Broncos Draft Preview 2017, Part 2: Defensive Roster and Needs Analysis

Yesterday we looked at the Broncos’ roster on the offensive side of the ball, and characterized their needs accordingly. Today we’ll dive into the defensive side of things, where Denver still has plenty of elite talent. There’s always room for improvement, though, and the Broncos have to be careful not to let their strength erode by failing to address current needs or to plan for needs that will no doubt arise next year and beyond.

Positional Breakdown:

Interior Defensive Line (Base Defensive Ends and Nose Tackles (DE, NT):

Projected Starters: LDE Derek Wolfe, NT Zach Kerr, RDE Domata Peko

Depth: Jared Crick, Adam Gotsis, Kyle Peko

Other: Bobby Richardson, Travis Raciti, Iosia Iosia (aka Iosia2)

While the very high profile loss of Malik Jackson hurt the Broncos on the defensive interior last year, Vance Walker’s lesser discussed knee injury likely had nearly as much impact. The loss of both proved devastating, particularly in terms of stopping the run. Derek Wolfe played very well once again, but Jared Crick was ineffective as nearly an every down player and Adam Gotsis was mostly invisible. In fairness both Crick and Gotsis were likely relied upon much more heavily than originally intended (especially Crick), but Walker’s injury necessitated it and the results were not good.

In response to last year’s difficulties and the departure of NT Sylvester Williams, John Elway chose to add substantial size up front during free agency in the form of Domata Peko (6’3”, 325) and Zach Kerr (6’1”, 334). Neither of the two players graded well last year, particularly against the run, but the thought is they’ll fare well as run stuffers in the Broncos’ odd front and perhaps see a few snaps as DTs in sub package even fronts as well. Mike Klis suggested that both men could start in the base defense, and I understand the need to have a base DE who can play the run better than Crick. The loss of Williams also needs to be accounted for, so Klis could very well be right about D. Peko and Kerr both starting. At the very least they’ll both be used heavily in the DL rotation. Where I differ from Klis is his suggestion that Kerr will be the starter at RDE in the base defense. At his size Kerr appears to project much better at NT (he’s basically a bowling ball on top of two tree trunks). D. Peko, on the other hand, may have the length to factor in the rotation at DE, but he looks like a candidate for the nose as well. However it shakes out, I think we’ll see a heavy dose of Wolfe, D. Peko, Kerr and Crick on the interior.

After the top four things get a little more murky. The Broncos would love to see Adam Gotsis begin to reach his potential, but from what we saw last year he has a long way to go. Rumor has it he was hand-picked by DL coach Bill Kollar, so Kollar’s return could mean good things for the young Australian. He appears to have the physical traits; it’s just a matter of whether he can refine them enough to become an impactful NFL player. The other Peko, Kyle, flashed a lot of promise last year and with continued improvement he could also push for playing time. I still believe he’s better suited for an even front, so he’s a natural fit at DT in the nickel and dime packages, but he could see some time at NT in the base as well.

Need Level: Upgrade

Top DL Prospects:

Base DEs:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position Draft Profile
1 Jonathan Allen 6025 286 Alabama Top 5 Scouting Report
2 Malik McDowell 6062 295 Michigan State 1-2 Scouting Report
3 Taco Charlton 605 272 Michigan 1 Scouting Report
4 Caleb Brantley* 6025 307 Florida 1-2 Scouting Report
5 Chris Wormley 6051 298 Michigan 2-3 Scouting Report
6 Larry Ogunjobi 6025 305 Charlotte 2-3 Scouting Report
7 Carlos Watkins 6032 309 Clemson 2-3 Scouting Report
8 DeMarcus Walker 6035 280 Florida State 3-5 Scouting Report
9 Ryan Glascow 6027 302 Michigan 3-5 Scouting Report
10 Daeshon Hall 6052 266 Texas A&M 3-5 Scouting Report
11 Tanoh Kpassagnon 6066 289 Villanova 3-5 Scouting Report
12 Nazair Jones 6051 304 North Carolina 4-6 Scouting Report
13 Deatrich Wise, Jr. 6052 274 Arkansas 4-6 Scouting Report
14 Jarron Jones 6056 316 Notre Dame 4-6 Scouting Report
15 Jeremiah Ledbetter 6031 280 Arkansas 5-7 Scouting Report
16 Davon Godchaux 6033 310 LSU 5-7 Scouting Report
17 Charles Walker 6017 310 Oklahoma 5-7 Scouting Report
18 Isaac Rochell 6042 280 Notre Dame 5-7 Scouting Report
19 Jake Replogle 6053 293 Purdue 7 None
20 Collin Bevins 605 286 Northwest Missouri State 7 Scouting Report


Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position Draft Profile
1 Caleb Brantley* 6025 307 Florida 1 Scouting Report
2 Chris Wormley 6051 298 Michigan 2-3 Scouting Report
3 Larry Ogunjobi 6025 305 Charlotte 2-3 Scouting Report
4 Carlos Watkins 6032 309 Clemson 2-3 Scouting Report
5 Dalvin Tomlinson 6027 310 Alabama 2-3 Scouting Report
6 Jaleel Johnson 6025 315 Iowa 2-3 Scouting Report
7 Montravious Adams 6035 304 Auburn 3-5 Scouting Report
8 Elijah Qualls* 6005 313 Washington 4-6 Scouting Report
9 Vincent Taylor 6025 304 Oklahoma State 4-6 Scouting Report
10 Eddie Vanderdoes 6031 305 UCLA 4-6 Scouting Report
11 Jarron Jones 6056 316 Notre Dame 5-7 Scouting Report
12 Stevie Tu’ikolovatu 6011 331 USC 5-7 Scouting Report
13 DeAngelo Brown 6001 312 Louisville 7 Scouting Report
14 Charles Walker 6017 310 Oklahoma 7 Scouting Report
15 Josh Topou 6026 353 Colorado 7 Scouting Report
16 D.J. Jones 601 319 Mississippi 7 Scouting Report
17 Grover Stewart 6043 334 Albany State Und Scouting Report
18 Jon Taylor 6041 382 Southeastern Louisiana Und None

*Prospect met with the Broncos
#Prospect visited Broncos’ facility

Edge Rushers (Edge):

Projected Starters: LOLB Von Miller, ROLB Shane Ray

Depth: Shaquil Barrett, Kasim Edebali

Other: Vontarrius Dora

Edge rusher has been a strength of the Broncos’ defense for several years now, and 2016 was no different. Von Miller continued to perform like the greatest Bronco of all time, and Shane Ray notched 8 sacks on the opposite side while splitting time with Demarcus Ware. While we’re sad to see Ware retire, his back was ailing and frankly the Broncos got one more year out of him than I expected they would when they originally signed him. It was time to part ways, for both team and player. Shane Ray is ready to take on a bigger workload, and Shaq Barrett provides good depth behind the two starters. Barrett didn’t look quite as impressive in 2016 as he had in 2015, but he has proven he can be an effective backup on the edge. Dekoda Watson left for greener pastures, but he was replaced by the signing of former New Orleans Saint Kasim Edebali in free agency. Essentially Edebali brings the same skills as Watson (special teams and situational pass rushing), but he’s both younger and cheaper than his predecessor. Vontarrius Dora rounds out the depth chart on the edge, and while you know I’m hesitant to praise players on the roster bubble, Dora looks to be one of the few who could develop into an NFL football player.

The draft is very deep with Edge rushers, so the Broncos have a good opportunity to add a player on Day 3 who has a legitimate shot to make the roster. Denver brass has met with Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, a late first/early second round prospect, which might indicate a willingness to move down from #20. They also brought in Youngstown State’s promising young Edge rusher, Derek Rivers, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see them dip into the pass rushing well on Day 2 instead of waiting until Saturday. One way or another, they look poised to add another Edge defender in an effort to stay deep at this important position for the foreseeable future.

Need Level: Depth

Top Edge Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position Draft Profile
1 Myles Garrett 6044 272 Texas A&M Top 5 Scouting Report
2 Solomon Thomas 6025 273 Stanford Top 10 Scouting Report
3 Derek Barnett 6030 259 Tennessee 1 Scouting Report
4 Takkarist Mckinley 6020 250 UCLA 1 Scouting Report
5 Taco Charlton 6055 277 Michigan 1 Scouting Report
6 Charles Harris 6026 253 Missouri 1-2 Scouting Report
7 T.J. Watt# 6044 252 Wisconsin 1-2 Scouting Report
8 Tyus Bowser 6025 247 Houston 1-2 Scouting Report
9 Tim Williams 6027 244 Alabama 1-2 Scouting Report
10 Carl Lawson 6016 261 Auburn 2-3 Scouting Report
11 Jordan Willis 6036 255 Kansas State 2-3 Scouting Report
12 Derek Rivers# 6035 248 Youngstown State 2-3 Scouting Report
13 Ryan Anderson 6020 253 Alabama 2-3 Scouting Report
14 Demarcus Walker 6035 280 Florida State 3-5 Scouting Report
15 Tarell Basham 6036 269 Ohio 3-5 Scouting Report
16 Trey Hendrickson 6040 266 Florida Atlantic 3-5 Scouting Report
17 Daeshon Hall 6052 266 Texas A&M 3-5 Scouting Report
18 Tanoh Kpassagnon 6066 289 Villanova 3-5 Scouting Report
19 Vince Biegel 6032 246 Wisconsin 4-6 Scouting Report
20 Dawuane Smoot 6031 264 Illinois 4-6 Scouting Report


