The Broncos’ rookies have signed their draft picks, which means their 90-man roster is essentially set. A few small moves could be on the way but, for the most part, the guys on the roster right now will be the guys who compete for a job in training camp.
So why not make a guess at what the Broncos’ 53-man roster (and practice squad) will look like this season?
In the first part of this series, we’re digging through the back end of the Broncos roster— undrafted rookies, former practice squad players, etc—to see who has a chance to make the opening-day team. For what it’s worth 52% of undrafted free agents made the active roster or a practice squad last year. Now that the league allows practice squad players to appear in two games per season, it’s worth knowing what these guys are all about.
We’ll trim the roster from 91 players (the Broncos have an exception to hold an extra) down to 74 today.
Here’s what the first round of cuts looks like…
Contenders: Jarrett Guarantano, Ben DiNucci
The Broncos’ decision to bring in Ben DiNucci is bad news for Jarrett Guarantano. DiNucci has some NFL experience under his belt—43 pass attempts—and he was hand-picked by Payton to join the team, while Guarantano was a hand-me-down. Guarantano might compete for the practice squad job, but he’s a long shot to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Cuts: Jarrett Guarantano
Contenders: Damarea Crockett, Tyler Badie, Tyreik McAllister, Jaleel McLaughlin, Jacques Patrick
The Broncos lack proven depth at running back, which means roster spots are in play for everybody in the room. We need to clear a little space, though, so we’re cutting two of the holdovers from last season. Here’s why: The Broncos cut Tyreik McAllister last week and brought him back shortly. I’m taking that as a sign he’s at the back of the group as of now. And Damarea Crockett is recovering from a torn ACL, and he might not be himself in time to win a job.
We’ll dig deeper into the other backs later on in this series, but the Broncos might find a gem in Tyler Badie, Jaleel McLaughlin or Jacques Patrick.
Cuts: Tyreik McAllister, Damarea Crockett
Contenders: Nate Adkins
The Broncos call Adkins a tight end, but I’m not buying it. He’s a fullback… and a pretty good one, too. At 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, Adkins has great size. He doesn’t move well, but plenty of fullbacks have overcome being slow. The problem is that the Broncos signed Michael Burton this offseason, so it’s tough to imagine Adkins will be able to win a roster spot. He could be a great practice squad option.
Cuts: Nate Adkins
Contenders: Jalen Virgil, Brandon Johnson, Taylor Grimes, Lil’Jordan Humphrey
The best competition this offseason will be at wide receiver. The Broncos have 12 receivers on the roster and you could make a strong case for any of them to be worth keeping around. But at least five receivers need to go on cutdown day. These are the four receivers I’d expect to be at the bottom of the depth chart.
Jalen Virgil and Brandon Johnson won’t both make the roster. Denver has too many bodies in the room. I’m going to keep Virgil around because his skillset lends itself better to playing special teams.
I’m also keeping Taylor Grimes around, even though it’s tough to see an undrafted rookie making the roster at receiver this year. He was remarkably productive at Incarnate Word—2,400 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns over the past two seasons—and he’s polished enough that those skills might translate quickly. He’s a true slot receiver at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, so his path to the roster includes surpassing Montrell Washington and Kendall Hinton, which will be tough but not impossible.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey gets cut because somebody has to go. He began his career with Sean Payton but only produced 315 yards in four NFL seasons. With so many other big bodies on the roster, Humphrey is probably on the outside looking in.
Cuts: Brandon Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey
Contenders: Demontrey Jacobs, Will Sherman, Alex Palczewski, Henry Byrd, Hunter Thedford, Christian DiLauro
Unlike the receiving group, the Broncos’ offensive line depth leaves plenty to be desired. Let’s run through these guys quickly.
Demontrey Jacobs flipped from right tackle to left tackle halfway through his second and final season as a starter at UCF. His size is his draw—he’s 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds with freaky arms—but he’s nothing special athletically. While he’s a tools-over-production prospect, he only gave up three sacks in the last two seasons.
Will Sherman is a Colorado grad drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round in 2021. He spent his rookie year on the Pats’ practice squad and last season on the Broncos’ practice squad. Despite having two years of experience, Sherman still hasn’t had his 24th birthday. He probably fits better at guard than tackle because of his length, but both positions are on the table. The knock on Sherman as a prospect was his play strength, and two years in NFL strength programs may have him ready to compete for a job.
