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Denver Broncos No Bull roster analysis: defensive line

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Sadaraine takes a peek at the Denver Broncos roster and delves into our defensive line corps. Who do we have under contract? What did they look like on the field?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome aboard the off-season Broncos Country! I'm going to take a peek at who we have on the team now as we prepare for Free Agency and the NFL Draft. Please note that while I'm going to throw out some basic stats for our guys, that's just for easy reference.  The core of my analysis on these guys comes from what I saw on the field.

Disclaimer: The No Bull Review is about what I see on Broncos game day. Players buried on the depth chart or practice squad might not be included.

Defensive Ends

Malik Jackson

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists Sacks Pass Def. F. Fumbles
DT / RDE 16 / 3 34 12 3.0 4 1

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
4th of 4 years ~$620 K ~$110 K

This was a solid year for Malik Jackson much like last year. He's been mainly a rotational player for us who brings a ton of versatility and a high motor. Malik plays with power and size, but has enough burst and athleticism to be useful on the outside. He's a defensive lineman that doesn't really have a weakness. He plays the run or the pass well.

  • He's a great fit for Defensive End in a 3-4
  • Solid run defender
  • Played about 50% of the snaps
  • Appears to thrive in a rotation that keeps him from wearing down for pass rush results

Quanterus Smith

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists Pass Def.
RDE 15 / 0
7 4 2

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
3rd of 4 years ~$633 K ~$96 K

Quanterus is a training camp hero in all honesty. He's rotated in this past year to hold down the fort mainly for DeMarcus Ware, but as you can see above his impact has been minimal. In training camp he's shown some flash as a pass rusher, but it has yet to translate to the NFL field.

  • Played about 28% of the Bronco's snaps
  • In a 3-4 he'd be OLB depth
  • Injuries in the recent past may factor into his development...he's worth keeping an eye on in training camp

DeMarcus Ware interception vs. Chiefs in 2014

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Ware

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists Sacks Pass Def. Int F. Fumbles
RDE 16 / 15 37 8 10.0 1 1 2

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
2nd of 3 years ~$8.7 M ~$6.8 M

We had very high hopes for DeMarcus Ware coming into the season. There was talk of him and Von Miller setting the duo sack record. Unfortunately at the end of the day he looked more like a slight upgrade on the right end from Shaun Phillips that cost us quite a few pennies more.

Don't get me wrong. At times DeMarcus was fantastic. Most of those came at the beginning of the season though and it seemed that he very much wore down as the season went on.

  • Speed pass rush artist
  • Appeared to need to rotate more than we did in order to stay frosty
  • Is very comfortable at OLB in a 3-4

Derek Wolfe

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists Sacks Pass Def.
LDE 16 / 16 26 12 1.5 1

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
4th of 4 years ~$1.4 M ~$1.1 M

Derek is another workhorse on the line. He plays inside or out much like Malik. Also like Malik he has a fantastic motor. Derek isn't the defensive end you want, he's the defensive end you need. His style is more power and endurance than power and speed and unfortunately that means he doesn't get the flashy stats. He nevertheless does a great job defending the run and is a key part of pushing the pocket in the pass rush game so quarterbacks don't have room to step up and throw.

  • Is the protypical RDE in a 3-4 and is used as such in our 4-3 under scheme
  • Non-Stop Motor (probably best endurance player on the line)
  • Solid run defender

Defensive Tackle

Marvin Austin, Jr.

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists
NT (RDT) 15 / 0 10 5

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
2nd of 2 years $660 K -

Marvin played well for us this year and was mainly a rotational guy. One great thing I can say is that I didn't see him messing up much even though he was out there for 25% of our snaps. He's another guy that excels in run defense and was the primary back up for our DT position (Terrance Knighton). Don't let the stats up there fool you...he was a solid player for us and his contract is very affordable. There's no reason he can't have another chance to make an impact with us this next season.

  • He'll play the Nose in the 3-4 and should be solid depth there
  • Good depth player
  • Only one year removed from a back injury and may yet improve

Terrance Knighton

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists Sacks Pass Def.
NT 16 /16 19
14
2
3

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
UFA -
-

I have the utmost respect for the body of work Terrance Knighton has displayed in his time with the Broncos. He's a fiery leader and a force to be reckoned with on the inside of our line. I hear a lot of complaints about him only playing half the snaps per game, but in my mind that's a non-issue from an impact perspective. I like rotating our guys up front to keep them fresh.

Terrance is a Free Agent that I'd go for if we can get a team-friendly deal. I'd like 3-4 years at around $4M a year and if he balks he can walk. The only place where the low snaps comes into play is when you make the personnel decisions about bringing a guy like Knighton back. He's going to want to get paid and deservedly so. Do we want to invest into a player that is only on the field half the time? I'm not doing that. Especially when we have a defensive scheme that doesn't need a guy like Knighton in the middle.

  • He'll play the Nose in the 3-4 and would be our instant starter
  • Great leader
  • Probably our best run defender up front
  • Pushes the pocket well when he does get called on to pass rush

Mitch Unrein

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists
NT 8 / 0
1
0

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
UFA -
-

The story here really boils down to the adage that in the NFL you only get 3-4 years on average. I've always loved Mitch's work previous to this year. I don't know why, but he's just not been able to see the field and make any impact like he has in the past. What I do know is that he's a versatile lineman who has been a great rotational depth guy for us and has been impactful (even catching a TD pass).

Barring injuries at DT, I wouldn't bring back Mitch. There's too much depth in front of him that has more upside at this point (Sly, Marivn Austin).

  • He could be depth at NT or DE in the 3-4
  • Solid vs the run
  • Inconsistently pushes the pocket in pass rush situation

Sylvester Williams

Position Games / Started Tackles Assists Pass Def.
UT (LDT) 16 / 13 18 4 1

Current Contract Cap Hit Dead Cap
3rd of 4 years
~$2.1 M
~$3 M

This is probably the guy the Broncos will want to see have some serious growth this next year. I'm hoping the change in coaching will get Sly headed the right direction. It wasn't that he looked bad this year, but he just doesn't show up in games. The positive thing I can say is that he's handling his job in the run game.

  • I don't see him succeeding at NT in a 3-4 based off his play this year and could shift to play DE in that scheme
  • No impact in the pass rush game
  • Does play the run well
  • Is still very young a may have not yet reached his ceiling

Closing Thoughts / Overview

I included notes about the 3-4 since we hired Wade Phillips. Switching to the 3-4 would actually make things a bit easier on us from a numbers stand-point. We are thick with guys who can play Wade's 1-gap version of the 3-4.

This off-season look for the Broncos to add depth at DE in the draft and DT in FA. Don't be surprised to see us pick up a DT as well if a good one falls into our laps as we'll need some more youth here in the next year or two if we don't bring back Knighton.