2017 Broncos Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

In the ninth of Thin Air’s series on previewing 2017’s training camp for the Broncos is a look at the defensive line.  

The defensive line wasn’t terrible for the Broncos last season, but it clearly lost its elite edge when Malik Jackson departed for a monster contract in Jacksonville. The Broncos also let Sylvester Williams depart this offseason, so change will be in the air for most of this unit.

Derek Wolfe

One spot, however, will see no planned change. Wolfe continued his high level of play in 2016, and contributed additional leadership, as well. All signs indicate he will continue to do the same come 2017.

Domata Peko

As part of the plan to replace Williams at nose tackle, the Broncos plucked the 11 year veteran away from the Cincinnati Bengals, where Peko had played his entire career.  At age 32, expectations should be that Peko will not be on the field too often, even as a starter. Peko logged less than 60% of the snaps in the past two seasons, and it’s a reasonable possibility that he might fall below 50% in 2017, especially if other nose tackles step up to the plate in the rotation.

Adam Gotsis

Gotsis got a fair amount of favorable press during spring camps. In particular, there was an emphasis that being a year removed from his ACL tear in college, as well as getting his rookie season in the books, could portend a rise in production in his second season.  This means that expectations are rising quickly for Gotsis to settle into the other starting end spot opposite Wolfe. While it remains to be seen if Gotsis can do that, at the very least he figures to be a heavy presence in the rotation.

Jared Crick

If Gotsis does not grab a starter’s spot away, odds are it would go to last year’s incumbent in Crick.  While he’s only 27 years old and has been in the league for 5 seasons, the prevailing wisdom is that Crick has hit a ceiling of solid but not spectacular play in his talent.  Crick will certainly get his fair share of snaps in 2017, but let’s hope it’s not as high as 81.9%, a number he was forced to play in 2016 when Vance Walker went down early with a torn ACL and Gotsis was recovering from his own torn ACL.

DeMarcus Walker

Walker may be in a similar place to where Gotsis was in 2016, a second round rookie learning the ropes. Thankfully, Walker does not have a major injury that he’s recovering from. However, NFL playbooks are vast compared to college, and like with most rookies there should be some patience exercised as they learn that vast information. Getting Walker a fair amount of snaps in the rotation as a backup should be a reasonable start early on in his rookie season, and hopefully he can take over from there.

Kyle Peko

Domata’s cousin spent most of 2016 on the practice squad. With Williams off to Tennessee and Darius Kilgo waived and claimed by New England, there’s a great opportunity for Kyle Peko to make the team and spell Domata Peko for some snaps throughout the season.  Unlike in 2016, when the Broncos went without a backup for Williams for a few games, that’s likely not a luxury they’ll have in 2017 given Domata Peko’s age. This increases Kyle Peko’s odds of making the active roster.

Zach Kerr

Unclaimed by the Colts as a restricted free agent, the Broncos swooped in quickly to make a deal with Kerr.  It’s been unclear whether Kerr will be more of an end or a tackle in Denver, but in the system that’s run there is not quite as much of a distinction as there elsewhere. If Kerr is able to make the team, it would seem likely that he’ll see snaps at multiple positions on the line. That could be helpful if injuries flare up or snaps need to be balanced at certain positions.

Billy Winn

An incumbent from 2016, Winn was not re-signed until late in the offseason.  Knowledge of the system will play into Winn’s odds to make the roster, but multiple other additions will make the competition stiff for him, and as a vested veteran the practice squad is obviously not an option for him. The Broncos wouldn’t have brought back Winn if they didn’t think he had a chance to make the roster, but he’ll have a lot of work to do to prove that he’s worthy of a spot.

Tyrique Jarrett, Soto Shakir, and Shelby Harris

Out of the undrafted free agents the Broncos acquired, look for Jarrett as having the best chance to at least make the practice squad. Jarrett was given a $10,000 signing bonus, a sign that he was one of the highest regarded UDFAs on the market. Given the facts that Domata Peko is not a long term solution at nose tackle, and that Kyle Peko is still not fully proven at this point, and there’s opportunity ahead for Jarrett in Denver if he can seize it.

Shakir and Harris will have longer odds to make the practice squad due to the deeper depth ahead of them at end. Harris should still be eligible to make the practice squad, as while he spent at least six games on practice squads in 2014 and 2015, he only spent three in 2016 as a late add by the Cowboys on their doomed playoff run. That means he should still have one more year available to use.