Grading the Denver Broncos’ Roster

Defending champs are among league's deepest teams, but still have their share of question marks.

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Image Credit: Ryan Greene, 5280 Sports Network

ENGLEWOOD, Colo.— Firing 22 people in a single day isn’t easy. In fact, it’s among the hardest parts of Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak’s job.

“It’s really tough,” Kubiak said. “It goes as late as yesterday, it went to the last minute with a few players for us. We had to let some guys go that did a really good job…but that’s part of it. You just try to respect everybody and be honest with them. Your paths will probably cross again. That’s part of our business.”

The first depth chart for the team Kubiak and general manager John Elway assembled was released Saturday and clear that while this roster has plenty of depth at a number of positions, it isn’t without it’s share of issues.

1) Trevor Siemian
2) Paxton Lynch
3) Austin Davis

This Broncos quarterback group is far and away the biggest question mark on a roster otherwise absolutely loaded with depth on both sides of the ball. Denver’s top two quarterbacks have a combined 0 NFL passing attempts, while veteran third-stringer Austin Davis, who they signed Saturday, has a QBR of 33.23 in the last two seasons.

This is not a unit that inspires much confidence. However, there are some signs that the Broncos’ quarterback group may be better than expected.

Trevor Siemian, last year’s seventh-round draft pick out of Northwestern has been shouldered with a monumental task during what will be, for all intents and purposes, his rookie year in the NFL: replace Peyton Manning.

The Broncos have said over and over that there is no replacing a legend like Manning. Siemian even admitted that succeeding the five-time NFL MVP is not his goal.

“Those shoes are too big to fill,” Siemian said.

Still, the reality is that the Broncos will need Siemian to provide much of what Manning did for this team down the stretch last year. Namely, they need him to lead the offense and keep them in the right play at all times.

He’s capable of doing that, and has demonstrated the ability to make every throw the Broncos will ask of him. He’s mobile enough to escape the pocket when necessary and execute the boot-action that this Kubiak offense thrives on. However, it’s hard to believe he is anything more than a bridge to the far more dynamic player in the Broncos’ quarterback room.

Rookie Paxton Lynch is going to be special.

Emphasis on “going to be.”

A year from now, Lynch will be tearing up the football world with his dynamic arm and elite mobility. Before long, the Broncos’ first round pick will be exactly who they drafted him to be.

At this moment, however, Lynch simply isn’t prepared for the mental rigors that come with playing quarterback in the National Football League.

This unit has plenty of potential, but until Siemian takes the field against a live NFL defense or until Lynch is ready to play, there will be more questions than answers for the Broncos at quarterback.


Running Back
1) C.J. Anderson
2) Devontae Booker
3) Kapri Bibbs

With so many issues under center, the Broncos will no doubt make the running game, and this group of players, the focus of their offense.

2016 is a make or break year for C.J. Anderson. During the offseason, the Broncos signed the 25-year-old to a 4-year $18 million contract in the hopes that he can become a featured, every-down runner.

In the last two seasons, Anderson has rushed for an average of 784.5 yards and has never had 1,000-yard rushing season.

However, Anderson has always demonstrated the kind of one-cut quickness and natural ability as a downhill runner that can make scouts and coaches swoon. Turning that talent into on-field production, especially early in the season, will be the key to this entire unit’s success.

Meanwhile, rookie Devontae Booker is a favorite among national observers to emerge from this season as the Broncos’ top running back. However, his preseason production and training camp work doesn’t fit that profile.

Booker was the least productive pure running back the Broncos had during the preseason. He carried the ball 21 times for 60-yards, an average of just 2.9 yards-per-carry.

Even Kapri Bibbs, who will be the Utah alum’s back-up and play mostly on special teams, was better than Booker in every statistical category when it came to running the football.

Booker has plenty of upside, and flashed some very impressive moments on film, but still has a bit of a hill to climb to become a productive running back in the NFL.

Thus, this unit rests squarely on the shoulders of  Anderson, who looks faster, swifter, and more agile than he has at the start of any season during his career.

The Broncos running backs may not have the history of production that you’d like to see, but the tape says that they have the talent necessary to put up good numbers and be the most productive piece of Denver’s offense.


1) Andy Janovich

For the first time in about half a decade, the Broncos will enter the season with a full-time fullback on their roster.

The Broncos selected Nebraska’s Andy Janovich in the sixth round of the draft last April to help fill out Kubiak’s offense. Which, for more than two decades, has relied on a fullback to lead block in the run game and protect against backside rushers in the passing game.