Linebackers (LB):

Projected Starters: LILB Brandon Marshall, RILB Todd Davis

Depth: Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson

Other: Quentin Gause, Kevin Snyder

Brandon Marshall played very well again in 2016, and he remains the best LB on the team, but without Danny Trevathan playing next to him the LB corps just wasn’t the same. Todd Davis is a very good run stopper, but he can’t cover and defend the pass like Danny T. Hell, he can’t even cover like Danny DeVito. As a result, the Broncos are forced to take Davis off the field in passing situations and replace him with Corey Nelson. Nelson is a decent cover LB, but he’s not good against the run. So Denver was relegated to using two players to cover for the loss of Trevathan, and each of them had a glaring weakness that offenses were able to exploit. Zaire Anderson has shown some ability, and it’s possible he could push Nelson for playing time, but he lacks size and likely will have some of the same issues as Nelson with respect to run defense. Quentin Gause and Kevin Snyder are the two other young LBs on the roster.

There are opportunities to upgrade at LB on Day 1 and Day 2, but if Denver doesn’t take one there they’ll need to get lucky and hit on a Day 3 prospect to find an upgrade. In the absence of adding another LB who can defend both run and pass alike, the Broncos are likely to struggle again with Davis defending passes to RBs and TEs and with Nelson defending the run from the nickel and dime packages.

Need Level: Upgrade

Top LB Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position Draft Profile
1 Reuben Foster 6000 229 Alabama Top 15 Scouting Report
2 Haason Reddick 6014 237 Temple 1-2 Scouting Report
3 Jarrad Davis 6013 238 Florida 1-2 Scouting Report
4 Zach Cunningham 6034 234 Vanderbilt 1-2 Scouting Report
5 Raekwon McMillan 6017 240 Ohio State 2-3 Scouting Report
6 Duke Riley 6004 232 LSU 2-3 Scouting Report
7 Kendell Beckwith 6022 243 LSU 2-3 Scouting Report
8 Alex Anzalone 6027 241 Florida 3-5 Scouting Report
9 Anthony Walker, Jr. 6005 238 Northwestern 3-5 Scouting Report
10 Jayon Brown 6000 231 UCLA 3-5 Scouting Report
11 Blair Brown 5114 238 Ohio 4-6 Scouting Report
12 Ben Gedeon 6016 244 Michigan 4-6 Scouting Report
13 Jordan Evans 6027 232 Oklahoma 5-7 Scouting Report
14 Marcus Eligwe 6015 234 Georgia Southern 5-7 Scouting Report
15 Connor Harris 5111 242 Lindenwood 5-7 Scouting Report
16 Marquel Lee 6032 240 Wake Forest 5-7 Scouting Report
17 Matt Milano 6004 223 Boston College 5-7 Scouting Report
18 Jalen Reeves-Maybin 6003 230 Tennessee 7 Scouting Report
19 Dylan Donahue 6025 248 West Georgia 7 Scouting Report
20 Hardy Nickerson 5115 232 Illinois 7 Scouting Report
21 Harvey Langi* 6017 251 BYU 7 Scouting Report


Cornerbacks (CB):

Starters: LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Chris Harris

Depth: Bradley Roby, Lorenzo Doss

Other: Taurean Nixon

Once again, the Denver Broncos showcase the best defensive backfield in the NFL, especially at CB. Aqib Talib somehow keeps getting better, and Chris Harris is so consistent he’s almost boring. Together they are far and away the best starting CB tandem in the NFL. Bradley Roby is the best #3 in the business, and he’s plenty talented enough to be #2 on several other rosters. He had perhaps his worst/most inconsistent season in 2016, but with Talib and Harris out there it’s no surprise offenses would target Roby. The Broncos reportedly will exercise Roby’s fifth year option, but technically they don’t need to do that until after the draft. Doing so will pay Roby ~$8.5M in 2018, which is a lot of money for a number three, but with Talib’s age advancing and the departure of Kayvon Webster to Los Angeles, retaining Roby may be worth that price tag. Lorenzo Doss has appeared serviceable at times, but he is smallish and is best suited as a backup to Chris Harris in the slot as part of the nickel package. Taurean Nixon has speed, but hasn’t seen the field much in his two years as a pro.

