We continue our look into Denver Broncos free agents with a look at Jason Hunter, a player brought in by Josh McDaniels to solidify the defensive line and linebacking corps. Hunter has been a pleasant surprise, and battled back this past season from a stabbing incident involving a girlfriend. Does Hunter figure into the future plans of the 2012 Denver Broncos??
Jason Hunter was an undrafted player picked up by the Green Bay Packers in 2006 and only saw special teams and limited backup work until he arrived in Detroit where took the place as a rotational defensive end, raking in a career best five sacks. After one season in Detroit he showed up in Denver where he played outside linebacker in the 3-4 system that was currently in place and took the starting job when Elvis Dumervil went down with injury, starting 12 games. He then made the shift to defensive end in 2011, playing in rotation with Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers. Hunter is 28 and has been getting more and more playing time since his time in Detroit and has grown as well in Denver.
|2011 - Jason Hunter||13||1||6||0||0||0||16||4||20|
After doing a good job filling in for an injured Elvis Dumervil, Jason played well in the rotation, spending time nearly equally between the right and left side. While he wasn't a starter he was on the field for nearly 33% of all defensive snaps. While he isn't the pure pass rusher Dumervil is, and he isn't the containment giant Robert Ayers is, he balances the two well, spending snaps both rushing the passer as well as against the run. Surprisingly adapt in coverage in his limited time. In addition to his stats listed above he 1 quarterback hit along with 9 hurries. He also had an impressive just 1 missed tackle the whole season on 414 snaps.
In 2011 Hunter earned $715,000 and as a rotational defensive end who has starting experience he would be looking for a contract that earned him around $1,215,000 a year. Looking at the Broncos cap room, despite seeming large, it wouldn't be a huge hit to the cap.
WHAT TO DO?
When looking at where to go looking forward we need to review Hunter as well as options for replacements:
- Is able to play both the right and left side as well as play the run and pass.
- Is a smart player, able to rapidly read a situation and move to the play.
- Has quick reaction against the screen game and play action.
- While some DE's play to out-muscle lineman, Hunter prefers to avoid blockers with his agility rather than overpower offensive lineman.
- Lacks elite burst and speed.
- Has a large frame but doesn't have a strong lower body and struggles to beat stronger blockers.
- While he has seen success at defensive end, is a better fit as an 3-4 outside linebacker.
- Doesn't have the upper tier talent, strength or speed.
Depth at Defensive End:
Outside of Ayers and Dumervil, there is a massive drop off in talent with the loss of Hunter. While the Broncos have a number of practice squad player, they don't have a solid rotational defensive end.
Free Agency Defensive End Class:
This is an incredibly deep defensive end class, with a number of young players like Hunter looking to make starter in the free agent market. There are a number of players who would be an upgrade over Hunter, but since we are looking for players who would be replacements rather than downgrades or massive upgrades, we are going to limit the list, here's a few, along with some notes:
- Calias Campbell (Similar to Abraham, wouldn't mind leaving Arizona, but would want starter money)
- Antwan Applewhite (Has ties to Fox and is used to being in a rotation)
- Israel Idonije (Wanted to leave Chicago but since they've hired a new GM he seems to have changed his mind, also would want to make upper starter money)
- Raheem Brock (Would want to remain a starter and would want to make enough money to make he leave Seattle)
- Tony Hargrove (A rotational player from Seattle)
Guys like Mathis, Avril, Abraham, Anderson and Carter either have close ties to their current team or would require a top 5 salary.
This really depends on what the Broncos want to do, do they want to stick with the combo or Ayers-Dumervil as starters and just re-sign Hunter and/or sign a rotational DE or do they want to go down another path and sign a high priced free agent and replace Ayers. If I'm the Broncos front office I believe Ayers is on a good development path and is a top ranked run stopper and solid as a pass rusher. That means we will stick with picking up a rotational guy. Hunter fits the bill, comes at a reasonable price, and is reliable taking a large number of snaps during the season. I would advise either drafting a mid round DE or picking up Applewhite or Hargrove to add to the rotation because after Hunter there is almost no potential.