Janovich has filled the position wonderfully. Teammates seem confident in his ability, and his preseason tape was excellent. The Broncos may very well have found a gem that can contribute for them for a long, long time.


Wide Receiver
1) Demaryius Thomas
2) Emmanuel Sanders
3) Bennie Fowler
4) Cody Latimer
5) Jordan Taylor
6) Jordan Norwood

Simply put, this is one of the deepest receiver groups in football. Thomas, Sanders, Fowler, and Latimer could (arguably) all be in the starting rotation for at least half the teams in the NFL.

In the last two years, Sanders and Thomas alone have combined for 393-catches, 5,462-yards, and 32-touchdowns. They may be the best one-two punch in the NFL, and there presence alone would be enough to grade this position group very highly.

However, what’s really exciting about the Broncos receiving corps is their depth. Fowler, Latimer, Taylor, and Norwood are all fairly young and very talented.

Fowler has emerged this training camp as a consistent performer for the Denver offense.

Latimer, a former second-round draft pick has elite athleticism and all the physical skills you look for in a top wide receiver. Now that Peyton Manning is no longer calling the shots in the passing game, his numbers should tick up considerably.

Taylor provides top-flight athleticism and elite hands and can continue developing the rest of his game through the season.

Norwood is a savvy veteran and a quality route runner who the Broncos expect to contribute a great deal on special teams as a punt and kick returner.

Overall, this group is excellent. They’re filled with talent, athleticism, and moxie that should serve them well throughout the season. They’re also a diverse group of receivers made up of several different body types and skill-sets, which is critical to keeping defenses off-balance.


Tight End
1) Virgil Green
2) Jeff Heuerman
3) John Phillips

Gary Kubiak’s offense has always been great for tight ends. Owen Daniels and Shannon Sharpe made careers out of catching passes and sealing the edge in this system. However, this particular group of Broncos tight ends doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

It’s headlined by Virgil Green, whose often been described as “gritty,” or “hard-working.” In NFL media speak, that can typically be translated to, “he’s probably not very good, but he sure is fun to be around.”

However, Green may be an exception to that.

Since joining the Broncos as a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, Green has been one of the most under-utilized players on their roster. In his career, he’s only had 29-catches for 305-yards, and a pair of touchdowns.

Both Kubiak, and the previous Broncos’ coaching regime headed by John Fox, thought of Green more as a blocking tight end and a tool in the running game than they did as a pass catcher or receiving threat.

That’s going to change this season, perhaps out of necessity more than design.

Jeff Heuerman, the tight end the Broncos hoped would take over for the aforementioned Daniels, is coming off a lost rookie season thanks to a torn ACL and has looked lackluster during training camp and the preseason, to say the least.

Green has shown in the past he’s capable of picking up the slack in the passing game, but with such a small sample size it’s hard to make a judgement call about whether he’s really ready for the role the Broncos are about to give him.

John Phillips, meanwhile, will take Green’s old role as a blocker and special teams contributor.

The potential is there for this unit to outperform their grade, but with so much uncertainty about the group’s experience and Heuerman’s poor performance this preseason, it’s tough to have much confidence in them.


Offensive Line
Left Tackle: 1) Russell Okung
2) Ty Sambrailo

Left Guard: 1) Max Garcia
2) Connor McGovern

Center: 1) Matt Paradis
2) James Ferentz

Right Guard: 1) Michael Schofield
2) Darrion Weems

Right Tackle: 1) Donald Stephenson
2) Ty Sambrailo

The Broncos offensive line was supposed to be significantly improved this season.

They spent money in the spring to bring in two new starting tackles: Russell Okung from Seattle and Donald Stephenson from Kansas City.

The Stephenson signing didn’t make much sense at the time, and months going by hasn’t made the reasoning behind the Broncos’ decision much clearer.

He’s been a backup tackle for the vast majority of his career. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Stephenson as the 67th overall tackle in football, which, statistically speaking, would make him a pretty darn good swing tackle.

That’s exactly the role the Chiefs asked him to play in the past. Now, however, the Broncos are asking Stephenson to take on a very different role as their starting right tackle.

In the offseason, the Broncos signed Stephenson to a 3-year $14 million dollar contract. That kind of money comes with a certain expectation and it’s tough to see a career backup stepping into a starting and living up to that salary.

