Broncos' 53-man roster projection blurred by injuries, waiver claims

The Broncos likely will open the season with rookie Drew Lock on the injured reserve list. Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will cut their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET Saturday. Here's a projection, with a caveat the Broncos likely will add multiple players on waiver claims to replace some of the names on this list before the weekend is out:

QUARTERBACK (2): Joe Flacco, Kevin Hogan

The Broncos certainly will give a look at the list of quarterbacks who are let go to bring in a veteran, but rookie Drew Lock isn't going anywhere. It's just far more prudent for him to open the season on the injured reserve list with a right thumb injury. He can't throw, practice or make progress on the field in order to show the Broncos he is a viable No. 2 behind Flacco. They could designate Lock to return and bring him back halfway through the season for practice.

RUNNING BACK (4): Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick

They signed Riddick knowing full well it could force them to keep an extra running back at the expense of another position. Booker could go if the roster pinch gets too tight, but he is, by far, the best in pass protection of the group, is a quality receiver and also is an option at kickoff returner.

FULLBACK (1): Andy Janovich

Janovich has been rehabbing a shoulder injury since the Aug. 8 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and it is possible they would feel the need to keep an extra player here. But it's more likely Janovich will be ready to play soon enough in the regular season.

TIGHT END (4): Jake Butt, Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli

All four of these players have missed time because of injuries in the preseason, a concern as they consider what to do with the roster. Butt's status could change if the Broncos decide his knee will be an issue all season or if they have seen enough over the past two weeks, including his 11 snaps against the Rams, to give them confidence in his status.

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Juwann Winfree, Kelvin McKnight

This is another one of the positions where the waiver wire could impact who stays on the roster beyond the weekend -- especially with the uncertainty, as well as lack of productivity, in the return game in the preseason. A punt returner/wide receiver on the waiver wire could replace a player who initially makes it. A fourth running back also would cost a roster spot, and that could mean just five players here; but initially, the Broncos figure to take that spot from the defense.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Garett Bolles, Ja'Wuan James, Ron Leary, Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern, Elijah Wilkinson, Sam Jones, Don Barclay, Austin Schlottmann

Barclay's spot could go to a younger player -- at least initially -- if the Broncos decide to cut the vested veteran for a week and bring him back in Week 2 when his salary isn't guaranteed. These nine players have been the most consistent in camp. Wilkinson's and Barclay's versatility -- both have played tackle and guard -- as well as McGovern's, Jones' and Schlottmann's ability to play guard and center would enable them to have flexibility on game day when only seven are in uniform.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, Dre'Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker, Mike Purcell

It was difficult to imagine a scenario before training camp opened in which Gotsis, Wolfe, Harris, Jones and Zach Kerr weren't the top five here, but that's the scenario, as Purcell played well enough to deserve a spot on the roster and Kerr was released earlier this week. Purcell has played for coach Vic Fangio before -- with San Francisco and Chicago -- and Walker has made the most of what was likely his last stand after being a second-round pick in a 2017 draft class that has yielded one starter to this point (Bolles).

LINEBACKER (9): Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Todd Davis, Josey Jewell, Jamal Carter, Keishawn Bierria, Justin Hollins, Malik Reed, Joe Jones

Davis' calf injury -- he hasn't practiced since the first week of camp -- as well as Jones' injury (triceps) are concerns and could have an impact. Carter isn't quite ready to be an inside linebacker; he was just moved there from safety late in the preseason. But this team needs all of the good special-teams players, such as Carter, it can keep. Reed should make it as an undrafted rookie. But overall, this is another position in which somebody might make it for 24 hours until the Broncos make a waiver claim or two.

SECONDARY (9): Chris Harris Jr., Bryce Callahan, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Will Parks, Isaac Yiadom, De'Vante Bausby, Dymonte Thomas, Shamarko Thomas

Carter's ability to play safety in a pinch would enable them to keep nine players here instead of 10 and allow them the extra roster spot on offense they'll need because of injuries. Su'a Cravens could snag a spot at the expense of a linebacker, but the Broncos' decision to move Carter to linebacker is exactly the role Cravens would have in the specialty packages on defense.

SPECIALIST (3): K Brandon McManus, P Colby Wadman, LS Casey Kreiter

McManus and Wadman went unchallenged after the Broncos released kicker Taylor Bertolet and punter Justin Vogel earlier in training camp.