Be the Broncos GM: Defensive End Roundtable

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We've looked at the state of the roster. We've scouted the draft prospects. We've looked at the upcoming free agents.

Now it's time to decide - how should the Broncos address the defensive end position?

Ian Henson: I said it earlier today after I gave the Broncos' defensive ends a B+ grade. Denver finished the season 13th in the NFL in sacks and 7th in the AFC with 41 sacks. Granted, not all of those are sacks from the defensive end position, and if Von Miller's healthy the entire season that sack total goes up at least ten (putting Denver in the top five for sacks). Also, Denver was the best team in the NFL in run defense. Yes, this is the result of teams being forced to constantly pass in an attempt to score for the most part, but the Broncos shut down the top of the top NFL backs this season: LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles (twice).

If you really want to destroy the theory that no teams ran on Denver just because they had the lead, simply look to the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks played with the lead the whole game, and Marshawn Lynch still couldn't run.

Kyle Montgomery: You're really good at finding silver linings in the worst Super Bowl ever, Ian.

Be the GM: Defensive End

Scotty Payne: First off I would re-sign Robert Ayers. Ayers isn't the best pass rusher we all hoped he would be, but he is a very good run stuffer. He would add solid depth to our D-Line.

That would give the Broncos Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Robert Ayers and Quanterus Smith at DE. Wolfe, Malik and Ayers are all solid run stuffers, but neither is the edge rusher we need. Quanterus Smith is a guy to keep an eye on. He was the best pure pass rusher in last years draft in my opinion, and would have been drafted much higher if it wasn't for his injury. Not a bad group, but I think we need to add another stud pass rusher to play opposite of Von Miller.

I would look into paying good money for a pass rusher. Greg Hardy, Michael Johnson or Brian Orakpo should be high on the Broncos' radar this offseason. This would give the Broncos one of the better pass rushing D-Lines in the NFL. Also there are some rumors that names like Terrell Suggs, Demarcus Ware, and Julius Peppers could be cap casualties this offseason. The idea of Suggs or Ware playing next to Von Miller gets this fan pretty giddy.

Now If Elway decides that the DE market is too pricey, I would look to the NFL Draft. If I was Elway I would look to add a pass rusher somewhere in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Since the Broncos pick at 31 they will have the second tier of pass rushers to choose from. Names like Dee Ford, Scott Crichton, Trent Murphy, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jackson Jeffcoat, Kyle Van Noy, and Jeremiah Attaochu should be on the Broncos radar.

Either way I hope the Broncos make adding another edge/pass rusher or two a priority this offseason.

Be the GM: Defensive End

Tim Lynch: I like the idea of keeping Robert Ayers and Jeremy Mincey. As for Shaun Phillips, I felt his sack total belies how effective he actually was rushing the passer. Sure he got a lot of sacks, but he just didn't get to the quarterback enough to make a huge difference. Since the NFL is a copycat league, the one guy out there that would make me happiest to see in the orange and blue would be Michael Bennett. Teams need to start poaching those talent-rich defenses out west.

Scotty: I agree on Phillips. I'd re-sign him, but make him earn his roster spot. I found this nugget on him from ProFootballFocus: Broncos DE/OLB Shaun Phillips only disrupted the quarterback on 47-of-443 pass rush snaps during the regular season.

Ian: I'd look at that as him simply needing someone to take care of that double team the Phillips was facing. The only one with slightly better numbers on the team is Robert Ayers... So there is that.

Scotty: That is true. I still think we need to pair Von with someone really good. Von and another stud pass rusher on the edge with Malik and Wolfe in the middle would be pretty damn good.

Kyle: Does anyone have a grasp on what's going on with Derek Wolfe? I don't want to start a fire where there isn't one, but I definitely recall comparisons to Wolfe's situation and that of Tracy Porter a year ago. Porter never played another snap for the Broncos. I'm just curious if other fans are as worried as me about Wolfe's status. His health is the #1 priority, of course, but it just feels like we're "Being the Broncos GM" without a critical piece of information: whether Wolfe is healthy enough to play football. What are all of your thoughts?

Scotty: I have no idea. The fact he was back practicing and working out with the team is at least encouraging. The most recent news on Wolfe that I read was this:

Wolfe had practiced just twice since Nov. 29 when he suffered "seizure-like symptoms" on the team's bus ride to the airport for a trip to Kansas City. He took part in the Broncos' Christmas Day practice, missed the next day with the flu and then practiced on a limited basisDec. 27.

He did not practice since then as doctors continued to monitor him and try to trace the origins of the seizure symptoms. Team officials, including coach John Fox, have repeatedly said "the big stuff" had been eliminated as causes, but that it was more likely a combination of factors that could include diet, sleep issues and stress.

Wolfe had appeared far lighter than his listed weight of 285 pounds in recent weeks. Fox has spoken of the need for Wolfe to be cleared by the medical staff and then regain his conditioning before he could return to practice full time.

(via ESPN)

Kyle: Thanks for that Scotty. Those factors seem minor, so that's encouraging. Denver's depth at defensive end is certainly better if Wolfe can play. I'm still a bit cynical regarding Wolfe's status though.

Ian: I am not sure what can be said publicly; from what has been said publicly by those that can't say what can't be said publicly (editor's note: What?) is that it seems like this is a decision that Wolfe himself may have to make. I don't know that it is just concussion type stuff. Having him on the roster factored into my B+ grade. Scotty brought up Quaterus Smith, but I know Smith is pure potential at this point. Kyle, you saw him. What do you think?

