BRONCOS

Seven returning Broncos most affected by the NFL Draft

Apr 30, 2024, 2:47 AM | Updated: 10:58 am

Every year, the NFL Draft changes not only the outlook of the Denver Broncos as a collective and the lives of drafted players as individuals — but the trajectory of veteran players.

And as the returning Broncos == came back this week to continue their offseason workouts, a slew of them bore witness to a changed landscape regarding their own potential place on the roster.

QB JARRETT STIDHAM

George Paton telegraphed the Broncos adding to the quarterback room before the NFL Draft when he met with media during the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando on March 25. So, the sixth-year veteran shouldn’t have been surprised at what the Broncos did — first with Zach Wilson and then with Bo Nix.

The problem for Stidham is that cutting or trading him would create more cap space than a move with any other quarterback: $5 million. If Wilson plays at the same level as Stidham and Nix shows that he can be — at minimum — ready if needed, Stidham might go from season-ending starter to the roster bubble.

RBs SAMAJE PERINE AND JAVONTE WILLIAMS

Both are in the final season of their contracts, and with Sean Payton identifying his vision for fifth-round NFL Draft pick Audric Estimé as being “a first- and second-down runner.” And with Williams struggling last year in his gallant-but-frustrating return from multiple knee-ligament tears, he faces a ticking clock as his rookie deal expires after this season. Still, if Williams can find the pre-injury explosion, he has enough skill to hold onto the starting job — even after a year in which he averaged 3.6 yards per carry despite working behind an offensive line that was third in the NFL in run-block win rate, per ESPN Analytics.

The Broncos would save $1,868,967 by cutting Williams — but would save over $1.1 million more by parting ways with Perine, as releasing or trading him creates $3 million of cap space. It’s possible the Broncos could carry four running backs — but if that’s the case, it seems likely that two of those could be returning speedster Jaleel McLaughlin and undrafted rookie Blake Watson, who got a significant guarantee from the Broncos.

LB DREW SANDERS

At the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 27, Broncos general manager George Paton suggested that the 2023 third-round pick would “probably” end up at edge rusher.

“It’s a work in progress. We thought he finished well on the edge,” Paton said then. “I think he’ll probably end up on the edge, but he has the flexibility. He’s so talented. It’s hard. It’s kind of like Baron Browning (as a rookie in 2021).

“… It’s a blessing and sometimes it’s a curse because he can’t get settled in at one position. Once we left Drew at outside, he finished strong and so we feel good about Drew moving forward.”

That came several weeks after Paton named Sanders as one of the players who he felt was a “starter in this league.” But if that is the case, where is the spot? He struggled at inside linebacker last year, and the Broncos added free-agent Cody Barton while getting former starter Jonas Griffith back from a season-ending injury. And now at edge rusher, third-round pick Jonah Elliss joins a crowded room.

WR BRANDON JOHNSON

The third-year receiver has played in 20 games for the Broncos over the last two seasons and finished third on the team last season with 4 total touchdowns, trailing only Courtland Sutton and Javonte Williams. But with the return of Tim Patrick from a torn Achilles tendon — and a torn ACL the year before — and the draft additions of Troy Franklin and Devaughn Vele, the Broncos now have a receiver crunch.

Vele could find himself bound for the practice squad. But if Patrick is healthy and Sutton isn’t traded, Johnson could fall victim to a squeeze, especially with returning backup and special-teams ace Lil’Jordan Humphrey and returning speedster Jalen Virgil currently back in the mix.

CB RILEY MOSS

By taking Kris Abrams-Draine with their first of two fifth-round picks, the Broncos brought in a cornerback with a reputation for effectively going toe-to-toe with high-level receiving prospects — most notably LSU’s Malik Nabers, who went to the New York Giants with the No. 6 overall pick. And by adding former Steelers and Bills cornerback Levi Wallace earlier in the week, the Broncos signed someone who could be a veteran starter opposite Pat Surtain II, just as Fabian Moreau was for much of last season.

Cornerback depth will inevitably be needed, so Moss seems likely to be in the mix. And his skill set might result in some looks at safety. But his path to playing time now has a few more obstacles than it did a fortnight ago.

CB DAMARRI MATHIS

What goes for Moss is likely doubled for Mathis, who might find himself crowded out of an increasingly crammed cornerback room after losing his starting job to Moreau last year. There remains some belief within the organization in Mathis, who displayed plenty of promise as a rookie — especially after a pass-interference-flooded starting debut against the Los Angeles Chargers six games into the 2022 season. But he will need to show progress soon, or he could be yet another recent Broncos NFL Draft mid-round casualty.

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Seven returning Broncos most affected by the NFL Draft