2014 Denver Broncos Defense: State of the Roster Post Free Agency

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday Broncos Country! Here's a look at where the Broncos stand on the defensive side of the ball after making some acquisitions in free agency.

Defensive Tackle

Player

Role

Quality

Terrance Knighton

Starter

Red Chip

Kevin Vickerson

Starter

Above Average

Sylvester Williams

Rotational

Developing

Mitch Unrein

Rotational

Average

Sione Fua

Depth

Average

What a difference three seasons make. When Elway took over in 2011, DT was arguably the weakest position group on the team. Fast forward to 2014 and the Broncos have a strong and versatile unit. Terrance Knighton is on the final year of a two-year deal and started to emerge as an elite playmaker in the middle. Kevin Vickerson was having a fine year in the middle before suffering a hip injury. With big guys, any injury that has to do with their frame is concerning.

Beyond that we saw Sylvester Williams grow as a rookie to someone who could make plays here and there in the backfield. Remember that the learning curve for a DT is quite steep earlier in their careers. Unless you're a generational player like Ndamukong Suh, you rarely see them make a remarkable impact rookie year. There is enough there to believe that Sylvester can continue to grow into a dominant force. Heading into 2014 however, he should be the favorite to unseat Vickerson for that 2nd starter spot.

Remember that the Broncos use their tackles interchangeably. You will see each player line up as a NT or an UT depending on the play call.

Behind them you have a couple of average guys that work the rotation. Mitch Unrein sees time primarily in sub packages when rushing the passer. Sione Fua barely saw the field in 2013. The Broncos will likely take four players to their active roster so look for there to be a camp battle between Unrein, Fua, and the developmental players on the roster.

If Knighton has another season like he did last year, he will be inline for a big payday. At only 27 years old, he is in the prime of his career. My first inclination would be to make it a priority to resign the big man, but the market value might price him too high especially with other big in house contracts to take care of. When in doubt, remember that Elway does not view DT as an elite position.

Defensive End

Player

Role

Quality

DeMarcus Ware

Starter

Blue Chip

Derek Wolfe

Starter

Above Average

Malik Jackson

Rotational

Above Average

Quanterus Smith

Depth

Unknown

John Youboty

Depth

Below Average

Some see the need for the Broncos to address the pass rushing end spot. The more the merrier I suppose. But I see a solid group here already especially with addition of DeMarcus Ware. This man gives you elite capabilities opposite Von Miller in pass rushing situations. He is also an upgrade of Elvis Dumervil's run defense. He is a 3-down player that will give the Broncos a ton of flexibility to run some really funky stuff. More on that later.

Behind him you have rotational player Malik Jackson who quite honestly played better inside as a pass rusher. Whatever the situation ends up with Malik, though he showed some ability to be a disruptive player, he hit the wall from a production standpoint when his playing time increased. This was really the first year Malik saw extensive playing time so you could attribute that to the "rookie wall" effect. Going into 2014, I would limit Malik's snaps and try to maximize his impact when he does see the field.

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect would be Quanterus Smith who was placed on IR at the end of Training Camp last season. With another year to recuperate a torn ACL and gain some functional strength, he might be a dark horse to wreak some havoc off the edge.

Derek Wolfe is a very scary proposition, and with the loss of Robert Ayers, the Broncos might be inclined to look at the closed end spot. Word is Wolfe is on track for a full recovery, but the sheer severity and unknown of his season ending medical issues are enough to give me pause.

I could have listed Von Miller here, but Broncos fans already know he is a pass rush specialist on favorable downs.

Front 7 - Rushers/Base

The great thing about most of these players at DT and DE is that they can play interchangeably along the line. Hell, you might even see some great stunt work with Ware as a 3-tech. Bottom line, the best pass rushing front 4 when we get to that point would be Miller (DE), Jackson (DT), Knighton (DT), and Ware (DE). On base downs with the Under defense you would have Miller on the line as a SAM, Wolfe or Jackson as the strong side end, Williams or Vickerson as the 3-tech, and Knighton as your 0-1 tech with Ware as your weakside end.

If the Broncos add a linebacker in the draft or use one already on the roster, It would be possible to see some 3-4 looks with Miller and Ware as OLB's. From there I envision a line of Wolfe, Knighton, and Jackson. Not too much difference from the under look, with limitless stunting and blitzing opportunities.

In my humble opinion, there is no glaring need at either DE or DT. The Broncos can think ahead to next year if necessary, but this group here would be hard for a rookie to crack.

