ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in franchise history, the Broncos have set their initial 53-man roster.
"We had a lot of tough decisions," General Manager George Paton said Tuesday. "We had more depth this year on our roster, so there were a lot of conversations, and a lot of collaboration went into it with the coaching staff and the scouts."
It's important to note that just as quickly as the initial 53-player roster is set, it can change. The initial 53-man roster and the Broncos' roster for their Week 1 game in Seattle could feature several differences. The Broncos are now eligible to submit waiver claims, place players on short-term injured reserve or execute additional trades. If there's one thing that was clear last year, it's that Paton will evaluate every available option to improve his team's roster.
Ahead of any additional moves, though, we'll take stock of where the Broncos stand as they take their next step toward the regular season.
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): Russell Wilson, Brett Rypien
The Broncos never had a question about their starting quarterback, but the battle for the backup spot continued into the third preseason game. Rypien posted another strong performance as he made his first start, and he's seemingly poised to serve as Wilson's backup. The Broncos released Johnson, but as a vested veteran, he is not required to pass through waivers.
"It was really tough," Paton said. "Brett and Josh had a great competition that came down to the final game. The body of work, both these guys did a lot of really good things. I just think the way 'Ryp' operated the offense, the way he moved the team, he did some really good things. I'll let Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett talk about the rest of that, but it was a really close competition. We hope to get Josh back as well."
Running back (3): Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon III, Mike Boone
There are no real surprises here, as Williams and Gordon are the team's top options and Boone posted a strong preseason. Andrew Beck, listed with the tight ends, will serve as the team's fullback.
Wide receiver (6): Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Montrell Washington, Tyrie Cleveland, Jalen Virgil
For the 18th time in the last 19 years, an undrafted rookie has made the Broncos' initial 53-man roster, as Appalachian State product Jalen Virgil made the team over a host of young receivers.
"I think you need speed in this league," Paton said. "Virgil obviously provides that. This guy, every game he made plays. He made plays every practice. He can cover kicks. He's an interesting guy. He can return kicks. Really good returner in college. He's just answered every test and aced it. He's got legit speed. He can take the top off. We're excited for him."
Kendall Hinton and Seth Williams did not make Denver's roster after strong preseason performances, and Brandon Johnson was placed on IR.
Cleveland also earned a spot despite not playing in the preseason. Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes said last week he would push for Cleveland's inclusion on the roster, and Paton said Cleveland is "just about back" to full strength.
Tight end (4): Albert Okwuegbunam, Greg Dulcich, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert
The Broncos parted ways with free-agent addition Eric Tomlinson and rookie Dylan Parham, as they kept four players in their tight end room. Dulcich has not participated in practice in several weeks, and he'll be placed on short-term IR on Wednesday, according to Paton. The Broncos' GM expects Dulcich to "100 percent" be ready to play when he's eligible to return in Week 5. As a vested veteran, Tomlinson is not subject to waivers, and Paton said he would re-sign with the team.
Offensive line (9): Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Quinn Meinerz, Billy Turner, Luke Wattenberg, Calvin Anderson, Graham Glasgow, Cam Fleming
The Broncos kept nine players along their offensive line, but they waived former sixth-round pick Netane Muti. The biggest challenge remaining for Denver is to figure out who will start at right tackle for their Week 1 game in Seattle.
"I'm encouraged with Billy and the strides he's taken the last couple weeks," Paton said. "... I think he has a good chance to be ready. I know he wants to play. That's his goal. If not, we feel good with our depth. I think Billy's right on track."
Defensive line (5): D.J. Jones, Dre'Mont Jones, DeShawn Williams, Eyioma Uwazurike, Matt Henningsen
One of the biggest surprises came along the defensive line, as Mike Purcell did not make the initial 53-man roster. Purcell, who did not play in the preseason, is a vested veteran and is not required to pass through waivers. Paton confirmed he would re-sign with the Broncos on Wednesday. Uwazurike and Henningsen, meanwhile, earned roster spots over McTelvin Agim. The 2020 third-round pick posted a strong final game but did not make the 53-man roster.
"We think we're really strong up there," Paton said of the defensive line.
Inside linebacker (4): Josey Jewell, Jonas Griffith, Alex Singleton, Justin Strnad
The Broncos' inside linebacking corps also didn't present any surprises, as Jewell, Griffith, Singleton and Strnad led the first two units in training camp and the preseason. Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said recently the team hopes to have Griffith back from his elbow injury in time for Week 1, which could keep him off short-term IR.
Outside linebacker (6): Bradley Chubb, Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto, Jonathon Cooper, Aaron Patrick
In addition to their big free-agent signing of Gregory, the Broncos added a number of strong depth pieces at outside linebacker this offseason. As a result, the team agreed to trade Malik Reed to the Steelers.
"I love Malik," Paton said. "Everyone does. Great kid, really good player. We just had a logjam. We have a lot of really talented outside 'backers that can rush. And so [we] thought it'd be best and trade him to somewhere where he's going to fit in in a really good organization. We wouldn't have just traded him anyway. He wanted to go to Pittsburgh and we found a home for him. I think it's a win-win for both sides."
Cooper, a former seventh-round pick, earns a spot on the initial 53 after returning from injury, and Aaron Patrick also snagged a spot.
Cornerback (6): Pat Surtain II, Ronald Darby, K'Waun Williams, Michael Ojemudia, Damarri Mathis, Essang Bassey
In a competitive room, Bassey earned a spot over rookie Faion Hicks. Ojemudia, meanwhile, dislocated his elbow against the Bills, and Paton said he will be placed on short-term IR.
"I feel good," Paton said of the team's cornerback group. "We've got a good mix of veteran and younger players."
Safety (5): Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Caden Sterns, P.J. Locke, Delarrin Turner-Yell
The Broncos' first four safeties seemed set, and Turner-Yell — a rookie fifth-round pick from Oklahoma — earned a spot over free-agent addition J.R. Reed.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3):
Kicker: Brandon McManus
Punter: Corliss Waitman
Long snapper: Jacob Bobenmoyer
The Broncos released Sam Martin on Monday, which leaves Waitman poised to punt for Denver.
"Two really good punters," Paton said. "Sam's been a good punter in this league for a long, long time. Corliss is something really talented. … Big leg, lefty. We think he has unique ability to hang time, directional. Very good athlete. Very good holder."
Paton said the salary cap had "nothing to do" with the Broncos' decision and that Denver picked the "best punter for us."
Here are the 53 players on the Broncos' initial active roster, from KJ Hamler to DeShawn Williams.