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Examining the Broncos’ position battles entering training camp

Zac Stevens Avatar
July 26, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first time since the 2014 season, there’s no drama with the Denver Broncos’ quarterback position.

And what a relief it is.

But just because Case Keenum has the most important position in all of sports locked down doesn’t mean there aren’t other important position battles up for grabs entering training camp. In fact, there’s plenty, and depending on how they pan out they could have a large impact on the Broncos’ 2018 campaign.

The tides have already shifted in some battles since the beginning of OTAs, too.

Here’s how the competitions stand entering the beginning of training camp starting on Saturday.

Outside Linebacker

Frontrunner: Bradley Chubb

Competitors: Shaq Barrett, Shane Ray

Other players at the position: Jeff Holland, Marcus Rush, Jerrol Garcia-Williams

The best way to describe the Broncos’ outside linebacker position is an embarrassment of riches.

With Ray catching a major break by not needing surgery, he and Chubb will battle it out to start across from Miller. If the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft continues to impress to the level he’s impressed during the offseason, he’ll likely be the starter come opening day.

In the end, however, Chubb, Ray and Barrett will all see substantial playing time regardless of who starts.

Right Guard

Frontrunner: Menelik Watson

Competitors: Connor McGovern, Max Garcia,

Other players at the position: Sam Jones, Austin Schlottmann, Jeremiah Poutasi

Last season’s opening day starter at right tackle got an extensive look at right guard this offseason, giving him the upper hand in this competition entering camp. On the books for a $7.2 million cap hit, Watson controls the keys to this competition.

If he looks better suited at guard than he did at tackle last year, Watson will be the starter. However, if his struggles continue at a new position, McGovern — who started five games at guard last year — will be the next man up, followed by Garcia.

It is expected that McGovern will get a shot to earn the position, and if he plays well, he could very well overtake Watson.

Running Back

Frontrunner: Devontae Booker

Competitors: Royce Freeman

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

This two-man race is as close as they come between the veteran of the group, Booker, and the highly-anticipated rookie, Freeman.

Entering camp, the slight edge goes to Booker for two reasons. First, the team knows what they have in him. Second, and more importantly, the entire organization thinks very highly of him.

With that being said, it will be incredibly easy for the third-round pick to earn the job, especially if he’s able to show big-play ability. Regardless of who starts, both will likely share snaps fairly evenly.

The others at the position have a much more difficult path to becoming the starter, but whoever makes the roster will likely see the field in specialized roles.

Tight End

Frontrunner: Jake Butt

Competitors: Jeff Heuerman

Other players at the position: Troy Fumagalli, Austin Traylor, Brian Parker, Matt LaCosse

As a receiving tight end, there’s no question Butt is the Broncos go-to guy now that he’s fully healthy. Heuerman will give him a run for his money as an all-around tight end, but the excitement and potential of Butt will be hard to put on the bench.

Traylor and Fumagalli are both expected to make the team and every tight end that makes the roster will likely see playing time, with Butt leading the way.

Third Receiver

Frontrunner: Courtland Sutton

Competitors: DaeSean Hamilton

Other players at the position: Jordan Taylor, Carlos Henderson, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Leslie, Tim Patrick, River Cracraft, Jimmy Williams, Kenny Bell, John Diarse, Mark Chapman

The Broncos look to have a tremendous amount of upside and potential with this position — a drastic change from the past few years — thanks to their two rookies.

Sutton and Hamilton have done nothing but impress during their first few months with the organization and both will likely team up to provide Denver with the best third-receiver option they’ve seen in years.

Due to his dominating physical stature and big-play ability, Sutton gets the early nod entering camp. Hamilton, however, could see the field just as much.

There hasn’t been this much legitimate optimism surrounding this position since the Wes Welker days.

Third Cornerback

Frontrunner: Tramaine Brock

Competitors: Brendan Langley

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

Head coach Vance Joseph maintains the battle in the cornerback room is between Roby and Brock for the team’s second corner position. But the truth is Roby has that position all but locked up. The real battle, and one that will likely only get hotter as training camp progresses, is for the third cornerback spot.

The Broncos brought in the veteran, Brock, this offseason after he was coming off a season in which he only played in five percent of the defensive snaps for the Minnesota Vikings. During OTAs and mini camp this offseason, Brock had his struggles with Denver’s receivers.

On the other hand, Langly, the second-year pro, has quietly impressed after a tough rookie season. If both of these trends continue, Langley will — or at least should — have a chance to grab the third cornerback position by the start of the season.

Strong Safety

Frontrunner: Darian Stewart

Competitors: Su’a Cravens

Other players at the position: Will Parks, Jamal Carter, Dymonte Thomas

During OTAs and mini camp, Cravens did nothing to cool the high expectations and excitement surrounding him. While Stewart will likely hold onto the starting role, Cravens will give him a run for his money in playing time.

If Cravens can quickly prove in camp he’s not just a specialized player, he will push Stewart for the starting role alongside Justin Simmons.

Regardless of who starts, Stewart and Cravens will each see a significant amount of playing time with Parks seeing the field, as well.

Defensive End

Frontrunner: Adam Gotsis

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

Other players at the position: Paul Boyette Jr., DeShawn Williams, Antonio Simmons, Stansly Maponga

This position is up for grabs because of the pure strength and depth it holds — an exciting decision for the Broncos’ brass to make.

Entering camp, the nod goes to the 13 game starter from last year — assuming Gotsis is available as 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 on him — as the team believes he still hasn’t reached his full potential.

However, last year’s second-round pick, Walker, has taken significant strides this offseason and can be penciled in as the team’s pass-rushing defensive end.

If McDonald can reclaim his health, he, Harris and Kerr will also join the defensive end rotation along with starter Derek Wolfe.

Punt Returner

Frontrunner: Isaiah McKenzie

Competitors: Jordan Taylor, Royce Freeman, David Williams, DaeSean Hamilton, Phillip Lindsay, Carlos Henderson

Until the Broncos stop giving McKenzie opportunities, he’s the leader of the pack, despite the anxiety that gives many fans.

During the offseason, special teams coordinator Tom McMahon said McKenzie was “doing a great job right now” returning punts.

A fumble or two during the preseason will fumble away the opportunity — and his spot on the roster — for the potential big play returner, giving a chance to the more sure-handed Taylor or one of the rookies.

Backup Quarterback

Frontrunner: Paxton Lynch

Competitor: Chad Kelly

Entering camp, the former first-round pick has the edge on Mr. Irrelevant to backup the Broncos’ prized offseason acquisition of Keenum. However, last year, Lynch impressed during parts of the offseason before regressing once the pads came on in camp.

In college, Kelly continuously stepped up in big moments. If he does that again in camp, and more importantly in the preseason, he’ll give Paxton a legitimate run for his money. If the competition stays close, the nod will go to Lynch.

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