quarterback (2): Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock

After an offseason-long quarterback competition, the Broncos will move forward with Bridgewater as the starter and Lock as his backup. The team waived Brett Rypien, who played well both in his lone start last season and at times during the preseason.

"It's a tough decision," Paton said of waiving Rypien. "You weigh that. You're deep at other position and [it's], 'How are we going to help our special teams?' Our fifth linebacker, is he good enough to play special teams right now? You just kind of weigh your whole roster. It's a big puzzle at the end of the day. You want to take care of your offense, you want to take care of your defense, but special teams, you really have to take care of them."

Running back (4): Melvin Gordon III, Javonte Williams, Mike Boone, Royce Freeman

The Broncos may not have four running backs on their roster for long. Boone, who suffered a quad injury in Minnesota in mid-August, will be placed on short-term IR, Paton said. Head Coach Vic Fangio noted it was "realistic" for Boone to return in Week 4 against the Ravens. In Boone's absence, the team could rely more on Freeman, who averaged 3.6 yards per carry and caught seven passes for 58 yards during the preseason to help earn a spot of his own.

"You guys know Royce," Fangio said. "He's dependable, knows everything we do here. And he's obviously a good guy to still have on the team."

Wide receiver (5): Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, Diontae Spencer

At one of their deepest position groups, the Broncos only kept five players at wide receiver. A year ago, Denver had seven players at the position on its initial 53-man roster. The Broncos waived 2020 seventh-round pick Tyrie Cleveland, 2021 sixth-round pick Seth Williams and undrafted player Kendall Hinton, and they also traded Trinity Benson to Detroit. All four players figured to be in the competition for the sixth spot, but none garnered a spot on the 53.

"We have four that are really good," Paton said of the receivers. "We have a really good returner. And then we've got some young guys in the hopper. Zach Azzanni does a great job with these guys developing them as you can see. So we have a lot of confidence in some of those young receivers."

Paton said he expects to add three receivers, which would likely come via the 16-player practice squad.

Tight end (4): Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

There were no real surprises at the tight end position, as Saubert lived up to expectations this preseason both as an offensive element and a special teams star. Beck's versatility will allow him to play both tight end and fullback for the Broncos. He, too, should be a key special teams contributor.

Offensive line (8): Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow, Bobby Massie, Calvin Anderson, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti

The Broncos opted to keep just three tackles, as Anderson joined Bolles and Massie on the team's roster. Denver waived Quinn Bailey and released Cam Fleming, who both competed for spots. Paton said he expects Fleming to re-join the roster after Boone and Michael Ojemudia are placed on short-term IR.

Meinerz and Muti, two recent draft picks, each earned spots on the 53-man roster and should be key reserves for the team. Austin Schlottmann, who has appeared in 32 games for Denver over the last two seasons, was among the players who did not make the cut.


Defensive line (6): Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, Dre'Mont Jones, McTelvin Agim, DeShawn Williams, Jonathan Harris

One of the Broncos' surprise cuts came along the defensive line, where the team released Shamar Stephen. The team added Stephen, a former Viking, during the second wave of free agency. Paton did say he expected Stephen to also re-sign with the team. Seventh-round pick Marquiss Spencer, meanwhile, was one of two 2021 draft picks to not make the 53-man roster.

Inside linebacker (5): Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson, Justin Strnad, Baron Browning, Jonas Griffith

Jewell, Johnson, Strnad and Browning were all locks at this position group, and Browning's late surge during the preseason suggest he could make an impact sooner rather than later.

"Browning, he was a little behind the eight ball," Paton said. "We finally got him going the second and third preseason game. You can just see him coming on. He's a big athlete, he can run, he's smart — he's got a lot of things you like. Is he quite ready? Probably not. But he's really coming."

The Broncos also made their first outside addition of cutdown week, as they traded a 2022 sixth-round pick and 2023 seventh-round pick to the 49ers for linebacker Jonas Griffith and a 2022 seventh-rounder.

"What really stuck out from him watching the preseason tape is the special teams play," Paton said of Griffith. "This kid's 6-[foot]-3, he can run, he can fly. He's really going to help our special teams and I think we need help on special teams. From last year and even in training camp, probably not good enough. So this guy's going to add, he's going to help us and we're excited to get him."

Outside linebacker (5): Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed, Jonathon Cooper, Andre Mintze

Cooper was one of the best stories of training camp, as the seventh-round pick overcame offseason heart surgery to make the team behind a strong preseason performance.

"The Jonathon Cooper kid, he flies all over," Paton said. "He's really easy to evaluate at practice. And you watch the games, he's all over the field. [He's going] 100 miles per hour in everything he does and he's just a playmaker. We're very fortunate to have him. He's going to help us on special teams, and he'll help us on defense."

Mintze, the lone undrafted rookie to make the 53, posted a sack and three quarterback hits during the preseason to earn a roster spot. Denver has now had an undrafted rookie make its initial 53-man roster in 17 of the last 18 seasons.

"The game wasn't too big for him the first day he showed up," Paton said of Mintze. "He can set the edge in the run game, he's gotten better as a pass-rusher. And the thing that really stuck out — he missed Week 2 because he was injured — and then when he played special teams. A big guy like that can run down on special teams, you can't have enough of those guys."

Cornerback (6): Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Pat Surtain II, Michael Ojemudia, Kary Vincent Jr.

The bottom of the Broncos' cornerback depth chart could look different when Week 1 arrives, as Vic Fangio said on Aug. 24 that Ojemudia's leg injury would linger into the regular season. Paton confirmed Tuesday that Ojemudia would be placed on short-term IR. With two pass breakups this preseason, Vincent made a push for a roster spot of his own. Nate Hairston, Parnell Motley, Saivion Smith and Mac McCain III were among those who did not earn a spot on the initial 53.

"You just look at the division we play in with Kansas City and … Vegas and the Chargers. You need corners. You need safeties," Paton said. "… It's a pressure and cover league. I just don't think you can have enough, and I like our group. It's going to help the front [be] better. When you can cover longer, it helps Von, it helps Chubb. It helps all those guys. There was a thought process into that. With Vic's defense, getting those guys that can cover, we're only going to be that much better."

Safety (5): Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Caden Sterns, P.J. Locke, Jamar Johnson

The battle for the reserve safety spots was one of the best of camp, and Denver wound up keeping five players at the position. Locke led the Broncos in tackles by a wide margin this preseason, nearly doubling up Sterns and Reed, who had the second most. Locke also posted a team-high four pass breakups during preseason action. Sterns, a fifth-round pick, showed via eight tackles and two pass breakups why he deserved to be on the roster behind Simmons and Jackson. Johnson, who missed the start of camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, was able to show enough late in the preseason to earn a spot. He finished with seven tackles and two pass defenses of his own, including one in the end zone as the Rams looked for the winning score on Saturday.

"He got better," Paton said of Johnson. "He started slow, and that hurt him. I think he was on [Reserve/] COVID. I think he missed 12 days or so. He was raw, and he's really talented. But once he got in the games, you could kind of see the athletic ability, especially in the deep part of the field. He got better on special teams. Still needs to improve. He needs to tackle better, he needs to do some things better, but he knows that. He has a high ceiling, a definite high ceiling."


Kicker: Brandon McManus

Punter: Sam Martin

Long snapper: Jacob Bobenmoyer

The Broncos briefly brought in punter Max Duffy during the offseason, but Martin, McManus and Bobenmoyer have all been unchallenged during training camp.

Here are the 53 players on the Broncos' initial active roster, from KJ Hamler to Mike Purcell.

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