Broncos’ Riley Moss ‘Firmly In Mix’ To Start

The Broncos have identified a star cornerback in Patrick Surtain; the fourth-year player is a clear extension candidate. Last season also featured the emergence of slot defender Ja’Quan McMillian. With two regular spots locked down, Denver will still go into training camp with uncertainty at the position.

After Week 1 starter Damarri Mathis did not pan out in DC Vance Joseph‘s first season back with the team, the Broncos received better play from replacement Fabian Moreau. The latter is no longer on the roster, opening the door to a CB2 battle featuring a host of players. While none appears a true frontrunner, the team’s investment in Riley Moss remains notable.

Denver sent Seattle a 2024 third-round pick to trade up for the Iowa corner in the 2023 third round, but an offseason injury — requiring sports hernia surgery — sidetracked the rookie’s season. Moss played only 23 defensive snaps last year, but he is a clear candidate to man the boundary spot opposite Surtain. Moss is “firmly in the mix” for the job, per the Denver Post’s Troy Renck, with colleague Parker Gabriel indicating the second-year CB will be given every chance to land the gig after an impressive offseason.

Moss’ primary competitors appear to be Mathis and free agency addition Levi Wallace. Mathis replaced an injured Ronald Darby in Denver’s lineup early in the 2022 season but could not sustain his momentum last year. The former fourth-round pick did not exceed nine defensive snaps in any game following his Week 7 benching, playing zero snaps in six of the team’s final seven contests.

Wallace, who turned 29 last week, spent the past two seasons with the Steelers. An ex-Bills starter, Wallace also saw his role change in-season. The former UDFA shifted to a backup role midseason and did not return to starter duty until injuries affected Pittsburgh’s depth chart in late December. Pro Football Focus rated Wallace 88th among CBs last season, and despite a reduced workload, the six-year veteran allowed six touchdown passes as the closest defender.

The Broncos will give the 6-foot defender a chance to bounce back, though they only authorized a one-year deal worth $1.29MM ($668K guaranteed). Denver also drafted Missouri’s Kris Abrams-Draine in the fifth round, but he may not be thrown into the mix immediately.

The team’s positional makeup ahead of camp points to Moss being the preferred option. He was drafted under Sean Payton — whereas Mathis arrived during the Nathaniel Hackett-Ejiro Evero year — to play in Joseph’s scheme. The Broncos moved up 25 draft slots to acquire Moss, giving up one of their 2024 third-round picks — they received another from the Saints in the swap for Payton’s rights — to obtain him.

A former Iowa high school 110-meter hurdles champion, Moss moved from two-star recruit to Hawkeyes regular. The 6-foot defender intercepted 11 passes in his five college seasons, playing alongside Eagles second-round pick Cooper DeJean. Moss earned first-team All-Big Ten acclaim in 2021 and ’22.

Moss will obviously be attempting to break norms as a white NFL cornerback; no team has started a white corner since the Bengals’ Kevin Kaesviharn in 2003, Renck adds. Kaesviharn moved to safety soon after, spending much of his nine-year career there. Jason Sehorn, a Giants starter from 1996-2002, resides as the NFL’s last long-term white CB.

Whomever the Broncos decide to use as their primary CB2 starter will certainly be tested regularly, as teams will undoubtedly target the to-be-determined player with Surtain patrolling the other side. Moss showing he can stick at the position would give the Broncos a low-cost answer opposite Surtain, who could make a case to become the NFL’s highest-paid CB by a wide margin — considering the current gap between the wide receiver ceiling and the top CB number ($21MM AAV presently) — this offseason or in 2025.

If this competition underwhelms, the Broncos would have some options — should they seek more outside help. Adoree’ Jackson remains unsigned, as do Xavien Howard, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and likely Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson. Though, Peterson and Gilmore will each turn 34 soon. It stands to reason most of this lot will find jobs soon. Considering the Broncos’ situation, it would not exactly surprise to see them connected to one of them.

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