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.