Denver Broncos Pre-Draft State of the Roster - Defense

Doug Pensinger

The No Bull Review makes its way into our pre-draft analysis.

No-Bull Pre-Draft State of the Roster: Part 1 (Defense)

Sure, we've seen several of these articles so far at Mile High Report, but none so far have fit with my take on things. Bear with me community, and hopefully you'll be enlightened (or enraged as the case may be). Either way, let's talk it out in the comments and get fired up for the Draft that is FINALLY almost here.

For those of you who haven't been at MHR long, welcome! If you bleed Orange and Blue, you have found your home on the Internet. I've been a member of this community for a very long time (joined in 2008). Let me give you a quick disclaimer or two on this (and the follow-up) opinion piece.

1. I'm a fan...not a coach, player, or draft nut. I love the game of NFL football and have for decades. I don't pretend to know everything or have the end-all, be-all insight into our team. I do think pretty highly of my opinions and am right far more than I am wrong (thanks to being a member here for so long and studying the game).

2. I don't watch college ball, so when it comes to the draft, I don't have some big insight on guys we should go after. I can look at a big board like anyone or read profiles, but I have no personal take on players like I do for the NFL guys.

Now let's get to the meat and potatoes. We're going to talk Defense today. Now that all the moves we realistically are going to make in free agency are done, we can get a pretty good idea of what we'll be looking for in the draft.

I'm going to break down our position groups and put some thoughts down on the guys we have. Please note I won't be addressing every guy on our current roster...only those who I've seen play either in training camp, pre-season, or regular season in the NFL that made an impression on me. I'll then rate each position with a rank of 1-5, with 1 being a "we have no talent here" and 5 being "we are set with starters and great depth".

Defensive Tackle

Terrance Knighton: This guy is a stud starter at DT. He defends the run and rushes the passer at a high level. He's shoe-in to start as our Nose Tackle and is still young and able.

Sylvester Williams: Sly is probably going to be starting at Under Tackle for us this year unless Vickerson just completely outshines him in camp. I really liked what I saw from him at the back half of the season. He was disruptive in his pass-rush and had some very solid run stops. He's no shoe-in, but I have no reason to be concerned about him not taking a step forward in his game this year. DTs usually take a year or two to really start impacting the game (they typically need some development physically to match up with NFL talent).

Kevin Vickerson: He's a monster against the run. He also pass rushes well. I haven't forgotten his penchant last year for personal fouls though and he did get pretty dinged up last year. I think given his age and the development of younger guys, this is the perfect year to have him step back into more of a depth role and being the rotational guy for our line. The advantage here is that he can play either NT or UT and when he's healthy we won't miss a beat at either.

Mitch Unrein: I don't think Mitch is ever going to be a starting DT on our team, but I love this guy. He's the kind of depth you want and much like Vickerson he can fill in at either spot on the inside of our line. He's not flashy or a huge play maker (1 yard TD catches aside), but our coaches trust him and I venture to say most of us do as well. He may not wow people, but this guy is an NFL football player and he's definitely got a role on the team.

Rating - 5: Barring injury, this is probably the most sound personnel grouping we have on the team. I don't see us needing to draft a DT this year. I wouldn't be adverse to one if a great value landed in our laps, but we have much bigger fish to fry in my opinion.

Defensive End

DeMarcus Ware: If we can keep him healthy, this guy will be the steal of free agency. DeMarcus Ware is the kind of talent you build a defense around. He's a completely disruptive force of nature on the field. He's superb at rushing the passer and is solid against the run. That being said, it is my hope we have a step up from some younger ends and use Ware on maybe 50% of the snaps at his end in order to keep him healthy for a playoff push.

Derek Wolfe: If there is a them with our Defensive Ends, it is injury questions. Wolfe is no exception. He can say he's ready all he wants, but until we see him on the field again I have him down as a very big concern. When he's healthy he's a superb power end that excels at stopping the run and has the kind of power that can break down a pocket in a hurry. I will note that he's not been great against double-teams, but with the line we have, that shouldn't be a problem this year. It is worth noting he's our end typically on 1st and 2nd down, then often slides inside on 3rd down or comes off the field as we move Von Miller up in pass rushing situations.

Malik Jackson: Malik has the same type of game as Derek Wolfe. They both can set an edge and they both have enough tools in the bag to be disruptive in passing situations. Malik probably sees the field plenty again this year in a rotational basis, though I don't see him starting.

Quanterus Smith: Here's yet another guy coming back from an injury that was looking VERY good last year to me...enough that I thought he had a shot at being a starting DE in the near future. You can never have enough pass rushers, and this kid has the goods. The good thing is that he's very young so he still has a good chance to make something of himself in the NFL.

Rating - 3: Call me crazy, but I don't trust this group a ton as far as being able to make it through the season. I very much like the idea of getting a new guy in here that can get after the passer in a situational basis for depth. If we leose any tow of the above group, we'll be in very big trouble on defense.

Linebackers

Von Miller: This is another guy like DeMarcus Ware. Personal issues aside, Von is the kind of talent you build a team around. I am very excited to see him back on the field this year and also across from an amazing talent like Ware. I think more than one opponent quarterback this year will drop a little mud in the pants when they see these two guys across the line from them. Von will be our SAM in base downs and then move up to DE on pass rush situations. I wouldn't be adverse to seeing more creativity with him since he really can come from any spot if Jack Del Rio wanted him to.

