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Denver Broncos News: Broncos' Mailbag


Ask Aric: What role will the Broncos' rookies play in Year 1?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' 2020 NFL Draft class is assembled, and with that, we can begin to look ahead.

As we do, there are plenty of questions about how Jerry Jeudy and Co. will fit in, how the recent picks impact the status of veteran players and how the Broncos can fill other needs.

I take a crack at those questions and a few others in this post-draft mailbag.

To submit a question for a future mailbag, click here.

Do the Broncos look at any veteran free agents? Logan Ryan or Prince Amukamara maybe? – Timothy P.

After drafting Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia, they now have several options for the third cornerback position. Ojemudia, Duke Dawson Jr., De'Vante Bausby, Davontae Harris and Isaac Yiadom should all compete for that position. I think Bausby has the leg up at the moment, but Head Coach Vic Fangio said he expects at least two of those players to emerge. I do, however, think you're onto something. All of the players competing for the third spot are young and don't have much experience. While that youth may be good for the future of the group, it concerns me a bit heading into the season. I think the Broncos would be well-suited to bring in a veteran cornerback, especially since we haven't seen Bryce Callahan play in a year and a half. Amukamara has familiarity with Fangio's system in Chicago, so he could be an option that makes sense. Ryan likely will demand a larger contract, which may be hard for the Broncos to make work given salary cap constraints. No matter who it is, though, I'd feel more comfortable entering Week 1 if another veteran was on the roster.

How good are Patrick, Heuerman, Butt and Hamilton's chances of making the roster? – Caleb S.

Let's start with the wide receivers, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton. In short, I think they both have a decent chance to make the roster. Most teams carry six wide receivers, and it's a lock that Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will make the team. Fangio spoke glowingly about Diontae Spencer after the draft, so I think it's also likely that he makes it as the team's return specialist. That leaves Patrick, Hamilton, seventh-round pick Tyrie Cleveland and 2019 sixth-round pick Juwann Winfree battling to make the roster. I'd expect Patrick to be the fourth receiving option, as he has shown flashes over the last two years and also is a big, physical receiver. The Broncos don't have that outside of Sutton. Hamilton may have a steeper climb. Though he came on a bit in the last two games with Drew Lock, he projects as a slot player who is a good route-runner. Jeudy and Hamler fit that bill, as well, which could make Hamilton the odd man out. This depends, I think, on what the Broncos see from Cleveland. If he makes waves during training camp, he could snag that last spot. As it stands today, though, I'd guess Cleveland starts on the practice squad and Hamilton hangs on to a roster spot.

At tight end, I think Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt have tougher paths to the roster. Noah Fant, Nick Vannett and Albert Okwuegbunam are all locks — and sometimes teams only carry three tight ends. If the Broncos carry four, I'd expect Andrew Beck to get the first look. He was a pleasant surprise last year in place of Andy Janovich, and I expect there's a spot for him even though the Broncos aren't expected to use a fullback. Heuerman faces a challenge because he and Vannett are near-identical players. Butt, meanwhile, still hasn't been able to stay healthy and now has two other dangerous receiving threats against whom he has to compete. I think it'd be a bit of an upset for either player to make the 53-man roster.

Why did we not draft a tackle? Did we not see it as a need or did we not like ones that were available? Also, what do we do if Muti is healthy and as good as I have read/seen? Who is the odd man out in the interior? Is there a chance Risner pushes out to tackle? – David H.

David, sometimes the board just doesn't fall that way. First, let's acknowledge that there were probably just a few plug-and-play left tackles in this draft. Andrew Thomas and Mekhi Becton are two of them, and both players went ahead of Denver's 15th-overall selection. Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills Jr. are also in that conversation, but both players mainly worked at right tackle, so that would've been a bit of a risk. And those players were also gone.

Houston's Josh Jones was available during the second round, but the Broncos preferred KJ Hamler in that situation. Keep in mind, the Broncos also didn't entertain giving up a third-round and fifth-round pick for a one-year Trent Williams rental. So maybe the Broncos don't view tackle to be as big of a need as Broncos fans do. While Bolles has been far from perfect, he's never missed a game and allowed just one sack in five games with Lock as the quarterback. He had just one holding penalty during that time frame. I don't expect the Broncos to pick up Bolles' fifth-year option, but I do think it's likely that he'll win the competition at left tackle over Elijah Wilkinson. Let's see what happens in Year 2 under Mike Munchak before we show Bolles the door.