Okung, meanwhile, did the opposite of Stephenson in the spring. The former Seahawks’ stand-out signed a 5-year $53 million contract with the Broncos. However, that deal includes literally zero guaranteed money. That’s almost unheard of in today’s NFL.

He signed the deal, because, as he said, “I wanted to bet on myself.”

If Okung plays well, the deal includes a mountain of incentives and performance bonuses that can get his actual dollar figure up to the total contract value in no time, but he has to play well and stay healthy throughout the season to get there.

Thus far in his admittedly brief Broncos career, he’s done just that. During training camp and the preseason, Okung has looked like the Pro Bowl caliber tackle he was during his early days in Seattle. If he can maintain that form, the Broncos will have gotten an absolute steal protecting their blindside.

At center, the Broncos bring back Matt Paradis, a 26-year-old from Council, Idaho who played more snaps last season than anyone else in football.

Paradis is one of Denver’s strongest leaders and played well during the preseason. He’ll hold down the middle of the line nicely.

Max Garcia, another young player who emerged as a star last season, returns to be the Broncos starting left guard.

Garcia is a brawler in the truest sense of the term. He was tremendous last year and, with a quality performance this season, could lock up the starting left guard job for years to come.

Right guard remains an issue for the this team.

They had hoped second-year Colorado State alum Ty Sambrailo would be able to fill that role this season. However, Sambrailo, who missed most of last year with a shoulder injury after being drafted in the second-round and becoming the team’s starting left tackle, has again been dealing with an upper body injury.

He hurt his elbow during the early part of training camp and only returned to practice on Sunday, just days before the team’s season-opener against the Carolina Panthers. Sambrailo isn’t expected to be ready to play for at least another week or so.

In his place, Kubiak and offensive line coach Clancy Barrone have chosen to go with Michael Schofield, a third-year player out of Michigan.

Thanks to a slew of injuries, Schofield spent most of last season as the Broncos starting right tackle and even had to play on the left side for some stretches. He was not just bad at tackle last season, he was downright awful.

Schofield ranked No. 64 of 77 tackles according to Pro Football Focus last season. During a game against the Oakland Raiders he gave up four sacks to Khalil Mack…by himself.

The Broncos hope that being on the interior of the line will help him, but that hasn’t been the case during the preseason. He’s looked lost at times and still struggles with the same fundamental technique issues he dealt with last season, only now, the Broncos are asking him to learn a new position. It’s a recipe for disaster that could cost such a run-heavy team like Denver mightily.

Schofield aside, the Broncos’ offensive line is a fairly decent unit with solid upside at three of the five positions. Just don’t be surprised if things are a little harder on the right side of the field than they are on the left.



The Broncos are no doubt weaker on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side. With so many questions at quarterback, so much inexperience at tight end, and serious doubts about two of the three spots on the offensive line, this unit is going to have to overcome their share of challenges.

With that said, the standard for them isn’t set all that high. Last season, the Broncos finished 16th in the league in yards-per-game and 19th in points-per-game. However, they led the league in interceptions from the quarterback position.

If the Broncos can match or exceed last season’s productivity, but cut down on the turnovers, they should be able to give their all world defense plenty of chances to protect leads and win games.

Speaking of that all-world defense…

Defensive End
1) Derek Wolfe
2) Jared Crick
3) Billy Winn
4) Adam Gotsis

The Broncos defensive end group was supposed to include Vance Walker, who tore his ACL during the preseason and will be out for the rest of the year. It also lacks one of last season’s top 3-4 defensive ends in Malik Jackson, who took a big money deal with the Jaguars in free agency.

Instead, the group is highlighted by Derek Wolfe, a fiercely tough defender who has begun to come into his own in the NFL.

In 2015, Wolfe recorded 5.5 sacks, and a career-high 49 total tackles on his way to a long-term contract extension with the Broncos that should keep him in Denver for years to come.

Beyond Wolfe, though, this unit doesn’t have much to offer with Walker and Jackson gone.

Crick was an offseason signing from the Texans, where he didn’t get to do much but direct traffic for J.J. Watt. In Denver, he’ll be given a few more chances to rush the passer, but it’s still unknown whether he’s even capable of doing that on a regular basis.

Winn is a 27-year-old journeyman with just three career sacks to his name. His production could improve under the tutelage of well-respected defensive line coach Bill Kollar, but the master is only as good as the tools given to him and Winn simply may not have the tools to produce in the NFL.

Speaking of Kollar, in April the Broncos took Georgia Tech’s Adam Gotsis in the second-round almost exclusively because the veteran coach pounded the table for him.

