GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Denver Broncos wanted to see as much of rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch as they could in the preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals. While they witnessed some growing pains in the 38-17 loss at University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday night, they also saw a few of the reasons they traded up in the first round to select Lynch.
Now the Broncos must decide if they saw enough to keep Lynch slotted on the depth chart as the No. 2 quarterback. They also need to figure out if they think they need a veteran voice at the position to mentor Trevor Siemian and Lynch and be the just-in-case guy.
Lynch got off to a fast start as his first pass attempt went for a 57-yard touchdown. Wide receiver Jordan Taylor spun out of Cardinals cornerback Cariel Brooks' tackle to turn a short pass into the catch-and-run score. Lynch also looked his best on an eight-play, 94-yard touchdown drive to close out the third quarter when he was 5-of-5 for 87 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Taylor.
Lynch flashed his athleticism and arm strength on the plays he is most comfortable with -- usually to his right with the receiver running up the hashmarks.
Lynch also threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter, was sacked once and fumbled, though he recovered the ball. He also had moments, as expected, when he looked to be a step behind the defense.
He likely showed enough to remain the No. 2 behind Siemian, but the Broncos will also think long and hard, once they see which quarterbacks are available in the coming days, about adding a third player at the position. Kubiak has spoken of a preference for three quarterbacks if "you have the right guys."
QB depth chart: As expected, and as was Kubiak’s plan, Lynch played the entire game. Siemian was in uniform, but did not have shoulder pads on as one of more than two dozen regulars who got the night off. Mark Sanchez was in uniform and would have gone in the game if Lynch would had to leave the field for any reason. Sanchez, who will be a free agent at season’s end, is not expected to be on the roster when the Broncos go to 53 players by Saturday afternoon’s deadline.
Who got hurt? Defensive end Henry Melton, who was signed less than two weeks ago in the wake of Vance Walker's season-ending knee injury, left the game in the second quarterback with a knee injury. Running back Kapri Bibbs limped off the field late in the third quarterback after taking a hit to the side of his knee.
Who made the best case to make it? Linebacker Zaire Anderson, who spent the 2015 season on the Broncos’ practice squad, continued to put himself where the action is. He has routinely had some of the biggest hits in the preseason as he added a handful to the list Thursday night to go with a fumble recovery. Anderson will be difficult to turn away, especially given he has been such a productive special teams player when he has played on those units.
Who’s on the bubble? Running back Ronnie Hillman, who was the Broncos’ leading rusher last season, had just three carries for nine yards by end of the third quarter Thursday night and wasn’t even the first running back into the game as Kapri Bibbs got the start. If the Broncos keep just three running backs, in addition to fullback Andy Janovich, both Bibbs and Hillman are not expected to make the roster. And if the Broncos decide to keep four backs, to go with Janovich, Bibbs and Hillman spent Thursday night making their last on-field arguments to claim the spot. Of the two, Bibbs has played more on special teams through training camp and the preseason.
One reason to be concerned: The Broncos’ kicking game didn’t close out the preseason on the most solid ground. Kicker Brandon McManus, who missed just five field-goal attempts in all of the 2015 season finished the preseason with three misses, including a 46-yard attempt he pushed right Thursday night against the Cardinals. McManus did make a 33-yarder earlier in the game so is 5-of-8 in the preseason, with all three of his misses coming between 40 and 49 yards. Rookie punter Riley Dixon, who now has the job with Britton Colquitt's release earlier this week, had an 18-yard punt as well.
Tough night: Second-year cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft, had likely one of his most difficult evenings as a pro. Cardinals quarterback Matt Barkley repeatedly went after Doss in coverage as the second-year player, who defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had praised plenty earlier in the preseason, found himself a step behind Cardinals receivers.
Make the case: Taylor certainly did what he could to convince the Broncos to keep six wide receivers when they cut the roster to 53. Taylor had four catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns by the end of the third quarter. Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer have worked as the top four receivers throughout the preseason and if the Broncos keep Jordan Norwood as their primary returner, that’s five receivers. So, Taylor would likely need the Broncos to go to six to make. They did keep six wide receivers last season at the cut to 53.