By Zack Kelberman
(247 SPORTS) – Of the 37 players who were cleared off the final roster Saturday, none drew more condemnation than De’Angelo Henderson and Jeff Holland.
Most fans and much of the media believed the second-year running back and rookie outside linebacker did enough to make the Denver Broncos’ 53-man squad. But general manager John Elway went way against the grain, chopping both players and likely ending their brief tenures in orange and blue.
Henderson was among two RBs released by the Broncos, along with rookie David Williams. They weren’t easy decisions, Elway explained in a press conference Saturday evening.
“It was a tough one, it was back and forth—as well as [RB David] Williams,” he said. “We drafted David. Again, it comes down to numbers and it was the decision that we had to make.”
As for Holland?
“We thought that we had other football players that were ahead of him on the 53[-man roster],” he said.
Henderson returned from a scary May car accident to shine in training camp. He carried that positive momentum into the preseason, finishing with 28 rushes for 129 yards and a touchdown. After Thursday’s exhibition finale against the Arizona Cardinals, Henderson spoke ominously about his future with the Broncos — the writing on the wall, perhaps.
“At the end of the day, it’s a privilege to play here, it’s not a right,” he said. “It’s an honor just to be in this position. Regardless of what I’ve done in the past or what I’ve done this year, just hopefully it’s enough for somebody. Hopefully, it’s here. My ultimate goal at the end of the day is I just want to play football. We’ll see what happens.”
What happened was Elway chose to keep four backs (Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay, Devontae Booker, fullback Andy Janovich), going relatively light at the position. Broncos Country was none too pleased that Booker earned a spot yet Henderson didn’t. But, as said repeatedly, this coaching staff values Booker’s seniority.
Just ask head coach Vance Joseph.
“They’re all qualified,” he said. “Obviously, [RB Devontae] Booker is the most experience, he’s played some good football for us. His better days are ahead of him. [RB] Royce [Freeman] had a great spring and a great summer also. Obviously with ‘2’ (RB Phillip Lindsay), he’s a special runner, but he also played teams very well. He was a L-5, he was a gunner for us, he completed the package for us.”
Holland, an undrafted free agent out of Auburn, fell victim to a similar numbers game. The Broncos retained four OLBs: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray. They could’ve saved another if they hadn’t carried a whopping six inside linebackers, a baffling decision influenced not by defense but special teams.
“Absolutely, last year we were poor on special teams,” said Joseph. “We were very fortunate to draft two young backers. We acquired [ILB] Joseph Jones last year, so those three guys are going to be huge for us as core guys. They’re going to play on all four [units]. … That was definitely one of the reasons we kept so many inside linebackers and our young class, we’ve got receivers and defensive backs that can play teams. That’s going to help us.”
The Broncos made their bed with the construction, and now must lie on it. There’s a slim-to-none chance of Henderson and Holland slipping through waivers unclaimed; both reportedly drew interest around the NFL prior to their pink slips. Time will tell if this was “the best roster we could put together,” as Elway proclaimed, or if they’ll regret axing two young, rising players.