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Breaking down the Broncos’ top position battles entering OTAs

Zac Stevens Avatar
May 20, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos are back.

On Tuesday, for the first time in 2018, the Denver Broncos will take the field for what will be their first full practice of the year with the beginning of OTAs, otherwise known as organized team activities.

For the past month and a half, Vance Joseph and his staff have had their players in the building, but NFL rules have precluded them from participating in full practices, instead limiting them to conditioning work and walkthroughs.

Beginning Tuesday, the team will have four weeks of on-field practices that can include nearly everything except full pads and hitting. With the start of real practices also comes the start of many position battles.

Coming off a 5-11 season, only a select few starting positions are truly safe — i.e., Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Case Keenum, etc. — leaving many up for grabs. Although most won’t be officially decided until training camp or the preseason, the competition will begin on Tuesday. In some cases in the past, these battles have been decided during the next four-week stretch.

Without further to do, here’s who will be battling it out in the spring sun.

Right guard

Frontrunner: Connor McGovern

Competitors: Sam Jones, Menelik Watson

Other players at the position: Max Garcia, J.J. Dielman, Billy Turner, Jeremiah Poutasi

Out of all of these positional battles, this is the only one where the winner should be the only one playing. Of course, last year the team used a combination of rotating guards opposite Ron Leary, but that was unconventional.

McGovern gets the nod out of the gate for two reasons. First, he was the player that stepped in for the final five games last season at this position, when Leary was put on the injured reserve, and played solid. Second, his trajectory is still pointing upward with many believing he can still become a better player.

While Max Garcia started every game last year at left guard opposite Leary, his inconsistent play will likely have the team go in a different direction for the starting position.

Sixth-round pick Sam Jones and former-tackle Menelik Watson will be McGovern’s main competition.

Running back

Frontrunner: Devontae Booker

Competitors: Royce Freeman

Other players at the position: De’Angelo Henderson, David Williams, Phillip Lindsay

The Broncos’ brass made a loud statement eleven days before the draft when they released C.J. Anderson. The message was clear: They truly believe in Devontae Booker.

If management and the coaching staff didn’t have faith in the third-year pro, they would have waited until after the draft to release Anderson. But they didn’t do that, and that’s precisely why Booker opens up camp as the frontrunner for the job.

Saying that, however, it’s still very possible for Royce Freeman to take the job from Booker if he shows he can put up similar production in the NFL as he did in college. Regardless of who starts, both players will see the field often along with specialists De’Angelo Henderson and potentially Phillip Lindsay.

Tight end

Frontrunner: Jake Butt

Competitors: Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Austin Traylor

Other players at the position: Matt LaCosse, Brian Parker

The Broncos desperately need one of these players to step up and take this job by the reigns as they haven’t seen consistent production from a tight end since Julius Thomas back in the Peyton Manning glory days.

Fortunately, they believe they have just the man for the job in second-year pro Jake Butt. After missing his entire rookie season while recovering from a torn ACL, Butt enters 2018 completely healthy. If he can play at the level of his talent, the Broncos will be in for a treat as he will significantly upgrade the position.

If Butt is the player they hope, rookie Troy Fumagalli, Jeff Heuerman and Austin Traylor will all compete for the second tight end position, which will still see the field a significant amount as Joseph wants to have a run-heavy offense.

Third receiver

Frontrunner: DaeSean Hamilton

Competitors: Courtland Sutton, Carlos Henderson

Other players at the position: Jordan Taylor, Isaiah McKenzie, River Cracraft, Kenny Bell, Tim Patrick, Jordan Leslie

As much as the Broncos have missed a dominant tight end for many years, they’ve missed a third receiver just as much, if not more, since Wes Welker departed after the 2014 season.

This year, they’ve got a stable of players ready to compete for the spot. In terms of a true slot receiver, rookie DaeSean Hamilton gets to nod to start as he’s the most polished route runner of the younger talented players. At the Senior Bowl — in front of the Broncos’ coaching staff — Hamilton was crisp and precise, characteristics perfect for the slot.

Under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the Broncos’ offense is expected to run many different looks and incorporate many different players, which will allow talents such as Courtland Sutton and Carlos Henderson to see the field. Both players are young and “raw” — as John Elway specifically called Sutton — so they may need additional time to develop into their talent.

Third cornerback

Frontrunner: Tramaine Brock

Competitors: Brendan Langley, Isaac Yiadom,

Other players at the position: Marcus Rios, Michael Hunter, C.J. Smith, Jordan Moore

Not only does Joseph have a previous relationship with Tramaine Brock — as he brought him into the league in 2010 as an underfed free agent with the San Francisco 49ers — earlier in the offseason, he said Brock will compete for Bradley Roby for the team’s No. 2 cornerback spot.

Although it’s highly unlikely Brock will take that job from Roby, Joseph’s comments speak volumes to how he views the nine-year vet, giving him the upper-hand to be Denver’s slot corner.

Additionally, Brock has a wealth of experience while the players under him, specifically second-year player Brendan Langley and rookie Isaac Yiadom, still have a lot to learn. On this veteran defense, the team cannot afford growing pains from the third-cornerback spot. Brock should be the guy unless any of the younger players prove they can be counted on.

Strong safety

Frontrunner: Darian Stewart

Competitors: Su’a Cravens, Will Parks

Other players at the position: Jamal Carter, Dymonte Thomas

For years, the “No Fly Zone” has not only been one of Denver’s biggest strength, it’s been one of the most dominant secondaries in the league. Even without Aqib Talib, the team maintains the unit will still be dominant. On paper, the strong safety position fits the bill.

Regardless of who starts, it is excepted that Darian Stewart, Su’a Cravens and Will Parks will all see significant playing time alongside Justin Simmons. Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods will be able to use every player to their strengths, while keeping a fresh body on the field at all times.

The early nod goes to the savvy vet.

Defensive end

Frontrunner: Adam Gotsis

Competitors: Shelby Harris, Zach Kerr, DeMarcus Walker, Clinton McDonald

Other players at the position: Paul Boyette Jr., DeShawn Williams

This might be the best decision Joseph and his staff have to make all year. It also could be the most difficult. The reason is it’s very realistic five different players could win this starting job playing opposite Derek Wolfe.

The early nod goes to Adam Gotsis, last year’s 13-game starter. It is important to mention, though, that the Fulton County District Attorney’s office is in the process of making a decision on whether or not to pursue a sexual assault charge of Gotsis. Gotsis was arrested back in March after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her in 2013. The Broncos are currently proceeding as if he will be available as he is attending their offseason training program.

Whether or not Gotsis is available, any of the other four competitors could step up and take the starting job. Regardless of who is the starter, all five will play on Bill Kollar’s defensive line — one that has a chance to be one of the most dominant lines in the league.

Backup quarterback

Frontrunner: N/A

Competitors: Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch

Other players at the position: Nick Stevens

John Elway made one thing very clear after the draft: There’s an open competition between Chad Kelly and Paxton Lynch for the team’s backup quarterback position.

“Paxton’s going to compete with Chad for that backup spot,” Elway said, changing the tone surrounding the former first-round pick.

Earlier in the offseason, Joseph declared Lynch the backup and Kelly the third-string. After Elway’s comments, there’s another quarterback battle brewing in the Mile High City.


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