Danny Trevathan: Danny is the prototypical Will Linebacker for today's NFL. He's fast, quick, aggressive, and is great in coverage. He's one of the two linebackers we use when we are in Nickel personnel (which is the majority of the time based on the past two years). He's also young and should be with us for many years to come.

Nate Irving: Irving's strength is against the run. I think we originally picked him up as a developmental project for Middle Line Backer, but he's not been able to take that step. I think this is mostly due to him being a liability in the passing game...not as bad as Joe Mays, but he's not leaps better either. In games where we are freely able to rotate personnel, he's a great option for 1st and 2nd down if they are obvious run situations.

Steven Johnson: Here is backer number one that I'm keeping my eye on this year in the pre-season. Steven has flashed just as much as Nate has, but he's younger and less experienced. If he can learn to read plays better, I think he has a shot to be a big part of our LB rotation this year.

Lerentee McCray: This guy is a sleeper pick for linebacker. I liked him in training camp last year a ton and so did the coaches from everything I could see. I really think his thumb injury was an easy excuse to stow him away on IR for a year while we developed him. All the talk about us having to draft a LB and we may have the answer already on the team.

Rating - 3: At a glance, I really like where we are at Linebacker. The problem I have is what happens when we shift Von around to the D-Line? That really messes up this personnel grouping because Von is the guy that I see as being capable athletically of being that 2nd Nickel Linebacker. Wesley Woodyard isn't here anymore and that causes a very nice void for us. That being said, I have a lot of faith in some of our young linebackers, so I don't put this at as desperate of a need as much of Broncos Country seems to do.

Safety

T.J. Ward: Here's another guy on our defense that is a game-changer. He's not necessarily as important as Ware or Miller, but in his own way, I think the defense will reap the benefits of having Ward on the field. He's the new prototypical Strong Safety in the NFL. He's a great tackler, reads plays very well, fast, and is great at pass coverage. Ward was my free agency wish even more so than Ware or Talib. Again, he's still a young player who will be here for another handful of years.

Rahim Moore: I don't know why I'm so picky about safety play, but I am. Rahim Moore to me is still a question mark of a starter. Last year before he was injured he basically was a solid but unspectacular free safety. He did his job as far as not letting anyone behind him. The problem I had was that he was playing far too safe and not attacking the ball enough. Maybe that's what the coaches want from the Free Safety position, but I watch more than the Broncos and I know there are better free safeties out there to be had. I'm okay with Rahim being our starter, but his injury past worries me.

Quentin Carter: Here's another guy that I loved early in his career but just can't stay on the field. Carter has the goods to be a free safety and I think this is his best and last chance to make it in the NFL. If he can just be durable (kinda hard to learn that skill), he could overtake Rahim as our starter from what I've seen from him in the past.

Duke Ihenacho: Here's last year's flash in the pan. Duke was a fan favorite that most of us fell in love with in the preseason. This was because he is very aggressive in nature and is very good against the run. He really kinda sucks in pass coverage from what I've seen and gets fooled far too easily by misdirection to be a serious contender. As it stands, he's depth behind Ward and hopefully develops some more skills this year.

Rating - 2: I think we have a starting SS and a backup FS on this squad. Injury risks and lack of talent wash out a lot of what this group brings to the table. This is a personnel group that is chalk full of hopes, dreams, and liabilities to my eyes.

Cornerbacks

Aqib Talib: I'm a very big fan of Talib's game. He is an aggressive and talented cornerback who isn't afraid to play physical. The only problem that brings is a penchant for getting dinged up. He has superb upside though and is hands down our best cornerback.

Chris Harris Jr.: The only thing that Chris lacks is size. Other than that he is a Defensive Coordinator's sloppy wet dream. He is one of the quickest players I've seen on the field in the past three years. He's got great read ability and speed. I do tend to think he plays the slot better than anyone in the NFL, but he plays the #2 CB very well too.

Kayvon Webster: I'm a big fan of Kayvon. He has a lot of the raw tools you look for in a cornerback. This is going to be a very telling year for him. He's also another guy that plays very physically and I absolutely love seeing that in my defense and it often lacks from the CBs. Before any of you point to the San Diego game as evidence of his sucktitude, please just chill...that kid was in position on almost every one of those passes that were completed on him...he just couldn't stop a perfect pass and I don't hold that against a guy in his first year.

Tony Carter: This is a depth guy at this point honestly. He gets a tough rap for being "handsy" but from what I see, he plays the same as most CBs, but since he's a depth guy the refs call him more often. He's very talented at man to man coverage though and is not a guy I worry about if there's an injury and he has to come in on spot duty.

Rating - 3: Here's another group that at a glance looks great. Cornerbacks are easy to lose though so I'm looking for us to pick up another guy to develop in the draft.

To wrap it up, here is what I've got our defense rated comment below where you would put us at and why:

Position Group Rating
Defensive Tackle 5
Defensive End 3
Linebackers 3
Safety 2
Cornerback 3
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