ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The heavy lifting in George Paton's first offseason as the Broncos' general manager is likely complete.
There may be a few more roster moves to come ahead of training camp, but for all intents and purposes, the Broncos will likely move forward with their current host of players.
That doesn't mean the team's roster will look anything like it did to end the 2020 season. Since taking charge in the Broncos' front office, Paton has added impactful starters and necessary depth via free agency, the draft and a potentially crucial trade.
As the Broncos inch closer to the 2021 season, here's an in-depth look at where Denver's roster stands following the 2021 NFL Draft:
The Broncos appear headed for a training-competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater after Paton dealt a 2021 sixth-round pick to Carolina last week for Bridgewater. Denver had the opportunity to select either Justin Fields or Mac Jones in the first round on Thursday, but they chose to pick Pat Surtain II, who was the highest-graded defensive player on their board. Paton did not rule out adding to the position group — or any other position — but he said following the draft that he is "happy with our group." The Broncos' roster seems loaded after the last several drafts and another strong free-agent class. The success of the offense likely depends on how well Lock or Bridgewater can guide the unit. Brett Rypien remains on the team's roster, but he would likely only have a path to a roster spot if Denver decides to keep three quarterbacks on its roster.
Denver revamped its running back room more than any other position on the offensive side of the ball, as they added Mike Boone in free agency and traded up in the second round to select UNC's Javonte Williams. The two will combine with Melvin Gordon III to pace the Broncos' rushing attack.
Gordon profiles as the team's starter, while Williams and Boone should compete for No. 2 reps. Fangio, though, made it clear all three players will have a role.
"Last year's [running back duo] never really had a chance to develop," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Friday. "Phillip [Lindsay] missed a bunch of time early for a couple of different situations. Melvin missed a game in there. There were very few games where both of them we fully healthy. Hopefully this year with our three backs — Boone being one of them, who we really like that we signed in free agency — we'll get a nice flow and get a good understanding and philosophy of the system which we'll take from week to week to utilize all three of them."
Royce Freeman and LeVante Bellamy are among the other players who will compete in the position group.
Denver added to one of its positions of strength on Day 3 of the draft, as they drafted Auburn wide receiver Seth Williams in the sixth round. Paton said the Broncos targeted Williams because of his special teams ability, but he could also fill a need sooner rather than later. Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton are all slated to be unrestricted free agents after the season, though it's worth noting Paton has called Sutton one of the team's core players. Williams' path to the roster won't be easy, as Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Patrick and KJ Hamler seem solidified as top options on the Broncos' roster. Hamilton made plays at times in 2020, while 2020 seventh-round pick Tyrie Cleveland showed flashes toward the end of the year. Diontae Spencer largely served as a return specialist in 2020, but he figures into the receiver equation, as well. Trinity Benson and everyone's favorite practice-squad-receiver-turned-quarterback, Kendall Hinton, will compete for spots, too. For at least 2021, this unit remains the deepest of all the offensive positions.
The Broncos had largely subtracted from their tight end room this spring, as they let Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli enter unrestricted free agency and released Nick Vannett. Noah Fant remains the unquestioned starter in the room and will look for a breakout year as he enters his third season in the NFL. Albert Okwuegbunam could be another weapon for Denver after an encouraging rookie season, but Fangio said Saturday that Okwuegbunam likely won't be "full speed" for the start of training camp as he recovers from an ACL injury. Andrew Beck, a hybrid fullback/tight end, also figures to make a push for a roster spot.
Denver did not draft a tight end this weekend, but the Broncos signed fifth-year veteran Eric Saubert on Monday. A special teams contributor and strong blocker, Saurbert should help the team's run game.
The Broncos added tantalizing depth to the interior of their offensive line during the draft when they selected Quinn Meinerz with the 98th-overall pick. Meinerz and second-year player Netane Muti both have intriguing talent, and the battles for starting spots with incumbents Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III and Graham Glasgow should be fierce. The interior of the offensive line may be one of the Broncos' biggest strengths. The tackle position is less certain. Garett Bolles has proven himself as the team's long-term answer at left tackle, but the Broncos must hope Ja'Wuan James can return to the form he showed in Miami before signing in Denver in 2019. James has appeared in just three games for Denver as he struggled with injuries in 2019 before opting out last season.
