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Broncos' release RB C.J. Anderson, could Saquon Barkley be his replacement?

The Denver Broncos just cut running back C.J. Anderson, who started all 16 games for them last season. The Broncos have the fifth pick of next week’s NFL draft. Saquon Barkley is the best running back prospect to come along in many years.

There will be a lot of dots connected after Monday’s news that Anderson, who rushed for 1,007 yards last season and has been the Broncos’ regular starter since 2014, was cut. That was reported by Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic and many other outlets. The Broncos had tried to trade Anderson but couldn’t find a partner.

Seeing as how the move came less than two weeks before the draft, there are some moving pieces to what seems like a fairly normal April transaction.

Does this mean Saquon Barkley lands in Denver?

The first issue is that Barkley might not be there when the Broncos draft fifth overall. Nobody seems to know what the New York Giants are doing at No. 2. The same goes for the Cleveland Browns at No. 4. And even if Barkley falls to No. 5, if a quarterback the Broncos like also falls to that spot, they’ll have to be tempted. Case Keenum is on just a two-year deal. Denver needs a quarterback for 2020 and beyond.

But if Barkley falls, it really is a nice fit.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is expected to go very early in next week’s NFL draft. (AP)

The Broncos need offensive playmakers. They’re surprisingly thin at receiver and tight end after Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. They don’t have a great option at running back anymore, unless you’re a big believer in Devontae Booker. Barkley is such a versatile performer, and an impact player from Week 1 on, he would fix a lot of what ails Denver’s offense. Barkley would be the Broncos’ de facto third receiver, and maybe even battle to lead the team in receptions. It would certainly be no surprise if the Broncos took Barkley, if he’s there.

What are the Broncos’ options with the fifth pick?

Denver is one of the most interesting teams in a very interesting draft. They are in a great spot at No. 5. Because of the short-team deal to Keenum, a quarterback is in play if one falls. Also, if a quarterback falls, a team like the Arizona Cardinals or Buffalo Bills might overpay to trade up and get one.

If the top four quarterbacks go with the first four picks, that means the Broncos can get the top non-quarterback prospect on their board (and the Broncos don’t need a quarterback, so they don’t have to pull a New York Jets and completely overpay to move up). Guard Quenton Nelson would help an offensive line that seems to be constantly rebuilding. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller would make an unbelievable pass-rush duo. Minkah Fitzpatrick would make the secondary a big strength again, after the team traded Aqib Talib. And then there’s Barkley.

Denver is in a great spot at No. 5 because it has a lot of cards it could play.

Why cut C.J. Anderson if there’s no guarantee to get Barkley?

Anderson was slated to make $4.5 million, and Denver didn’t want to pay that. Part of the reason is that even if the Broncos don’t get Barkley, they should get a very good rookie running back. This rookie running back class is very deep. There should be possible Week 1 starters in the early and middle rounds, and maybe even a couple in the late rounds. It’s possible LSU’s Derrius Guice is available to Denver early in the second round. If Guice is gone, and he probably should be by then, someone like USC’s Ronald Jones or Georgia’s Nick Chubb could be available.

Whether it’s Barkley or someone else, it doesn’t seem like the Broncos’ starting running back is on the roster right now.

Will Anderson be a starter again in 2018?

Anderson probably won’t be a 16-game starter like he was last season, but he’s just 27 and coming off a nice season. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry and caught 24 passes on a bad offense that had one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL. He’s smart, versatile and would add value to many teams. Anderson’s options might be limited because of that rookie running back class though. A lot of teams will draft cheap, talented options and want to roll with them instead of a higher-priced veteran like Anderson.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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