When he was selected, an NFL scout described Gotsis tape to this writer as “yucky.” That hasn’t changed during the preseason.

Gotsis has a high motor and could be a good player in the future.  Right now, however, he’s about as raw as a defensive line prospect can be. His place on the depth chart reflects that.

The loss of Walker and Jackson leaves this defensive end group without anything close to the talent it had last season. However, if Crick is able to over-perform and Gotsis can get things together faster than expected, they could help take some pressure off Wolfe this season.


Nose Tackle
1) Sylvester Williams
2) Darius Kilgo
3) Kyle Peko

Sylvester Williams has flourished perhaps more than any other Bronco under Kollar and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Two seasons ago, Williams was shaping up as a bust for the Broncos. Now, he’s firmly established himself as the brick in the center of this defense and a key contributor both in run and pass defense.

Last year, Williams set career highs in sacks and assisted tackles. They will need him to do something similar if they’re going to put up the same kind of numbers as a total defense.

Behind Williams, Darius Kilgo and Kyle Peko are two lesser known players with a ton of upside.

Kilgo, the Broncos sixth-round pick in 2015, played exceptionally well for a rookie defensive tackle picked that late. He only compiled six total tackles last season, but he showed the ability to be an every-down box stuffer in the near future. He should be a more than capable backup to Williams.

Peko, the third big man on the defensive line, was on the bubble to make the team throughout training camp and the preseason. In fact, the Broncos initially cut him before having a change of heart and deciding to bring him onto the final 53-man roster.

The un-drafted rookie from Oregon State performed well during the preseason, but flashed some elite-level skill in training camp, consistently putting pressure on the middle of the offensive line and causing disruption in the running game.

While he’s yet to be on a real regular season NFL field, he could be one the lesser-known and more intriguing Broncos defenders to watch this season.

So long as Williams is able to continue growing in his second year under Kollar, this unit should be set to perform as well as they did last season. Which, while certainly not jaw-dropping, should be enough to support the real stars of the Broncos defense.


Outside Linebacker
1) Von Miller
2) DeMarcus Ware
3) Shaquil Barrett
4) Shane Ray
5) Dekoda Watson

This is, simply put, the best position group in the National Football League. Von Miller alone would be enough to describe the Broncos outside linebackers as a “great” unit, but with Ware, Barrett, and Ray added to the mix, this group is flat-out dominant and they proved as much last season.

They have a combined 207 sacks in their collective careers. Of course, most of those come from veteran DeMarcus Ware, who is entering his 11th NFL season.

However, the real star of this group, and the face of the Broncos’ organization is Von Miller. The Super Bowl MVP came back from a whirlwind offseason tour at the end of July looking as lean, quick, and agile as he did during his first two seasons in the league.

Even after signing a massive contract extension this offseason and likely having more attention paid to him this year by scheming offensive coordinators, Miller could be even more explosive this season than he has been at any other point since being drafted No. 2 overall by the Broncos in 2011.

Behind him, Barrett and Ray are good enough to start on at least 25 NFL teams, while Dekoda Watson, the surprise of the group, is no slouch as a pass rusher himself and should provide valuable work as a backup and on special teams when active.

This group is dominant. They’ve been dominant. They will continue to be dominant and should be the most productive and dynamic position group on the field for the Broncos.


Inside Linebacker
1) Brandon Marshall
2) Todd Davis
3) Corey Nelson
4) Zaire Anderson

If the loss of Malik Jackson had a negative impact on the Broncos’ defensive line, the same can and should be said for the loss of Danny Trevethan.

Trevethan finished just three tackles shy of Marshall in the competition to be the team’s leading tackler. He was a key piece at the center of the all-world Broncos’ defense last season. Now, he’s in Chicago with former Broncos’ head coach John Fox and the Denver has been left trying to fill his shoes.

Marshall, of course, is the leader in the clubhouse. He’s been a consistent performer for them the last two seasons and should do similar things again this year. He’s developed into a pro bowl caliber inside backer and should serve as a role model to any of the Broncos’ practice squad players looking to make an impact in the league.

Behind him, and replacing Trevethan, will be Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, and Zaire Anderson.

Davis played well in a reserve role last season, and the Broncos are expecting him to have a breakout year manning the middle of this Denver “D.” However, Davis only has two career starts and a measly 21 career tackles. The leap they want him to make could prove to be too steep.

