With OTA’s and mini-camps over, training camp is right around the corner with everyone from John Elway, down to the casual fans, trying to figure out just who should make the Denver Broncos 53 man roster. Some choices are easier than others, like Demaryius Thomas, but once past the obvious choices, you get down to where the camp battles are ongoing, where it is anyone’s guess as to who makes it.
For the wide receiver corps, most of it is known as to who makes the roster and who doesn’t. The bigger question is, do the Broncos carry only five wide receivers this year, or six? Since taking over the team in 2011, John Elway and John Fox carried six WR’s into the regular season two of the three years. Last year being the only exception when they carried five, counting the returner, Trindon Holiday. I, personally, think they will go back to carrying six wide receivers.
The first player to make it is previously mentioned Demaryius Thomas. It was recently reported that the Broncos have made an initial 5 year extension offer, in hopes of getting him signed to an extension before training camp starts. That alone makes it obvious he will make the roster, but then you have his play. Demaryius Thomas has established himself as one of the better wide receivers in the NFL. This past season he caught 17 of Peyton Manning’s 60 touchdowns, including playoffs. He has become a favorite target for Manning and his go-to guy. A big reason for Demaryius Thomas’ success is his combination of size, speed and athleticism.
After Thomas, newly signed Emmanuel Sanders is another lock to make the roster. Sanders is coming in replacing Eric Decker, while adding explosiveness and a legitimate deep ball threat. Decker was great for the Broncos, but Sanders adds versatility to an
offense that was atop the NFL last year. Sanders’ ability to stretch the field will be the greatest attribute he brings to the stacked Broncos offense. It will open everything up underneath the defense and give Manning a legitimate target deep. Also, with the need for a return man for the Broncos, Sanders has gotten a lot of reps as the punt returner. During his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sanders was used sparingly as a returner, averaging 24.8 yards on kickoff returns and 10.9 yards a punt return.
Next up is Wes Welker, who in his first year with the Broncos caught 92 passes for 940 yards and 11 touchdowns, including playoffs. Welker was used in the slot for 84% of his snaps and became a safety blanket for Manning, a player Manning could look to when he couldn’t find another open target. Welker
made a name for himself with the New England Patriots, being Tom Brady’s favorite target for years before bolting to the Broncos with a two-year deal on March 14, 2013. There are some who think Welker’s time in Denver may be cut short due to concussion concerns, but his value to the team isn’t easily replaced. He is a guy trusted by Manning and the coaching staff, who when out on the field, can find the weak spot on the defense and exploit it.
The next spot is for rookie Cody Latimer. The Broncos really like his potential and combination of size, speed and athleticism. They liked it so much they traded up in the second round of the draft to get him. He has been limited during OTA’s and mini-camps due to a foot injury, but in what he has been able to do he has shined. What he does on the Broncos offense this year may just be limited to red-zone situations, or he may split snaps with Sanders as the other outside receiver. Either way, it is unknown at this time, but will become clearer as training camp and preseason comes around.
The second to last receiver is Andre Caldwell. Caldwell has spent the last two seasons with the Broncos and was re-signed in March to another two-year deal. After a disappointing 2012 season, where he was barely used, Caldwell stepped up during the 2013 season when injuries hit the WR corps. Until week 13 of the season, he was used sparingly and inconsistently. One week he would see 6 snaps then 21 and 24 over the next two weeks before seeing only six. But week 13, his usage
became more consistent due to a concussion for Wes Welker. His shining week was in a week 15 loss to the San Diego Chargers, where he caught 6 passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. At 29 years old, it is hard to expect a huge surge forward in his ability. Such feats are rare in the NFL, but he does have his uses on the offense. During his career he has also seen time as a kickoff returner, with a career average of 21.5. However during his time with Denver his average is 23.5. While Sanders may be the punt returner, Caldwell may be the kickoff returner.
The final receiver making the roster is undrafted free agent out of Fresno State, Isaiah Burse. While he can contribute on offense, his returning ability, both on punts and kickoffs, is what gets him on the roster. During his three years as a Bulldog, Burse had an average of 22.5 on kickoffs and 11.9 on punts. So far during camps and OTAs, he has seen split reps with Sanders as the punt returner. His contributions dont stop there. He also has flashed often with his offensive capabilities. During the combine, Burse was asked about potentially playing with Wes Welker, his response was one coaches and fans like to hear.
Really, no matter who makes the 53 man roster, they should do well with Peyton Manning as the QB. He is one of those QBs who makes the WRs better. But the WR corps for the Broncos is deep with talent and potential talent. They have guys fighting for a spot who are talented but just didn’t quite make the cut. A few of them will probably be kept around on Denver’s practice squad, or even get picked up by another team around the NFL. Of course, there is a long time until the rosters have to be down to 53, so one of those guys may surprise everyone and make the roster. The talent Denver has at WR can make almost any QB look like a legitimate QB in the NFL.