The Denver Broncos' final preseason game at home Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams represents the last chance for a few players to make a case for a spot on the 53-man roster.
While most of the roster spots are likely settled, a few remain in play. There will be the opportunity for those who don't make the final roster, and who go through waivers, to be added to the Broncos' 16-man practice squad.
Keep in mind, there could be at least a couple of currently-injured players who will make the initial roster, because of how the NFL's rules work relative to injured reserve.
On one hand, teams have the unlimited option of placing players on IR with a designation to return. On the other hand, that isn't an option until after 2 pm MDT time on September 1. In other words, a player placed on IR when final cutdowns are made is out for the season.
Keep that rule in mind as I reveal my projection for the Broncos' final 53-man roster, which must be set by 2 pm MDT on August 1.
Roster: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock, Brett Rypien
I lean toward keeping Rypien on the 53-man roster because there really isn't a standout at another position that demands to be kept. However, I could see the Broncos trying to slip Rypien on the practice squad if they really want to keep another player.
Roster: Melvin Gordon III, Javonte Williams, Royce Freeman, Mike Boone
Boone's injury opened the door for Freeman, who has shown he can get it done as a pass protector and receiver. Boone will be out for at least three weeks of the regular season, but the IR rules mean he'll have to be kept on the 53-man roster for a 24-hour period.
Roster: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick, Trinity Benson, Tyrie Cleveland
Benson keeps strengthening his case to make the team, but the sixth spot is a close race. For now, I have Cleveland taking the spot because he brings more value to special teams.
Diontae Spencer, while a better returner, hasn't done as much on offense. Rookie sixth-rounder Seth Williams, who improved from the first to the second game, has a shot, but he needs a strong showing against the Rams to make it.
Roster: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert
The third tight end spot is still up for grabs, and while Austin Fort has shown promise, Saubert is making the stronger case. A good showing versus the Rams would likely seal the deal for Saubert.
Roster: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow, Bobby Massie, Calvin Anderson, Netane Muti, Quinn Meinerz, Quinn Bailey
All signs point to Massie getting the right tackle job with Anderson serving as the swing tackle. Muti and Meinerz have the most upside for interior O-line depth. As for the ninth spot, Bailey has outplayed veteran Cameron Fleming.
It's true the Broncos would take a $1 million dead-money charge by releasing Fleming, but the team has to look at that as sunk costs. Furthermore, if he were to sign elsewhere, he has to at least get the veteran minimum, so there will likely be offsets.
It's possible the Broncos keep a 10th offensive lineman — that might mean Fleming stays, or it could be filled by the veteran Austin Schlottmann, who hasn't played that well this summer but at least has some starting experience. A 10th offensive lineman would likely take the spot I have reserved for Rypien.
Roster: Shelby Harris, Dre'Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim, DeShawn Williams, Shamar Stephen
Stephen has the edge at this point for the sixth spot. Rookie seventh-rounder Marquiss Spencer and Jonathan Harris are making a push but will need to have good outings against the Rams to be considered.
Roster: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed, Jonathan Cooper
This is the easiest of all the decisions the Broncos have to make. The fourth spot was the only one up for grabs and Cooper has run away with it.
Roster: Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad, Baron Browning
I had initially projected Josh Watson making it because he can play special teams, but the Broncos released him earlier this week. No other off-ball linebacker stood out to justify keeping a fifth player at this position.
Roster: Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan, Patrick Surtain II, Kary Vincent, Jr., Michael Ojemudia
Ojemudia likely won't be placed on IR when final cutdowns are made, so he stays for the time being. Vincent has been the best of the remaining healthy cornerbacks and it may be tougher to slip him through waivers, so he made my final cut.
However, things could change depending on how things go against the Rams.
Roster: Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Caden Sterns, Jamar Johnson, P.J. Locke
Not keeping five off-ball linebackers allowed me to keep another safety on the roster. It's possible the Broncos opt to keep Trey Marshall and then put him on IR with a designation to return, then hope Locke passes through waivers.
However, Locke has done good things in the preseason. If he plays well against the Rams, that could ensure him a roster spot.
Roster: Brandon McManus (K), Sam Martin (P), Jacob Bobenmeyer (LS)
These positions haven't been in doubt since training camp started.
PUP List: Essang Bassey (CB), Duke Dawson (CB)
Any player who is on the physically unable to perform list may be placed on the PUP list to start the regular season, but they must be inactive for six weeks. After that, there's a five-week window in which the player needs to practice.
Bassey and Dawson need more time to recover from their offseason surgeries, so they're almost certain to go to the PUP list. The Broncos can monitor their progress and determine whether they can be brought back later.
These are the moves that I would project to happen after 2 pm MDT on September 1.
To IR with designation to return: Mike Boone, Michael Ojemudia.
I've explained above that a player who could return during the season can't be placed on IR with a designation to return when final cutdowns are made. Thus, these moves are made after 24 hours have passed.
Brought back to active roster: Andrew Beck, Parnell Motley
Beck would take Boone's place until Boone is cleared to play, while Motley would do the same for Ojemudia. Beck can play special teams, so that's why he takes Boone's spot for the time being. Motley has been solid in preseason games and might help out until Ojemudia is healthy.
Analysis: As the last five guys to meet with Vic Fangio to get their pink slip, it's likely the team would hope to re-sign them to the practice squad to serve as emergency depth in-season.
Analysis: Crockett, Williams, Spencer, Hinton, Beck, Schlottmann, Harris, Spencer, Tuszka, Mintze, and Marshall were easy additions to the practice squad. As for others, I went with Himmelman, Robinson, and McCain primarily because they are rookies who signed as undrafted free agents back in May and are still on the roster, even if they haven't stood out.
I left two spots open, one for offense and one for defense, which could be filled by players who don't make the 53-man rosters on other teams but could get their shot with the Broncos.
The Broncos could always add Beck and Motley to the practice squad later once others are cleared to play and activated from IR.
Keep in mind you'll probably see a lot of movement on the practice squad, whether it's players called up because others are injured or the Broncos believe somebody deserves a chance to play.