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Breaking down the Broncos' initial 53-man roster

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' initial 53-man roster is set, and there's plenty to dive into as Denver nears Week 1.

From a crowded wide receiver room to a surprise in the secondary, the Broncos made lots of moves that are worth a closer look.

We'll do that below — with the caveat that things could change quickly. As hundreds of players are waived across the league, the Broncos may not be done tinkering yet. A season ago, the Broncos claimed four players off waivers, executed a trade and signed a couple of other players, which meant their Week 1 roster looked very different than their initial 53-man group.

That doesn't seem as likely this season, as President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said he doesn't expect to be active on the waiver wire.

"No, we don't," Elway said Saturday. "I think that we feel pretty good about our football team. Obviously, we're going to look at everything and look at all possibilities and see if there's a chance that somebody would be out there to help our football team. I think we feel pretty good about where we are, kind of excited about the football team we have."

Note: Players are listed by position group and ordered at the author's discretion. The Broncos have not released a depth chart for the 2020 season.

Quarterback: Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel

The Broncos kept just two quarterbacks after waiving Brett Rypien, but it remains possible that they could add another quarterback to their practice squad in case of a COVID-19 outbreak in the quarterback room.

"We'll see," Elway said. "I think obviously with the practice squad's as large as they are, we've been looking at different options of what we can do at the quarterback position. It really is in case we were to have an outbreak at that position, trying to solve that before we got there. … Like many teams out there, we're still looking for different options to try and avoid any catastrophe."

Lock remains the team's unquestioned starter, and Elway liked what he saw from the second-year player to end training camp after an up-and-down few weeks.

"It was a little inconsistent, but I think that's what we expect," Elway said. "I think you have to get challenged. You have to have bad days in practice. You know how you bounce back from them, but also you'll learn from those too. I think it was a little bit of an up and down. I think he had a real nice [practice] last night. He finished strong, finished camp strong last night with a good night."

Running back: Melvin Gordon III, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman

If Freeman was pushed by undrafted running back LeVante Bellamy during training camp, he survived the challenge. The Broncos' running back group is solid and should be among the league's best with two former Pro Bowlers and a solid reserve in Freeman. Andrew Beck, whom we'll get to in a moment, should serve as the team's fullback, when needed.

Wide receiver: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, Tyrie Cleveland

The Broncos loaded up at receiver, as all three 2020 draft picks at the position made the initial 53-man roster. Hamilton and Patrick also kept their spots and should be key contributors early. Spencer, meanwhile, retained his position as the team's return specialist.

"Obviously, 'Spence' has the return value that gets counted there," Fangio said. "We have a good group of receivers. We just took the attitude of rather than go with the traditional numbers and cut a good player, we were going to try and keep the good players. KJ is still nursing his hamstring, but we expect him to be healthy soon. You have guys like Cleveland that brings special-teams value that are improving daily as receivers. Patrick, big time special-teams value and good receiver. It's a good group, and that's why the numbers are higher."

Elway said Hamler would not be placed on injured reserve to begin the season, as the second-round pick is "close."

"Hopefully he starts running around this week," Elway said. "We'll take him day-to-day. He's going to stay on the 53. He'll stay there."

Cleveland, meanwhile, earned a spot in large part because of his special teams prowess.

"First of all, Tyrie, he's a big guy that can really run," Elway said. "I think that his willingness, his toughness — he put his nose down in the running game in practice, but also what he can do on special teams. ... He [knew] that for him to make this football team he has to really show a lot on special teams. He did that. He also showed that he's a very capable wideout. He's obviously very young and has a long way to go, but he proved that he's big, he's physical and he can catch the football. Also, he can be very helpful on the special teams which is a key for the fifth, sixth, seventh receivers."

Tight end: Noah Fant, Nick Vannett, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Jake Butt

While Fant, Vannett and Okwuegbunam were seemingly locks, Beck, Butt and Troy Fumagalli battled for roster spots for most of camp. Beck's positional versatility seemingly helped him earn a spot, and Butt earned the nod over Troy Fumagalli, who was waived/injured.

"I'll tell you what, it's been a hell of a year for Jake," Fangio said. "From Day 1 — and he came back with the early group — I've not seen him limp once. He hasn't been in the training room other than when they get the boot on to refresh their legs. He's had a terrific camp, not just playing-wise, but he's 100 percent healthy and moving around good. You'd never know that he'd been through the injuries that he's had with his knees. He looks as good as new to me."