Muti, as you mentioned, is an interesting player. The Broncos had a third-round grade on him, and it's likely he would've been drafted in the first two rounds if he were healthy. Certainly, it will be tough to overcome a past that includes two Achilles injuries and a Lisfranc injury. The Broncos took Butt in the fifth-round a few years ago with the same intentions, and that hasn't panned out. If Muti does get healthy, can stay available and is as good as he appeared in 2017, the Broncos must find a way to get him on the field. Dalton Risner, a former All-American at right tackle in Kansas State, seems like the most likely possibility to shift positions. I wouldn't expect this to happen this year, but there's a chance it could down the road. Again, we're relying on a lot of "ifs."

What role do you see the rookies playing [in Year 1]? — Blake E.

Let's go through the class:

WR Jerry Jeudy: Day 1 starter, will be the Broncos' No. 2 receiving option behind Courtland Sutton. I'd set the early bar at 650 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Anything over that should be considered a success.

WR KJ Hamler: Won't start every game, but he should have a role. I'd expect him to be somewhere in the 400-500 yard range and have a couple of touchdowns.

CB Michael Ojemudia: I'd expect he would initially play special teams and get limited defensive snaps. I think it's unlikely he's a full-time starter in 2020, even if the Broncos open in nickel. He seems like a good option as a fourth cornerback this year.

C Lloyd Cushenberry III: Some disagree, but I think he'll be a Day 1 starter in the middle of the Broncos' line. He may struggle against athletic defensive tackles at times, but I think being between Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow should help him quite a bit.

DL McTelvin Agim: I expect he'll be a rotational player on a very deep defensive line. I suspect he'll battle DeMarcus Walker for that fifth spot.

TE Albert Okwuegbunam: The Broncos' third tight end and second option as a receiving threat from the position, Okwuegbunam seems most useful in two-tight-end sets. I wouldn't expect him to go crazy as a rookie, though. A couple hundred yards and a touchdown or two seems about right.

LB Justin Strnad: He should be an instant impact player on special teams and could push for reps at linebacker in the team's sub-packages. If healthy, he could be an upgrade in the coverage department. I wouldn't expect him, though, to be an every-down player.

G Netane Muti: I suspect Muti won't appear in many games — if any — this season. The Broncos could and should be cautious with the sixth-round pick and get him back to full health. This could be a redshirt type of season for Muti.

WR Tyrie Cleveland: The Broncos are deep at wide receiver, so it will be a battle for Cleveland to make the roster. If he makes the roster, I would expect him to be an option only if the injury bug hits the group. He also could be a practice squad player — and there's no shame in that.

OLB Derrek Tuszka: I think Tuszka has a sneaky good chance of making the roster. An FCS All-American, Tuszka had 13.5 sacks as a senior. The Broncos think highly of reserve rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, and Malik Reed proved himself last season, as well. If the Broncos keep five outside linebackers, he could make the team. Perhaps he will even push Reed for the fourth spot.

Also keep an eye on college free agents RB LeVante Bellamy, S Douglas Coleman III and CB Essang Bassey. All three players have a chance to make the roster.

We have two excellent safeties but only one relief (replacement). I realize corners or, possibly, some linebackers could possibly play safety. Your thoughts, please. – Karin R.

I mentioned Coleman a moment ago, as he ranked third in the nation in interceptions as a senior at Texas Tech. That play-making ability could help him earn a spot at a relatively thin position. Though Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson comprise perhaps the best safety duo in the league, Trey Marshall is the only proven backup at that spot. The Broncos will need one more to emerge, and Coleman seems like as good a bet as any.

What's going to happen to Royce Freeman now that the draft is over? — Erich B.

I'm intrigued by the Broncos' plan at running back. Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay are clearly option 1A and 1B, but I don't know quite what that means for Freeman. A year ago, he actually carried the ball more than he did as a rookie. In 2019, Freeman had 132 carries and 50 targets as a receiver. Those numbers will definitely drop — ESPN's Mike Clay projects he'll have just 12 carries and 34 targets — but I think he's still a valuable third back. He could fulfill a Devontae Booker-esque role next year. If Bellamy wows the Broncos as an undrafted player — he reportedly got a significant $25,000 signing bonus — that could change things. For now, though, I'd still expect Freeman to contribute from time to time.

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