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Mile High Morning: Broncos have deepest roster according to ESPN


The Lead

ESPN has ranked the five deepest and five thinnest NFL rosters, and the Broncos have landed the top spot thanks to their depth across the board on both sides of the football.

"Injuries to edge defender Bradley Chubb and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler could have derailed most rosters out of the gate," Pro Football Focus' Brad Spielberger wrote for ESPN. "But Denver boasts depth all along their offense and defense."

On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos have lost Jeudy, who was projected to be on the verge of a breakout season before being sidelined for several weeks, as well as Hamler, whose athletic and speedy contributions have been challenging to replace. But the Broncos have kept their passing game alive thanks to the return of WR Courtland Sutton, who missed much of last season with a knee injury, and WR Tim Patrick, who continues to make big plays in big moments when the Broncos need him the most. Though the passing game of course misses Jeudy and Hamler, Denver's depth has allowed them to keep things moving while they wait for Jeudy's imminent return.

"Despite losing both [second-year] wide receivers, Denver has Courtland Sutton returning from injury after missing the 2020 campaign, and Tim Patrick stepping up once again after putting up [742] yards and six touchdowns on 51 receptions in 2020," Spielberger wrote. 

Denver's receivers aren't the only group stepping up in the wake of injuries. 

"Young tight end Noah Fant is quickly becoming one of the best receiving threats at the position," Spielberger wrote. "The offensive line has provided their quarterbacks with plenty of time, even with some injuries along the interior."

On defense, Denver has suffered just as many tough losses, with several stars banged up and missing time.

"Up front, the loss of 2018 No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb is a big one, but future Hall of Famer Von Miller hasn't missed a beat upon returning from an ankle injury that knocked him out for the 2020 season," Spielberger wrote. "The interior of the defensive line is equally loaded with young players like Dre'Mont Jones continuing to get better each week."

One of the most talked-about position groups in Denver has been their secondary, which is bursting at the seams with talent. The Broncos have so many talented defensive backs that until injuries hit, Denver had to work to find ways to share the snap count wealth so players like CB Patrick Surtain II could receive playing time.

"[Denver's] cornerbacks are considered league-wide to be one of the deepest position groups in the NFL," Spielberger wrote. "A starting trio of Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby on the outside with Bryce Callahan in the slot could have been one of the league's stronger units, and then the Broncos went ahead and used the No. 9 overall pick on Alabama star cornerback Pat Surtain II." 

The Broncos roster is loaded on both sides of the football, and it should get even better in the near future, with the returns of Darby, Jeudy and Chubb all on the horizon.

"There's a reason Denver is at the top of this list," Spielberger wrote.

Below the Fold

Sutton has been high on Pro Football Focus' ratings all season, and following his seven-reception, 120-yard, one-touchdown performance vs. the Steelers, he sits in PFF's top 20 graded receivers. That grade is partly due to Sutton's consistency and reliability this season — he has zero drops on 38 consecutive targets.

This weekend, as the Broncos host the Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High for their first division battle of the season, Sutton should see a favorable matchup in coverage. According to PFF, Sutton will be part of one of the biggest WR/CB mismatches in Week 6.  

Thanks partly to his size, Sutton should have the advantage over whichever CB the Raiders task with attempting to contain him. At 6-foot-3, Sutton has been known to turn 50-50 balls into more of an 80-20 advantage — part of what makes him so lethal downfield.

"The Raiders had [CB Amik] Robertson track [Bears WR] Allen Robinson in Week 5," PFF's Ian Hartitz wrote. "Perhaps Casey Hayward is asked to track the Broncos' No. 1 receiver instead."

Whoever is assigned to cover Sutton, the Broncos WR should have the upper hand in the matchup, according to Hartitz.

"The rather punitive size of each corner makes the matchup a bit of a non-issue for Sutton either way," Hartitz wrote. "This is especially true as long as Sutton continues to rack up an egregious amount of air yards. Just seven receivers have racked up over 600 air yards through five weeks." 

Sutton is No. 3 on that list with 649 air yards so far this season, behind only Davante Adams and Mike Evans. Air yards, as calculated by PFF, is defined as the amount of yards the ball travels in the air, from where the quarterback throws the ball to the receiver's location when he catches it.

With some of the most reliable hands in the league this season, Sutton is steadily returning to his pre-injury form. This weekend vs. the Raiders, Sutton will have another opportunity to exploit mismatched coverage and put on a show at home

The Unclassifieds

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