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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos have a rich history of undrafted rookies making the final 53-man roster. So rich, in fact, that at least one undrafted rookie has made Denver’s roster in 14 of the past 15 years.
Throughout the years, these rookies haven’t just been good stories. They’ve turned into Pro Bowl players, highlighted by Chris Harris Jr. in 2011 and, of course, Phillip Lindsay in 2018.
With less than three weeks until cut day, here’s who has the best chance of being the next Broncos undrafted rookie to make the roster.
LEADERS IN THE CLUBHOUSE
1. OLB Malik Reed
No undrafted rookie has had a better month than the pass rusher from Nevada.
Reed followed up an impressive performance in the Hall of Fame Game, including a sack, with another sack in the team’s second preseason game. But the most impressive part is the 6-foot-2, 235-pound outsider backer’s been impressing the coaches in practice, too.
“On the play he got his sack on, I said to the coaches on the phone, ‘Well, that’s what he’s been doing all camp.’ So I’m not surprised that it happened in the game,” Vic Fangio said following Week 1.
The best news for Reed making the final 53 came on Sunday morning, when the team waived second-year outside backer Jeff Holland, creating a clear path for Reed to backup Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
“I like the way Malik has played,” Fangio said on Sunday following practice. “I like it a lot.”
2. FB George Aston
With Andy Janovich sidelined the first few weeks of the regular season with a pectoral injury, the Broncos will need to find another option at fullback until the veteran returns.
Rich Scangarello is expected to use a fullback heavily after Kyle Shanahan, Scangarello’s mentor, used a fullback more than any team in the league last year.
Aston will have to prove his worth of fulfilling that role over the next three weeks, according to Fangio. If he lives up to the task, the job is his. Fangio added that the team can go a few weeks without a fullback.
If Denver doesn’t sign another fullback, Aston’s dreams of making the 53-man roster will be in his hands.
3. ILB Josh Watson
The Colorado State product wasn’t even the most hyped undrafted insider backer in Denver’s 2019 UDFA class. But with a grueling number of injuries to the position, Watson has quickly risen up the board.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound backer has received first-team reps on numerous days throughout camp. He’s impressed, specifically in his ability to get after the quarterback from the inside spot. He tallied another sack in Sunday’s practice.
Watson’s spot on the 53 will likely be determined by the health of Todd Davis, Josey Jewell and Joe Jones once cut day approaches.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
4. WR Kelvin McKnight
Trinity Benson was the undrafted star to open camp, quickly working his way up to taking reps with the first-team offense. After roughly a week of camp, however, McKnight was the undrafted receiver stealing the attention.
At 5-foot-8, 186 pounds, the receiver from Samford brings a different skillset than every other player on the roster. His shot at making the team will be to prove that his big-play ability is a need, not a want.
5. WR Trinity Benson
Benson cooled off after his hot start to camp, but he’s still right in the mix with McKnight and Fred Brown as young receivers standing out.
Emmanuel Sanders’ slow return to practice has limited Benson and all of the other young receivers. The East Central product will need to prove he can be the returner Denver’s so desperately looking for. After Sunday’s practice, Fangio said that position is still wide open.
6. CB Alijah Holder
The Stanford cornerback received the team’s biggest signing bonus after the draft. Look no further than last year with Lindsay to see that endorsement can go a long way.
But since, the 6-foot-2, 188-pounder has been relatively quiet. That was until Sunday when No. 49 made a play in the passing game, intercepting Joe Flacco. He’ll need many more of those in practice, and in the games, to jump to the fifth cornerback spot. It’s not impossible, but he just hasn’t showed it yet.
7. QB Brett Rypien
The Broncos aren’t going to carry four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. As it sits, Rypien is dead last on the depth chart as the team’s fourth signal-caller.
However, what the Boise State quarterback has going for him is he’s received the most guaranteed money for any undrafted rookie in the John Elway era. And, as Holder hopes, money talks. Additionally, Brett has been rippin’ the ball at camp, impressing while going up against backups.
The way he lands on the 53-man roster is if the Broncos don’t think he’ll slip through to the practice squad, while also moving on from Kevin Hogan.
8. LB Joe Dineen
The tackle machine from Kansas joined the Broncos with a significant amount of buzz as he was Denver’s first true inside backer acquisition in the Fangio era. However, since, No. 53 has been relatively quiet, even with the plethora of injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.
He will need to quickly impress with Davis and Jones sidelined.
9. RB Devontae Jackson
This isn’t ranking the Broncos’ best undrafted players, it’s evaluating who has the best shot at making the team. Entering the final week of camp, due to where the running back room is with injuries, Jackson’s shot of making the team is slim.
Not only is he listed as the team’s sixth running back, but Denver could be forced to carry two fullbacks with Janovich’s injury. That would put Jackson as the eighth player in the backfield. To put this in perspective, if a team carries five, that’s a large number.
However, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound shifty back has really impressed in camp, showing his vision and elusiveness.
Other undrafted rookies: Moral Stephens, Quinn Bailey, Ahmad Gooden, John Leglue, Deyon Sizer and Ryan Crozier