Alex Palczewski struggled as a starting guard at Illinois… way back in 2017. Now Palczewski has six years of starting, primarily at right tackle, and his 65 college starts tied the FBS record. The polish shows. Despite playing in 13 games in 2022, Palczewski didn’t allow a sack, which helped him earn third-team All-American honors. So why was Palczewski available as a 23-year-old undrafted free agent? He doesn’t play up to his 6-foot-6, 314-pound frame and will need to get stronger to be productive in the NFL.
Henry Byrd dominated Ivy League competition and earned all-conference honors in each of his three seasons, including first-team honors in each of the last two. Byrd is a left tackle with adequate length but might be slightly undersized. He certainly wasn’t undersized by Ivy League standards, where he swallowed up his competition easily.
Hunter Thedford was a tight end for the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers last year, but he packed on 30 pounds last fall and converted to tackle. The Patriots briefly picked him up for their practice squad before he joined the Broncos. The Utah grad is now 26 years old. The Broncos list him at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, but there’s no way that weight is correct.
Christian DiLauro, 28, has spent time with six NFL teams, but almost all of that experience is on practice squads. He earned a December call-up from the Titans and appeared in one game in 2021, and he earned a December call-up from the Broncos last year and appeared in two games. The tackle is probably a good option as practice squad insurance, but he has a shot to make the team.
Cuts: Demontrey Jacobs, Will Sherman, Henry Byrd, Hunter Thedford
Contenders: Haggai Ndubuisi, Elijah Garcia, Jordan Jackson, PJ Mustipher
Haggai Ndubuisi would be a great story if he made the team. He was allocated to the Broncos as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, which means he can compete this offseason without counting toward the 90-man roster limit. He was allocated to the Cardinals last season. At 6-foot-7 and 323 pounds, Ndubuisi has ridiculous physical traits, but making the team is all but out of the question.
Elijah Garcia and Jordan Jackson are unlikely to both make the roster, in a situation reminiscent of Jalen Virgil and Brandon Johnson. Both have uphill battles and are coming out of similar situations. Jackson was a sixth-round pick for the Saints in 2022. He spent the year on the practice squad, and the Broncos signed him this offseason. Garcia was undrafted last year and spent most of the season on the Rams’ practice squad. The Broncos signed him off their practice squad in December. I’m going with Jackson, but we’re splitting hairs.
By sheer size alone, PJ Mustipher has a chance to make the team as an undrafted free agent. He’s 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds and he plays like it. He can clog up the middle, but he is by no means a pass rusher or a penetrator.
Cuts: Haggai Ndubuisi, Elijah Garcia
Contenders: Seth Benson, Ray Wilborn
Ray Wilborn and Seth Benson are opposites. Benson is an undrafted rookie out of Iowa who can clean up just about any run between the tackles but doesn’t have the athleticism needed to succeed in the rest of the field. Wilborn is a former safety who converted to linebacker in college and has spent two years in the NFL, making his debut for the Broncos late last year. Wilborn probably provides more special teams value, while Benson probably provides more longterm defensive value, though he’d be limited to the first two downs. Both face uphill battles to make the roster.
Cuts: Seth Benson, Ray Wilborn
Contenders: Art Green, Faion Hicks, Delonte Hood, Ja’Quan McMillian
Art Green is a big, fast cornerback and he has a few highlight plays to his name. The consistency isn’t there yet—otherwise the Broncos wouldn’t have been able to pick him up after the draft—but he has a real chance to make the roster.
Of the other three players, I’m taking Ja’Quan McMillian to threaten a roster spot. He made some big plays in the season finale after spending most of his rookie season on the practice squad. He’s still a longshot, but he’ll have his chance to make the team.
Delonte Hood and Faion Hicks are on the outside looking in. Hicks was a draft pick last year, which will help his case, but he’s currently sitting no higher than third in the slot cornerback depth chart and he has no resume to speak of. Hood showed great ball skills at Peru State and another year on the practice squad could have him ready to contribute.
Cuts: Delonte Hood, Faion Hicks
Contenders: Devon Key
The Broncos are loaded at safety, after bringing back Kareem Jackson and drafting JL Skinner. Those moves bode particularly poorly for Devon Key, who is also a box safety. Key has three years of practice squad experience and is unlikely to beat out enough players to get a roster spot.
Cuts: Devon Key