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Breaking down the Broncos' initial 53-man roster 

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With 24 offensive players, 26 defenders and three kicking-game specialists, the Broncos' first 53-man roster of the 2018 season was set Saturday.

The Broncos may not be done; they have the No. 5 spot in waiver-claim priority. In President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway's seven previous seasons guiding the Broncos' football operations, the Broncos have claimed four players off waivers a day after the roster deadline.

But for now, this is how the roster breaks down:

QUARTERBACK (3)

With Case Keenum and Chad Kelly as the clear starter and second-teamer, the Broncos opted to keep Paxton Lynch as the third quarterback and continue his development.

Lynch played better after being moved to the third team following the preseason opener; he posted a 103.9 passer rating over the final three games on 22-of-33 passing for 206 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I thought at this point in time, that’s the best decision for us," Elway said. "Paxton continued to improve, but he is the third-string quarterback. That decision was made because -- looking at the situation and with Chad not having a lot of experience and not having played in a regular-season game before -- we thought that we had to go with three quarterbacks and Paxton was our third."

RUNNING BACK (3)

For the third time in the last four seasons, the Broncos have three running backs on the initial 53-man roster. Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman could end up dividing the primary repetitions, with Phillip Lindsay relieving both while providing versatility to line up as a wide receiver.

"[Booker's] better days are ahead of him," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "Royce had a great spring and a great summer also. Obviously with [Lindsay], he’s a special runner, but he also played [special] teams very well."

FULLBACK (1)

If there was any doubt about whether the fullback has value to the Broncos, Andy Janovich erased it with two touchdown-creating blocks in the Broncos' preseason win at Washington. Janovich's extensive responsibilities on special teams also helped enhance his claim to a roster spot for a third consecutive year.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

After keeping six wide receivers on the initial 53-man roster for the past four seasons, the Broncos opted to go with five.

Four of them -- Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton -- did not play in the preseason finale at Arizona. No. 5 wide receiver Tim Patrick earned his spot with a series of acrobatic catches in traffic and solid, intense play on special teams; the question now is whether he did enough in the third phase to earn a spot on the 46-man active game-day roster.

TIGHT END (3)

The Broncos kept three tight ends for the fourth time in the last five seasons, with Matt LaCosse beating out Austin Traylor and Brian Parker for the final 53-man roster spot behind first- and second-teamers Jeff Heuerman and

LaCosse led the Broncos in touchdown receptions this preseason with two, but he talked about his improvement as a blocker as the biggest difference for him this summer. His improvement there was a key factor in him latching on to a roster spot.

"That was also tough between LaCosse and [Brian] Parker. They both had great camps," Joseph said. "LaCosse, he’s a guy that’s a good receiver, but he also is a good in-line blocker. He played some fullback for us and he also covers kicks.

"When you’re talking about the perfect package for a full tight end, catching the football, blocking and playing special teams is huge. Parker, he also had a fine camp, but LaCosse -- in our opinion -- gives us more."

Fifth-round pick Troy Fumagalli heads to injured reserve after missing time with a groin injury. He spent the offseason recovering from a sports hernia with an eye toward being ready for 2019. With Heuerman in the last year of his contract and Butt still developing, Fumagalli remains integral to the Broncos' long-term plans.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

Versatility is the watchword for the quartet of players who will provide depth behind the starting offensive line of left tackle Garett Bolles, left guard Ron Leary, center Matt Paradis, right guard Connor McGovern and right tackle Jared Veldheer.

Interior backup Max Garcia started at left guard last year and also saw some repetitions at center during training camp. Rookie Sam Jones was listed as the second-team center during the preseason and can also step in at guard if needed. Billy Turner has experience at right guard and right tackle, while second-year veteran Elijah Wilkinson worked at left tackle, right tackle and right guard during training camp and the preseason.

"We have two guys who can swing inside and out and we have two guys in Sam Jones and Max Garcia who play center/guard. It’s a perfect mix for us," Joseph said.

The Broncos have carried nine offensive linemen on their initial regular-season roster in each of Elway's eight seasons running the Broncos' football operations.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

Along with safety, the defensive line is one of two position groups on the Broncos' roster in which every player has regular-season experience. DeMarcus Walker's emergence as a pass-rush specialist gives him a chance to have a key role in the rotation, while Shelby Harris and Zach Kerr provide versatility and the ability to work at every defensive-line spot in the base alignment.

Starters Adam Gotsis, Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko Sr. helped give the Broncos' run defense lead the league in average per carry and percentage of runs that generated first downs and will be expected to provide similar work once again.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4)

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett could represent the best top-to-bottom complement of 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL. Barrett and Ray each have 15 career starts over the last three seasons and have starting-quality skill sets, allowing the Broncos to give Miller and Chubb breathers.

Chubb's ability to play with his hand in the dirt also gives Denver the flexibility to use alignments that get three or even all four of their edge rushers onto the field at once. Other defensive position groups are bigger, but perhaps none will be more important.

INSIDE LINEBACKER (6)

Since shifting from a 4-3 base alignment to a 3-4 in 2015, the Broncos had never carried more than four inside linebackers on their roster at the 53-man deadline. The 2018 Broncos went 50 percent beyond that.

Special teams likely played a crucial role in this decision. Second-year backup Joe Jones emerged last year as one of the Broncos' core players in their return and coverage units. Bierria, one of the Broncos' two sixth-round picks this year, shows similar potential.

Other teams were in pursuit of training-camp signee Alexander Johnson, and keeping him allows the Broncos to continue his development. Johnson did not play football for three and a half years before the Broncos signed him, and he made enough dynamic plays -- particularly on special teams -- to stick.

"We decided to keep [Johnson] instead of Zaire [Anderson]," Elway said, citing Johnson's "upside."

"Is he better than Zaire probably at this point in time? Maybe not," Elway added, "but we didn’t feel like we could get him through waivers."

CORNERBACK (5)

Adam Jones was officially a fifth-teamer when this week began, but he ended it as one piece of the Broncos' five-man complement at the position. He is likely to be the punt returner, which ensures that he will be among the active 46 players on the Week 1 roster. The question now is whether Jones or rookie Isaac Yiadom is the No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback behind Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and Tramaine Brock.

The Broncos have kept at least five cornerbacks at the roster deadline in each of Elway's eight seasons in the front office.

SAFETY (5)

Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart will be the starting duo for a second consecutive season, but the story is in the depth and how it shook out following Jamal Carter’s season-ending hamstring injury.

With the Broncos expected to make liberal use of sub packages that bring a third safety into the box alongside an inside linebacker, it is no surprise that the team would keep five safeties for the first time since 2015.

If Su'a Cravens needs more time to get back to a full workload after missing three preseason games because of knee soreness, third-year veteran Will Parks and second-year veteran Dymonte Thomas could see more extensive work.

Thomas solidified his role with an outstanding game against Washington on Aug. 24.

"You want guys to make it hard for you. You want guys who say, ‘We cannot let this guy go,’ and he was one of those guys," Joseph said.

SPECIALISTS (3)

With no competition for kicker Brandon McManus, punter Marquette King and long snapper Casey Kreiter, there was no suspense at the final cutdown. McManus enjoyed an outstanding preseason, drilling a league-leading nine field goals. His only miss in August was from 58 yards last Thursday at Arizona.

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