GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Broncos finished offseason workouts in mid-June, Trevor Siemian retreated to Chicago. He worked out, hung out with friends and went to a few Cubs games. Anonymity fit him. He doesn’t seek the spotlight. His talent, work ethic and intelligence have shoved him into the glare.
Siemian is the Broncos starting quarterback. It’s only the highest profile position in the state. Siemian joined Twitter a few days ago. He appeared on ESPN’s Mike and Mike. Yeah, it’s been a big week for the kid who nearly quit football to pursue a career in commercial real estate.
As Broncos Country wraps its head around the idea of a seventh-round pick following the iconic Peyton Manning – Siemian will become the first Northwestern quarterback to start an NFL game since Randy Dean in 1979 – the team’s roster requires work. The final wrinkles must be ironed out Thursday in the preseason finale at Arizona Cardinals. Coach Gary Kubiak predicted that “two-to-three guys” could play themselves onto the final 53. This game means everything to second and third stringers and little to starters, who will watch in sweats and caps.
With the final cutdown due at 2 p.m. Saturday, I offer my 53-man roster prediction. This is not an exact science with Mark Sanchez as exhibit A. He could be cut, take a pay cut or be traded in the next few days. As of Wednesday evening, an NFL source said nothing had changed with Sanchez’s situation. He could learn his fate as soon as Friday.
Regardless, here it goes:
Quarterback (2): Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch.
I figured it was two entering the Rams game. Then Lynch looked raw and inexperienced. It created a slim opening for Sanchez to return on a pay cut. The Broncos have approached him about a salary reduction from his $4.5 million. He wants to stay. If it were only about money, I think Sanchez would be kept as a quasi-backup, third stringer. The draft pick compensation complicates his status. I don’t think the Broncos will be willing to give up a seventh-round pick to the Eagles to keep Sanchez. And remember if he’s on another team’s 53-man, the Broncos must still surrender the selection. They love the late-round picks – their current starting quarterback is a seventh-rounder. Sanchez has handled his awkward situation like a complete pro. But the odds are against him staying.
Running back (4): C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Ronnie Hillman, Kapri Bibbs.
Anderson sets up as the bell cow. If he averages 18 carries a game, he should land in the Pro Bowl. Booker boasts a physical game and is above average for a rookie in pass protection. Hillman raced back onto the roster over the last two weeks for me with his speed. The Broncos don’t have another back like him. And his salary is acceptable as a backup. Bibbs is more suited for an every down role. It doesn’t exist in Denver. However, he has made himself into a valuable special team member. His versatility and health gives him the slight edge over Juwan Thompson.
Fullback (1): Andy Janovich.
The rookie goes by multiple nicknames: Jano, Hammerhead. He is a missile on special teams and has no fear blocking linebackers. “He’s nasty,” Anderson said. Thompson could easily make it as a second fullback instead of Bibbs or Hillman, but his health has been an issue. I love him on special teams, but not sure it’s enough given Bibbs new multiple roles.
Receivers (6): Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Norwood, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Jordan Taylor:
Thomas needs a rebound season. He ranked fifth in drops a year ago. He is playing at 222 pounds, a weight he hasn’t seen since high school. Whether he receives a contract extension or not, Emmanuel Sanders will be money. He was the offense’s most valuable and most reliable player a year ago. I don’t know if the Broncos will go to $10 million a season for him with so much invested in Thomas, but somebody will act as a free agent. Behind the top two, there are questions. Fowler (elbow) is no luck to be ready for the opener. And Cody Latimer is dealing with a bruised left knee. Jordan Norwood secured his spot as a slot receiver and return man. Jordan Taylor runs sharp routes and continues to improve. Mose Frazier should land on the practice squad.
Tight ends (3): Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, John Phillips or Player X
I figure to get this wrong. Green and Heuerman are locks. Green enjoyed as strong a summer as anyone on the roster. His blocking is improved after three finger surgeries, allowing him to grip defenders better. And he showed he can be trusted in the passing game. Heuerman, who should play Thursday, was a disappointment. Not in performance. In inactivity. A hamstring issue kept him from making an impact. He still has time. The Broncos need two receiving threats at tight end for this offense to function at its optimal level. Phillips was a street free agent, who turned heads as Heuerman and Garrett Graham (placed on injured reserve with a shoulder issue) were hurt. As other teams make cuts, it’s possible Phillips will lose his spot to a player not on the roster. Last year, the Broncos brought in roughly 52 tight ends – I kid because I care – so Phillips would be wise to keep peeking over his shoulder.
