DENVER—I didn’t think I could do it.
When I first went through the exercise of picking the Denver Broncos’ 53-man roster, I had 56 players on it.
I was going to leave it there and let John Elway cut the other three.
But after re-watching the Broncos’ preseason game against the Green Bay Packers that was played Saturday night on Channel 20, I reworked my roster, cynicism set in, and I wound up with 53.
I got down to 53 even though I selected seven receivers and nine offensive linemen. I got down to 53 even though I included relatively unknown defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
My 53 won’t be 100 percent accurate partly because I believe Elway and head coach Vance Joseph will add a player, maybe two, who is not currently dressing inside the UCHealth Training Center locker room. And partly because Elway and Joseph aren’t seeking my input on every player who is on the roster bubble. Or any player, for that matter.
The preseason game Thursday night against the Cardinals (7 p.m., Channel 20) may decide the final two or three roster spots. Elway and Joseph won't set their 53-man roster until 2 p.m. Saturday.
But if we waited that long, there would be no fun in predicting. With one more preseason game remaining, here’s my 53-man roster:
Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch
Injured reserve: Chad Kelly
Practice squad: Kyle Sloter
Note: This may change if Lynch’s shoulder injury is more serious than the Broncos believed following the game Saturday night.
I know the Broncos don’t want to put Kelly on season-ending IR because that would mean he can’t practice. And he needs practice. But his passing wrist has taken a little longer than expected to heal.
There’s also some question about how much interest Sloter would draw from other teams. The undrafted rookie from Northern Colorado may not get claimed because that would mean a 53-man roster spot. But there could be a bidding war for a practice squad spot. I wouldn’t be surprised if another team offers more than the minimum practice-squad salary of $7,200 a week, or $122,400 over a 17-week season.
Running backs (4)
C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, De’Angelo Henderson
Note: Booker will miss the first game or two as he recovers from a fractured right wrist.
Note: He was an especially effective lead blocker against the Packers.
Tight ends (3)
Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, A.J. Derby
Physically unable to perform (PUP): Jake Butt
Note: In recent years, Elway has rotated in young tight ends for a look.
Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler III, Jordan Taylor, Isaiah McKenzie, Cody Latimer, Kalif Raymond.
Practice squad: Hunter Sharp.
Injured reserve: Carlos Henderson
Note: This is one more receiver than ideal but I couldn’t cut Latimer because he’s so good on special teams – and Broncos’ special teams units have showed during the preseason they need him. I couldn’t cut Raymond because he’s too dynamic as a returner and receiver. And Taylor made the team with his far-reaching reception performances in preseason games No. 2 at San Francisco and No. 3 against the Packers.
Offensive linemen (9)
Matt Paradis, Ron Leary, Garett Bolles, Menelik Watson, Connor McGovern, Max Garcia, Allen Barbre, Donald Stephenson, Ty Sambrailo
Practice squad: Dillon Day, Justin Murray
Note: I had Michael Schofield on my initial list. He’s versatile, he’s a good guy and he was a starter the past two years. If Schofield gets waived, he will get claimed. He would be an upgrade to several 53-man rosters around the league.
I didn’t cut Sambrailo even though Stephenson restructured his contract because it’s too soon to give up on a second-round draft pick who has shown improvement after suffering significant injuries his previous two years.
I didn’t cut Barbre or Garcia because, first, if Joseph and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson can’t decide which is their left guard, how can I?
And two, the thinking might be it would be best to at least initially line up the veteran Barbre next to rookie left tackle Garett Bolles, while keeping the talented and promising Garcia, who started 16 games last season.
Brandon McManus, Riley Dixon, Casey Kreiter
Note: McManus and Dixon are having terrific preseasons. And if they are, then Kreiter must be having a good preseason long snapping.
Defensive linemen (6)
Derek Wolfe, Domata Peko, Jared Crick, Adam Gotsis, Zach Kerr, Shelby Harris
PUP: Kyle Peko
Injured reserve: Billy Winn
Practice squad: Shakir Soto, Tyrique Jarrett
Note: Harris, who played some with Raiders in 2014-15, is my surprise. But he earned it with terrific performances in the past two preseason games. He is an inside penetrator.
Inside linebackers (4)
Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson
Note: Same four from last season.
Practice squad: Quentin Gase.
Outside linebackers (5)
Von Miller, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, Kasim Edebali, DeMarcus Walker
Practice squad: Vontarrius Dora, Danny Mason, Deon Hollins
Note: Ray will miss the first game or two as he recovers from a torn ligament in his left wrist. The hope is Barrett will be ready to go in the opener against the Chargers.
Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, Brandon Langley, Lorenzo Doss
Note: The rookie Langley looked good both at cornerback and returning kickoffs against the Packers. It wasn't easy moving Chris Lewis-Harris, who knows how to play.
Darian Stewart, T.J. Ward, Justin Simmons, Will Parks
Practice squad: Jamal Carter, Orion Stewart
Note: Many mock rosters have Carter on the 53-man. And he might make it. But the Broncos may gamble he isn’t claimed because it would be difficult for another team to add an undrafted rookie safety to its 53.
If the Broncos weren’t considered playoff contenders, Ward might be considered vulnerable because he has a relatively high, $4.5 million salary that is not guaranteed, he has good young strong safeties behind him, and he’s missed the preseason with a hamstring strain.
But the Broncos are playoff contenders and as such, they don’t let good players go. Ward in many ways lifts the entire defense with his inspiring energy.
(One more note: I do have 12 players on the practice squad and the maximum is 10. I will let Elway cut the other two.)