DENVER — Odds of an undrafted rookie making a season-opening 53-man roster are never great.
Throw in a global shutdown from a coronavirus pandemic and the chances would appear small that the Broncos’ remarkable run of undrafted rookies winning a Day 1 roster spot would continue.
In 16 of the past 17 years, an undrafted rookie made the Broncos’ season-opening roster. The run began with Colorado Springs-raised cornerback Roc Alexander in 2004. It included such eventual stalwarts as Wesley Woodyard and Tyler Polumbus in 2008, Chris Harris Jr. in 2011, C.J. Anderson in 2013, Phillip Lindsay and technically Alexander Johnson in 2018.
Malik Reed kept the undrafted run going last year. The only year an undrafted rookie didn’t make the Broncos’ first roster: 2015, when the roster was so good it went on to win Super Bowl 50.
It will not be easy making it 17 out of 18 as there are two problems confronting this year’s undrafted rookie class. One, there are not a lot of them. After using all 10 draft picks last month, the Broncos only had 7 remaining roster spots for the undrafted group.
And two, there are no offseason practices to impress the coaches. Lindsay, undrafted out of Colorado two years ago, went from longshot to backup tailback during his rookie OTAs two years ago.
LeVante Bellamy, undrafted out of Western Michigan, will have no such opportunity this summer. And no OTAs mean training camp will be primarily used to get the starters ready for the regular season.
Step aside, rook. It’s hard making the club when a player is restricted to observing and absorbing.
Still, if an undrafted rookie is to pull off a season-opening roster upset in early-September, it figures to be either Bellamy or cornerback Essang Bassey. They are the two undrafted rookies the Broncos like the most, at least when it came time to doling out signing bonuses following the draft on April 25. A look at the signing bonuses the Broncos gave to each of their 7 undrafted rookies:
Player, Pos. Signing bonus
LeVante Bellamy, RB $25,000 (+$35,000 salary guarantee)
Essang Bassey, CB $20,000
Zimari Manning, WR $12,500
Kendall Hilton, WR $10,000 (+$5,000 salary guarantee)
Riley Neal, QB $8,000
Douglas Coleman III, S $5,000
Hunter Watts, OT $3,000
Not that signing bonuses have the final say on whether and undrafted rookie sticks, or is relegated to the practice squad. As the story has often been told, Harris received a mere $2,000 signing bonus out of Kansas and didn’t have benefit of offseason practices during the lockout of 2011.
It can be done, guys.
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