After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In less than a week, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at the Broncos' newest players.
WHICH ROOKIES WILL EARN ROLES IN YEAR 1?
The Broncos didn't make their first selection of the 2022 NFL Draft until midway through the second day.
In the team's trade for Russell Wilson, General Manager George Paton and the Broncos gave up a pair of first-round picks and two second-round picks, which ate into their draft capital. They were left with the 64th-overall pick — which the team acquired in a midseason trade with the Rams for Von Miller — as their top selection.
Despite a dearth of picks, Paton still managed to add impact players.
Denver snagged Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto with the 64th-overall pick, and then added UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich in the third round. Bonitto and Dulcich were the flashiest picks of Denver's draft, but the Broncos continued to add on Day 3. In the later rounds, the Broncos drafted Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis, Iowa State defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike, Oklahoma safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, Samford wide receiver/returner Montrell Washington, Washington center Luke Wattenberg and Wisconsin defensive end Matt Henningsen and cornerback Faion Hicks.
Over the coming years, it's possible many of these players could earn a role for the Broncos. But that's not the focus of this piece. Instead, we're interested in which of the Broncos' rookies will make an impact in their first season.
And despite the Broncos' roster being among league's best, more of these rookies may be in position to contribute than one might expect.
Dulcich, the Broncos' second pick, may be best poised to earn a starting role. The productive collegiate player earned first-team reps during the offseason program before suffering a minor injury that held him out of the final week of OTAs and the team's mandatory minicamp. It's expected that he will compete with Albert Okwuegbunam, a third-year player who has shown flashes of potential during his career but has yet to post a 100-yard game and has three career touchdown receptions. It appears most likely that Okwuegbunam and Dulcich will share reps during the beginning of the season, and Okwuegbunam remains the likely starter. That said, it would not be far-fetched for Dulcich to push for the starting role at some point during the season if he can translate his college potential to the pro game.
Bonitto may not be in line to start as a rookie — Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory are the presumptive starters — but he could earn the role as the team's third pass rusher. Both Paton and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett have spoken about the need for waves of pass rushers, which could help Bonitto make an impact early in the season. With Gregory returning from reported offseason surgery, Bonitto must also be ready in case he is called upon to start.
Mathis and Uwazurike should both be candidates to be rotational players in Year 1. Mathis will compete for a spot behind Pat Surtain II, Ronald Darby and K'Waun Williams. He may currently be poised to be the fifth cornerback behind Michael Ojemudia, who got plenty of run during the offseason program. Uwazurike, meanwhile, will aim to earn a spot among the top five defensive linemen who will likely be active on game day. D.J. Jones, Dre'Mont Jones, DeShawn Williams and Mike Purcell will likely serve as the team's top linemen, but players like Uwazurike, Henningsen, Jonathan Harris, McTelvin Agim and others will battle for playing time and a roster spot.
Mathis should also earn playing time on special teams, where Washington appears to be the favorite to serve as the team's kick and punt returner. If the rookie has a good camp, he could quickly carve out a role as the team's return specialist. Turner-Yell and Hicks will seemingly compete for special teams roles, as well.
With an already intense competition for starting spots at guard, Wattenberg may serve as a reserve player in 2022.
During the preseason, Bonitto, Dulcich and Co. will receive live reps to show they're ready to contribute to a team with Super Bowl aspirations. If their college film and offseason work is any indication, some of the Broncos' newest players won't have to wait long to see the field.