Offensive line: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow, Elijah Wilkinson, Demar Dotson, Austin Schlottmann, Netane Muti, Calvin Anderson

In a crowded position group, Patrick Morris and Jake Rodgers were among the players who were waived Saturday. Both players started games last season for the Broncos, and Morris competed for a starting job at center for a portion of training camp. Rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III could be just the second Broncos rookie to be a Week 1 starter at center since the AFL-NFL merger, and sixth-round pick Netane Muti also made the team.

Defensive line: Jurrell Casey, Mike Purcell, Shelby Harris, Dre'Mont Jones, McTelvin Agim, DeMarcus Walker

The true competition of this group seemingly ended Friday when the Broncos traded Christian Covington to Cincinnati for Austin Calitro. DeMarcus Walker, a 2017 second-round pick, earned a roster spot in place of Covington and should be part of a six-man rotation that includes five-time Pro Bolwer Jurrell Casey and plenty of young talent in 2019 third-round pick Dre'Mont Jones and 2020 third-rounder McTelvin Agim.

Inside linebacker: Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, Mark Barron, Joe Jones, Austin Calitro 

The Broncos' inside linebacker room features two new faces from a week ago, as the team signed veteran Barron and traded for Calitro. Barron, the seventh-overall pick in 2012, could help the Broncos in coverage situations. Calitro, meanwhile, has been a key special teams player and solid defensive reserve during the last two seasons. Joe Jones, another special teams standout, also earned a roster spot following the release of Todd Davis. Rookie Justin Strnad was previously placed on injured reserve, which ends his 2020 season.

"The linebackers, I think, obviously they still have a lot to learn because we have some new ones in there," Elway said. "Mark Barron's got a lot of experience and is a guy that can move around and can help us. Then Austin Calitro coming in — started the last four games for Jacksonville, or five games last year for Jacksonville. He can play the game and is a great special teamer. He's got to be caught up with what we're doing. Josey had a really great camp as well as A.J. [Alexander Johnson] had a good camp. Jones played well too. We organized that room a little bit. We actually feel pretty good about where we are."

Outside linebacker: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jeremiah Attaochu, Malik Reed

Attaochu and Reed appeared to be the clear favorites to earn reserve roles at this position based on their training camp reps, and the Broncos appear comfortable with four edge rushers on their initial 53-man roster. The team waived both Justin Hollins — who spent time at both inside and outside linebacker during camp — and Derrek Tuszka, but perhaps one or both of them could return to the team's practice squad.

"He's a good football player, and if he doesn't get claimed today, he's a guy we'll have interest in," Fangio said of Hollins.

Both Attaochu and Reed will be critical to the team's efforts if Chubb is on a play count in Week 1.

"He may be on one," Fangio said of a play count for Chubb. "He may not be. We're going to see how he does. He's not 100 percent yet. There's a lot to overcome when you're dealing with an ACL injury that he's had, particularly the position he plays where he's leaning on people a lot and taking on the offensive linemen. It could be a pitch count, but I don't think it's a conditioning pitch count. We'll just see how it goes."

Cornerback: A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, Davontae Harris, Michael Ojemudia, Duke Dawson Jr., Essang Bassey

The makeup of this position changed quickly over the past week. The Broncos traded Isaac Yiadom to the Giants for a 2021 seventh-round pick, and they released De'Vante Bausby on Saturday. Both players competed throughout camp for the No. 3 cornerback position, which looks like it will now be handled by either Davontae Harris or rookie Michael Ojemudia. 

Bassey, an undrafted free agent from Wake Forest, earned a spot on the initial 53-man roster. The team has now had at least one undrafted rookie make its initial 53-man roster in 16 of the last 17 years.

"Versatility is part of the equation," Fangio said of Bassey and Dawson earning a spot over Bausby. "They both can play the nickel position which is important. They both are good contributors in the special teams area which is important. Those were some of the deciding factors."

Safety: Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Trey Marshall

Marshall parlayed a strong ending to the 2019 season and a solid training camp into a roster spot, but the Broncos chose to go a bit light at the safety position with just three players making the initial 53-man roster. As teams waive players across the league, this could be a position worth watching for the Broncos. Fangio, though, seemed to be OK with the construction of the group.

"We have some guys with versatility that are listed as corners, that in an emergency could go play safety for us," Fangio said. "Also, our three safeties that we have that will be active — that's the only position they will play. It's not like one of them moves up as a nickel back as some teams do. We do have three safeties and I'm sure we'll have at least one on the practice squad [in case] we get some injuries later on."

Kicker: Brandon McManus

Punter: Sam Martin

Long snapper: Jacob Bobenmoyer

There hasn't been much mystery here since the Broncos waived Wes Farnsworth in training camp. McManus remains one of league's more consistent kickers, and Martin should provide the team with a strong upgrade in the punting game.

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