Linebacker

Player

Position

Role

Quality

Von Miller

SAM

Starter

Blue Chip

Larentee McCray

SAM

Depth

Unknown

Danny Trevathan

WILL

Starter

Above Average

Brandon Marshall

WILL

Depth

Unknown

Nate Irving

MIKE

Starter

Average

Steven Johnson

MIKE

Depth

Average

I went ahead and penciled in Nate Irving as the starting MIKE at the moment. Bottom line, I think the Broncos can get away with having a two-down player. I'll get into that more when I talk about TJ Ward. MLB is not a glaring need IMO, especially when it is so hard to find an impactful 3-down player. The Broncos could take someone to be a 3-down MIKE, but you have to ask yourself the following: Is that player better than a WILL or SS in coverage? Most of the time that answer with be "no". Besides, I think the other two positions are more adept at covering receivers man to man.

The SAM and WILL spots are locked up with Von Miller and Danny Trevathan. The depth behind Trevathan is quite unsettled, but when you're talking about filling depth, your roster is pretty strong. It will be interesting to see what Larentee McCray brings the table as a pass rusher when given the opportunity.

To be honest, though it would be nice to have a 3-down MLB, there is no reason for the Broncos to reach for one in the draft. They already have some guys on the roster that can compete.

No glaring needs, just some depth to improve. If the Broncos do take someone like Shazier it provides them more flexibility with coverage responsibilities in subpackages. If they take someone like Mosley or Borland they want a 3-down MIKE.

Cornerback

Player

Role

Quality

Aqib Talib

Starter (#1)

Red Chip

Chris Harris

Starter (#2/slot)

Red Chip

Kayvon Webster

#2 Outside sub

Above Average

Tony Carter

Depth

Average

This is the first place I find some depth issues on the Broncos defense. I'm not going to count scrubs like Omar Bolden who was switched to safety or the players that were signed to futures contracts. In all honestly, I like a starting three of Talib, Harris, and Webster. Webster caught a lot of criticism for his play against San Diego, but the kid looked pretty good and has the skill and ability to succeed. I would not think twice about having him play outside in sub packages. Outside of those three however we have the diminutive Tony Carter and his grabby hands just waiting to be called for PI.

If there is one need on defense it is corner.

Safety

Player

Position

Role

Quality

Rahim Moore

FS

Starter

Above Average

David Bruton

FS

Backup

Below Average

Omar Bolden

FS

Depth

Poor

TJ Ward

SS

Starter

Blue Chip

Duke Ihenacho

SS

Backup

Average

Rahim Moore can be a fine counter to TJ Ward, the question with him is that compartment syndrome and his recovery. Until a player can get back on the field, there is no way to know how their athleticism was affected. Behind him you have a career special team-er who really has not done well when given the opportunity to start. Behind that you have a bust from the 2012 NFL draft who should have a tough time making the roster in 2014.

At strong safety you have an elite playmaker in TJ Ward. He is what makes a 3-down MLB obsolete. In subpackages the Broncos will use him to play man to man against the TE. They tried giving this role to Duke last year with mixed results, but this was precisely the role Ward was used in during his time in Cleveland. When playing man, he is physical and gets his hands on the receiver. He rarely gives up leverage and is fast enough to hang with the quicker pass catchers. In zone his instincts are superb and so is his tackling.

I'm not even going to delve into Quinton Carter. Perhaps he competes with Duke to be the backup, perhaps he tries his hand at FS. Regardless, he is too injury prone to depend on.

The Broncos need to do something at the safety position as well. I'm fine with Duke as a backup to Ward, he will have time to improve and get better. Free Safety is a mess, however.

Wrap-Up

Other than the secondary, the Broncos have no glaring needs. Couple that with the resigning of Winston Justice and the acquisition of Will Montgomery and the Broncos really have no glaring holes on offense.

Heading into the draft, the Broncos areas of need are as follows (from greatest to least):

CB

S

LB

WR

The Broncos will be in prime position to let the board fall to them. There is no reason to reach--though they certainly could move up for marquis talent if the situation presents itself. There is also plenty of opportunity to move down and acquire picks if they have a favorable run on a specific position leading up to their pick.

On defense I now count 6 red/blue chip players in DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, TJ Ward, Terrance Knighton, Aqib Talib, and Chris Harris Jr.

This defense if it can stay healthy, on paper at least, should be one of the best in the NFL.

Thank you John Elway!

GO BRONCOS!!!

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