Tim: I am not going to buy into any "potential" right now. I only know what I see and I saw Derek Wolfe as a solid rotational player on the line for the Broncos. The more quality players they have on the line of scrimmage the less likely those guys will be gassed late in game.

Draft? Free agency? Both? I say both. And I mean, "high draft pick."

Ian: Factoring depth is really important, if a guy like Smith is the next Elvis Dumervil that is going to ensure that a guy like Orlando Franklin is more prepared this upcoming season when he faces Cliff Avril again.

Scotty: Speaking of depth, I'm worried about our depth of Edge Rushers. It showed this year when Von went down that we did not have a guy who could consistently pressure the QB. Smith has the potential to be that guy, but I believe we need to add another guy or two who can do that as well.

Kyle: Agreed. Q. Smith needs to get healthy before I count him as defensive end depth. Man, the Broncos are really thin right now at the position. Draft? Free agency? Both?

I say both. And I mean, "high draft pick."

Scotty: I would do both for sure. I would take a pass rusher in the first round of the draft. Also Von is one mistake away from a year ban. Have to consider that when talking about depth.

Be the GM: Defensive End

Ian: I do not have trust in these guys to get it right on draft day with a defensive end early. Plus, with the early draft picks, there could be some screaming needs (see: wide receiver, cornerback) depending on how everything else pans out. As everyone in here knows by now I was all for Michael Sam in the third round - 'draftniks' who have him playing linebacker are out of their mind (and element apparently), 6'2" 260, he's taller and the same weight as Elvis Dumervil, one inch shorter than Von Miller and 15 pounds lighter than Greg Hardy.

It is odd to be speaking about third round rookie prospects, but Sam, Marcus Smith and Jackson Jeffcoat (if he makes it past the second round) are all fine talents that I suspect will have even better careers than Jadaveon Clowney. All of these things are difficult to judge before combine and pro days. Some guys will fall off or rise. If you were to ask me at any point who my number one pick last season would be I would have said Star Lotulelei, but your team would have missed out on stalwarts like Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo, Dee Milliner, D.J. Hayden and Chance Warmack.

Mike: As far as free agents, you have some top tier guys like Hardy and a bunch of mid level guys like the Broncos had last season. The Broncos replaced Dumervil's production with Phillips and could look to resign him to a relatively cheap deal. It won't be the 1 million with escalators deal like last year but it also wouldn't be the top dollar contract the higher tier guys will demand. Then again, the Broncos are looking at having 24-28 million in cap space (12.5 plus another 12-16 available with some expected roster moves) so I would fully endorse a big splash at the rush end spot especially if some other guys (Ware, Suggs etc) get the hook elsewhere due to their high cap numbers. Whatever the Broncos do, I see a combination of approaches from FA and through the draft as I see this spot as a weakness and stumbling block to becoming a top tier defense in 2014.

Kyle: Let's check out some reader comments from our Be the GM series.

tiderfootball90: Lamar Houston or Jarred Allen would make the most sense to me. I don't expect Elway to bring in any free agents like Hardy who are looking to cash in. Free agents like Hardy are looking for long expensive contracts. Elway doesn't role like that. Look for him to bring in a guy like Houston on a "prove yourself" type deal like Knighton and DRC. Those contracts are nice because you get a good player that doesn't break the bank. Allen wouldn't cost much either and could replace Phillips. I'd like to bring one of those two in.

As far as the draft I like Ealy, Kareem Martin from UNC (freak athlete), and Gayle from Virginia Tech in the later rounds. Martin would be good value in the third or maybe fourth round. He's got NFL size and long arms. He was productive for UNC for many years and he has a lot of potential. He needs to polish up his pass rush and ball get off. Also needs to do better against the run although he did beat Miami's OTs a few times but got owned too many times. If Martin gets good coaching with his physical attributes, he could be a stud.

Overall I give the broncos DEs a B this year. They were very inconsistent all year and it showed up in the super bowl as well. Phillips was nice but I hope he's the third options the broncos have next year. In other words, the broncos need another stud pass rusher. Given Elway's obsession with pass rushers, he'll probably bring in two of them.

WillyBFree2Bronc: Drafting pass rushing defensive end should always be a top priority. First thing that should be looked at is - Can we do better than we have? Looking at the list, there is not one elite pass rusher on it, but the potential is there (Q Smith/Youboty). I think Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe should be viewed as open-end DEs rather than blindside pass rushers. Pressure and contain to stop the run and pressure the occassional 1st/2nd down pass, and support inside on 3rd downs. With those two, I think we're fairly set on the left side especially with Von Miller sliding down to the line on passing downs.

Kyle: Then I love this comment from DE_BroncoFan, who you just have to assume is an authority on DE. "2013 saw 5 DEs taken in the first round. 2012 saw 7 taken in the first round. 2011 (what a great group) saw 7 taken - Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Jordan and Adrian Clayborn." It may be tough to get a high quality guy at Pick 31.

Tim: Defensive end is my top free agent priority, but I would rather see a mid to late round pick in the draft. I don't think the Broncos are as thin as Kyle thinks... Provided they re-sign Ayers and/or Phillips.

Kyle: And that's my point. They haven't yet. At this point, the Broncos are looking at Wolfe starting if he's healthy and Smith a situational pass rusher if he's healthy. There isn't a sure starter signed for 2014 on the roster today.

Can we talk about defensive tackle now so we can discuss how awesome the Broncos are at a position?

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