The Broncos attempted to add a tackle in the draft this weekend, but they did not end up selecting a player that could potentially serve as a swing tackle after Elijah Wilkinson left in free agency.
"We targeted a few that were taken right before we took them, but it didn't fall our way," Paton said Saturday. "We still feel good about our depth. We'll continue to look on the market — the free-agent market. ... Sometimes it just doesn't fall [your way]. We had a tackle we liked, but he was taken right before, that's just the way the draft goes."
Calvin Anderson may be the team's best option on the current roster for a swing tackle.
Denver's defensive line room doesn't look much different than it did following the initial wave of free agency, when the team re-signed Shelby Harris. The team should have a strong starting group that features Harris, Mike Purcell and Dre'Mont Jones — and there is quality depth with players like DeShawn Williams, free-agent signing Shamar Stephen and 2020 third-round pick McTelvin Agim. The Broncos added another late-round pick in Mississippi State's Marquiss Spencer to compete in the room.
The Broncos' decision to pick up Von Miller's team option should put Miller and 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb on the field together for the first extended action since 2018, when the two combined for 26.5 sacks. The real intrigue at the position will come behind those two players. Malik Reed should have a leg up on one of the reserve spots, as he led the team in sacks in 2020. Derrek Tuszka, a seventh-round pick last year, will face competition from 2021 seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper and any undrafted free agents for a roster spot. Fangio said the Broncos may also cross-train third-round pick Baron Browning at the outside linebacker spot, though he expects him to begin at inside 'backer.
Many draft analysts figured the Broncos would target an inside linebacker early in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they made an addition to the unit on Day 2 when they drafted Browning. An athletic player with high upside, Browning could be helpful at either linebacker spot for Denver. If he sticks at inside linebacker, he would join 2020 starters Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell. The Broncos also could get a boost from 2020 fifth-round pick Justin Strnad, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in training camp last year. Denver's defense looks strong at nearly all levels, but if the inside linebacking group can take a step forward in pass coverage, the entire defense should take a step forward. Natrez Patrick and Josh Watson could also compete for roster spots as reserve players with special teams roles.
Paton did a major renovation on the cornerback position in both free agency and the draft, as he signed Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller before adding even more talent this past weekend. Denver drafted Surtain with the ninth-overall pick and then snagged talented LSU cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. in the seventh round.
"It wasn't that we needed a corner, but he was sticking out like a sore thumb," Paton said of Vincent. "This kid is really talented, and he was falling. … If we can get him right — I think he's a good kid, but if we can him in right health to be a pro, I think he can be a really good player."
The Broncos also still have a talented cornerback in Bryce Callahan, and 2020 rookies Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey also showed potential at times last year. The cornerback position should be a wealth of riches for the Broncos in 2021, and it profiles as perhaps the strongest position group on the team. When combined with a top-notch safety unit, it's quite possible that Denver could have the best secondary in the entire league.
The Broncos had a need at safety entering the 2021 NFL Draft, and they devoted resources to the position on Day 3 of the draft. The team first selected Texas safety Caden Sterns in the fifth round before picking Indiana's Jamar Johnson with their other fifth-rounder.
"Caden Sterns, the guy we took first from Texas, had a good season or two early in his career," Fangio said Saturday. "Not so much this past season. He slipped a little bit. We're hopeful we can get him turned back around and playing up to his potential and his ability. Jamar was a case of George sticking to the board. We had just drafted a safety. The next guy down had a pretty good separation than any of the other positions, so we drafted him. We all had some good feelings about him. He is a guy that played well. Didn't tackle as well as he should've all of the time. ... We like his talent, his potential and his ability. It'll be good competition between those two guys and the other safeties that are already on the roster."
Sterns and Johnson provide excellent depth behind Kareem Jackson and All-Pro Justin Simmons and either player could turn into a future starter. Jackson returned to Denver on a one-year deal, which means Sterns or Johnson could see a high-profile role in the near future. Both of the young players will compete with Trey Marshall and P.J. Locke for roster spots.
Despite already having one of the best safety duos in the league, the Broncos made the unit even stronger by adding critical depth.