Offensive line (9): Russell Okung, Donald Stephenson, Max Garcia, Matt Paradis, Darrion Weems, Michael Schofield, James Ferentz, Connor McGovern, Ty Sambrailo.
The line should be better than a year ago, if for no other reason, the upgrades at tackle. However, concern at the guard spots is real. Garcia is inconsistent, and Weems, a former tackle, is a journeyman with little on his journey besides practice reps. Matt Paradis might have been the offensive MVP in camp because of his consistency and improvement. The Broncos need Okung to play at least 14 games, and hope that Stephenson, who has a slight build for a tackle, can hold up. Schofield becomes the utility man as a backup tackle and guard on gameday. Ferentz, or Brick to friends, underwent a knee surgery, a decision I can’t imagine he made without assurances he was on the team. McGovern remains a work in progress, and Sambrailo is improving, but unlikely to be ready for Sept. 8. After watching the right guard position in camp, multiple players told me that Sambrailo is the best option when healthy. So keep an eye on that depth chart. My projection means Robert “Quadzilla” Myers and Dillon Day don’t make it.
D-Line (6): Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe, Jared Crick, Adam Gotsis, Darius Kilgo, Henry Melton:
This is a fluid situation. Will Billy Winn edge out Melton. Will Kyle Peko, the team’s highest-paid street free agent, beat out both of them? I am going with Melton. Sly Williams continues to trend upward. He’s likely in his last season as a Bronco, but will find a nice landing spot with his skill set. Wolfe is a beast. If he’s not in the All-Pro conversation, I will be surprised. Crick needs to show his old form from a few years ago. He’s played his best in Wade Phillips’ system. He can rush the passer. This means that Kilgo needs to stuff the run to help fill the void left by Walker. Gotsis is raw. He will shine in a limited role and be ready to step up next season.
Outside linebackers (5): Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, Dekoda Watson.
No team possesses more depth at this position than the Broncos. Their backups could start across the league. Miller is the new face of the franchise. He has never been more focused, more of a leader. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t reach at least 16 sacks. Ware is the ol’ vet. No one knows more than him about his defense. At 30-to-35 plays a game, he should be a wrecking ball on third down. Ray is 8 pounds heavier, and more mature. He is no longer relying on just his athletic ability. He is becoming a student, a direct result of lockering near Ware and Miller. Barrett started fast last year and cooled. He is crazy athletic, but sometimes can be too aggressive. A sound backup. Watson has been a force in the preseason. He earned a spot with production and experience. I’d like to see Kyle Kragen stick on the practice squad.
Inside linebackers (4): Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson.
Marshall shifted to Danny Trevathan’s old spot, showing no issues. He’s a leader and core player. Todd Davis reminds me a lot of Marshall a few years ago. He knows the defense so well it allows him to play fast with good instincts. Nelson can cover and is physical, and all Anderson does is hit people. Hard. He is undersized, but has improved his technique to compensate.
Defensive backs (10): Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster, Lorenzo Doss, Justin Simmons, Will Parks, Shiloh Keo.
The No Fly Zone ranks as the NFL’s best. With Talib’s availability appearing increasing likely for the opener, the Broncos can cover anyone. Roby, Webster and Doss all received valuable reps in cap, with Doss the team’s best young player. Simmons figures to play a David Bruton role. Parks needs a strong finish. But I believe his athleticism secures him a spot. With Keo suspended the first two games, it could open up a spot for Taurean Nixon depending on injuries and depth at other positions.
Specialists (3): Kicker Brandon McManus, punter Riley Dixon, long snapper Casey Kreiter
McManus was clutch last season. He was the offense in several games. Dixon’s performance and lower salary made Britton Colquitt expendable. Dixon will punt fine. But the move will be second-guessed if he has issues setting the ball for McManus, who lost his holder and long snapper from last season.