The draft is absolutely LOADED with CBs this year, so should the Broncos find one they like on Day 2, they may reconsider the decision to extend Roby. Or they may draft one and keep Roby through at least 2018 anyway, setting themselves up well for when Aqib Talib eventually moves on. Marshon Lattimore is the consensus #1 CB in the draft, but after him no one seems to agree. Any of the guys ranked 2-14 (and maybe beyond) could become legitimate starting CBs in the NFL. I’ve never seen a class like this. I don’t see a good reason to take one in the first round, but both the second and third rounds look like great opportunities.

Need Level: Depth

Top CB Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position Draft Profile
1 Marshon Lattimore 6000 193 Ohio State Top 10 Scouting Report
2 Gareon Conley 6000 195 Ohio State 1-2 Scouting Report
3 Tre’Davious White 5112 192 LSU 1-2 Scouting Report
4 Marlon Humphrey 6002 197 Alabama 1-2 Scouting Report
5 Kevin King 6030 200 Washington 2 Scouting Report
6 Quincy Wilson 6014 211 Florida 2 Scouting Report
7 Adoree’ Jackson 5100 186 USC 2 Scouting Report
8 Chidobe Awuzie 5117 202 Colorado 2 Scouting Report
9 Teez Tabor 6004 199 Florida 2 Scouting Report
10 Fabian Moreau 6004 206 UCLA 3 Scouting Report
11 Sidney Jones 6000 186 Washington 3 Scouting Report
12 Jourdan Lewis 5102 188 Michigan 3 Scouting Report
13 Cordrea Tankersley 6012 199 Clemson 3 Scouting Report
14 Desmond King 5097 201 Iowa 3-5 Scouting Report
15 Cameron Sutton 5112 188 Tennessee 3-5 Scouting Report
16 Rasul Douglas 6015 209 West Virginia 3-5 Scouting Report
17 Damontae Kazee 5102 184 San Diego State 4-6 Scouting Report
18 Howard Wilson 6005 184 Houston 4-6 Scouting Report
19 Ahkello Witherspoon* 6026 198 Colorado 4-6 Scouting Report
20 Shaquill Griffin 6001 194 UCF 5-7 Scouting Report
21 Marquez White* 5116 194 Florida State 5-7 Scouting Report
22 Corn Elder* 5097 183 Miami 5-7 Scouting Report
23 Brian Allen 6031 215 Utah 5-7 Scouting Report
24 Brendan Langley 6003 201 Lamar 5-7 Scouting Report
25 Nate Hairston 5117 196 Temple 5-7 Scouting Report
26 Jalen Myrick 5095 200 Minnesota 7 Scouting Report


Safeties (S):

Projected Starters: FS Darian Stewart, SS T.J. Ward

Depth: Justin Simmons, Will Parks

Other: None

Darian Stewart just continues to impress, and the Broncos rewarded him for his efforts with a hefty extension keeping him in orange and blue through the 2020 season. He and his counterpart on the back end, TJ Ward, round out the best secondary in the game. Last year the Broncos added two rookies in Justin Simmons and Will Parks, who both showed plenty of promise in their first year in the league. The only question with the safeties is whether or not Ward will be brought back after his contract expires following the 2017 season. Stewart gives them tremendous flexibility as he can play SS as well as FS, so if Ward departs Stewart’s 2018 position may be determined by which of the young guys wins the starting job. Simmons is more of a deep cover FS, while Parks is a SS who thrives around the line of scrimmage. It’s not out of the question for Denver to add a S in the draft, especially considering the available talent, but I think it’s unlikely due to the overall strength of the position.

Need Level: None

Just like we did with the Broncos’ offensive needs I’ll be listing each defensive position in the comments, and you can weigh in by up-voting the positions you think are the team’s biggest needs. I’ll include a recap of the needs as identified and prioritized by the readers/commenters for offense and defense in Part 3 of the Draft Preview, which will focus on the first round of the draft.

Thanks for reading, and by all means, let me know what I’m missing. Now that we’ve established what positions the Broncos will be looking to fill we can take a few educated guesses at which players might find themselves in orange and blue following the draft.

Until next time, Go Broncos!