Meanwhile, Nelson and Anderson are little more than high upside backups. Anderson has the chance to be a good player in the future, but he needs to prove that potential on the field. Nelson’s ceiling isn’t quite as high, but he can be a suitable backup behind Marshall and Davis. If he’s forced into action because of injury, the Broncos could be in trouble.

Phillips 3-4 scheme is dependent on two quality inside linebackers to direct traffic, clog up holes in the running game, and cover tight ends. It’s easy to have confidence in Marshall. His experience and past performance demand it.

The grade of this group, however, depends on Davis’ ability to fill Trevethan’s role. If you have confidence in him, you have confidence in this group.


1) Aqib Talib
2) Chris Harris, Jr.
3) Bradley Roby
4) Kayvon Webster
5) Lorenzo Doss

Remember how the Broncos’ outside linebacker group might be the best position group in the NFL? This one might be the second best.

There are teams in the NFL where all five of these corners, even fifth stringer Lorenzo Doss, could start. Third stinger Bradley Roby would be the best corner on at least 23 teams in the league. Webster would be a quality No. 2 on most teams as well.

This group  flies around and is stacked with great ball-hawks that should have no problem matching their production from last season.

It’s honestly hard to find a flaw here. If you’re really stretching things, one could wonder about how Talib will look after being injured in a shooting incident last June.

However, he started practicing about midway through training camp, and appears to be at 100 percent.

The “No Fly Zone,” as they like to call themselves, is set to go into full effect this season and will once again be arguably the sport’s top cornerback group.


Strong Safety: 1) T.J. Ward
2) Will Parks
Free Safety: 1) Darian Stewart
2) Justin Simmons

Simply put, the Broncos secondary is absolutely stacked. Whereas their corners provide great depth and cover guys, their safeties provide different body types and skill-sets to really round out the backed of the Broncos defense.

T.J. Ward is one of the toughest, nastiest safeties in football. He can be both a coverage guy to help out in passing situations, or a a hard hitting box stuffer who can squat down within five-yards of the line of scrimmage and essentially act as an extra linebacker on running downs.

Darian Stewart proved himself as one of the most underrated ball-hawking free safeties in football last season. He recorded 63 tackles and an interception last year, but he missed a good chunk of the season due to injury and the tape told the story of a player who was far better than those numbers.

Expect Stewart to firmly establish himself as a top-10 free safety this season.

Backing up Ward and Stewart are a pair of rookies who represent the future of the safety position for the Broncos. Parks and Simmons both had great training camps and preseasons and, as rookie safeties go, they should contribute a good deal this season.

Overall, these four make up a great group. However, they get docked a bit for Parks and Simmons inexpierence



That may seem like a low grade for this defense, but it easily could have been lower. Concerns about their defensive end and inside linebacker depth really drag down this group on paper. The loss of Jackson and Trevethan will have an enormous impact.

While the Broncos will almost certainly be a top three defense, it’s hard to see this unit pulling games out of thin air the way that they did last season. Miller and the secondary make this one of the most exciting squads in football, but they simply don’t have the depth they did in 2015.

Special Teams
Punter) Riley Dixon
Kicker) Brandon McManus
Long-snapper) Casey Kreiter

The release of Britton Colquitt, the Broncos longest-tenured player, has really put the Broncos’ special teams unit into a tricky situation.

Rookie Riley Dixon will take Colquitt’s role as the Broncos punter, but he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in the preseason.

Most notably, Dixon had a measly 18-yard punt in the final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals and struggled as a holder for McManus, who himself hasn’t had a good preseason.

Without Colquitt, the Broncos lack a veteran leader in their kicking game and it wouldn’t be shocking to see both McManus and Dixon struggle during the year.


Positional Grades
RB: B+
FB: A-
OL: B-
DE: B-
CB: A+
S: A
ST: B-


The 2016 Denver Broncos have assembled a good, but not great roster. Questions at quarterback, right guard, right tackle, tight end, defensive end, inside linebacker, and on special teams hamper them tremendously.

By week four, this grade could improve considerably if Siemian, Schofield, Stephenson, Davis, and Dixon prove they can play.

It could also drop considerably if things turn in the opposite direction.

Pass rushing outside linebackers and an elite secondary are the strengths of this team and could easily carry them to a 10-6 record if the running game and receiving corps can take a step up from last season.

However, if Siemian turns the ball over and the defense isn’t able to score touchdowns or force mistakes the way they did in 2015, it’s not hard to see them falling off a cliff and finishing the year 7-9 or 8-8.