As we approach the start of the NFL season, teams are preparing to cut down their rosters to 53 players, and the Denver Broncos have many tough decisions to make regarding certain position battles. The well documented quarterback race between Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian is not the only battle to watch unfold throughout the rest of the preseason. Below are some Broncos positional battles fans should be watching.
Denver Broncos Position Battles to Watch
Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch
Every pass Siemian and Lynch have thrown this off-season have been examined under a microscope. Lynch might seem to be the obvious choice for the franchise, but he has yet to prove he was worthy of the first-round pick last year. Siemian has pulled away in this competition due to his smart decision making whereas Lynch has thrown too many interceptions and missed wide open reads in training camp. But Lynch’s athleticism and potential still give him a chance to grab the starting job before the season starts.
The next preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers will likely determine the starter. Lynch needs to go through his progressions instead of just taking off running if the number one route is covered. Siemian has not wowed either, but he has been able to move the offense more consistently without throwing costly interceptions. If Lynch can prove to be less mistake prone, he will be able to steal the job from Siemian. This is clearly the biggest position battle to watch, but there are plenty other intriguing ones as well.
Jamaal Charles vs. Stevan Ridley
This is the battle of the veteran running backs. Jamaal Charles won’t make his debut until Week three of preseason so this position battle has some time to settle. Stevan Ridley was brought in after Devontae Booker’s injury in order to beef up depth at the running back position. Ridley has surpassed all expectations and has put himself in a real position to make the team over Charles. Charles is the obvious choice if he’s healthy, but sadly he hasn’t been healthy in a couple years.
Mike McCoy‘s system is tailor made for a player like Charles. The former Kansas City Chief has the ability to make the catch out of the backfield, something that’s been sorely missing from the Broncos offense in recent years. It is possible that both Charles and Ridley can make the team but with C.J. Anderson, De’Angelo Henderson and Devontae Booker all guarantees to make the roster, it is hard to envision both Charles and Ridley making the 53-man roster. Charles will have a chance to showcase his talent in Week three of the preseason and if he can prove he is anywhere close to what he was with the Chiefs he will win this battle.
The good news is that the Broncos offensive line is much improved from last season. Garett Bolles has run away with the starting left tackle spot. Menelik Watson has been solid at right tackle and Matt Paradis and Ronald Leary were always the obvious starters at center and guard. The only unknown for the offensive line remains at left guard.
Max Garcia has not shown he has improved enough from last season to be the starting left guard. Allen Barbre has impressed in stints, and he may steal that job from Garcia. The more realistic scenario is that Ronald Leary will shift from right guard to left guard and Connor McGovern will start at right guard. McGovern has been great at center in Paradis’ absence, but he obviously will not start over Paradis. However, McGovern also has the ability to play right guard. His physicality and strength will help the Broncos win many battles at the line of scrimmage. He is simply too good to be left off the starting lineup.
Ty Sambrailo vs. Michael Schofield
This the battle of the “swing tackles”. With the uncertainty of Menelik Watson’s health and Garett Bolles’ inexperience, it is imperative that the Broncos have a reliable swing tackle. Neither Tyler Sambrailo nor Michael Schofield impressed last year. Sambrailo looked uncomfortable in pressure situations, and in Schofield’s first two years, he has not been able to transition well to NFL play. On a positive note, they have both shown signs of improvement this off-season.
Neither Sambrailo nor Schofield will have the pressure of blocking the opposing team’s best pass rusher every play since they won’t be on the field every down. Many players in this league thrive as swing tackles but are unable to replicate the same performance as an every-down tackle. Schofield has been very effective in training camp and will likely make the team, which would make Sambrailo the odd man out.
The attention directed to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders allows the third receiver to get a lot of touches. As of now, it appears Bennie Fowler will likely start the season as the number three receiver. Cody Latimer seems to have finally turned the corner and starting living up to his second round potential and he will likely be used more in the offense this year than in previous years, but Fowler’s consistency gives him the edge here.
The hope was to have Carlos Henderson start in the slot, but he has not lived up to expectations. However, he has started to heat up recently and can still steal the starting slot receiver job with a couple good showings in preseason. Henderson has to work on his ball security, which was an issue in Week one of the preseason. Isaiah McKenzie has been very impressive and already won the punt return job and he is a dark horse candidate here. He may be used more in the offense than previously expected.
Strong Side Linebacker
After Demarcus Ware’s retirement, it appeared that Shane Ray was poised for a breakout year as a starting linebacker. But his wrist injury has delayed that as Ray will likely not make his debut until at least Week two of the regular season. The next man up, Shaquil Barrett, also suffered an injury (hip) and will likely not start the season.
Injuries to Barrett and Ray have opened up the door to a young player to start the season at linebacker opposite Von Miller. Demarcus Walker has been working closely with Ray and is the favorite to start at linebacker, but he also suffered an injury this week and may need some time off as well. If Walker misses significant time, the battle will be between Vontarrius Dora and Kasim Edebali. Both players have shown potential in stints but Dora has especially impressed. If needed, he will likely start the season as the strong side linebacker.
It will be interesting to see how all of these position battles wind up and which players end up making their mark.