I'm breaking down our team to look at what we have in the cupboard for this offseason. In doing so, I've gathered a bunch of data from www.nflgsis.com and www.profootballfocus.com to give us some stats to look at as we evaluate what our players did in the 2015 regular season. Also, www.overthecap.com contract info will be embedded when available. I'll add to that a synopsis of each player including their contract situation. Hopefully this helps Broncos Country here at MHR be better educated on the state of the team.
Let's get to everyone's favorite defensive unit on the team. The shizzle with the sizzle. The heat-seeking, QB hammering missiles known as Outside Line Backers. In the one-gap scheme our defense utilizes you will see these guys mostly rushing the passer. That being said, the scheme does utilize them in coverage on different calls to great effect (ask Tom Brady about it sometime).
Last year I said our CBs were the most talented unit on the defense. I was wrong. They stand just a hair back from the OLB unit as far as raw talent goes. We have 3 legit starting-talent players and 1 young guy should be at that same level this year that are a known quantity. Our most recent Super Bowl Championship was earned in large part by the devastating pass rush this unit delivers every game.
Most of us know Von Miller is a work-horse linebacker who doesn't leave the field often (~76% of the defensive snaps in 2015). What surprises me is that Shaquil Barrett (~45%) had more snaps than DeMacrus Ware (~36%) while also contributing to ~65% of the Special Teams snaps.
Von Miller is a beast. He's the closest thing that the NFL has to a Weapon of Mass Destruction. The dude is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL and just closed out his most effective season to date with game altering performances in the playoffs and the biggest game of his life.
Miller can do it all. He's the best pure pass rusher in the NFL. He can cover man to man (ask Cam about it sometime). He can drop into zone (right Tom?). He is disciplined and disruptive against the run. The guy is simply a super star.
I can't remember one time this year where I thought to myself after a game, "Man, where was Von at?" The dude draws double teams. He gets held consistently game in and game out. Normal NFL players can't handle him. He's the defensive MVP of 2015 without question.
Von being a #2 draft pick has gotten some nice money in the bank to date. That's not to say that he should take any kind of home-town discount, but I think the contract is going to be more friendly than most think. It will have big numbers attached to it, but they will be back loaded some and leave Denver in good position to continue getting winners and keeping true Broncos in the right uniform.
I was so jazzed when we signed Ware. He was in every way what this team needed so desperately: leadership, maturity, faith, consistency, respect, and guidance. The guy is a phenomenal player with a phenomenal career and I'm proud to see him in our beloved Orange and Blue.
The big down side you have with Ware is that his health is waning. It was starting to be a question his last year in Dallas and he's had ups and downs with his back since he's joined us. Luckily we have the depth behind him to be able to get him iced up and ready to go. Moving forward though, you can't really in good faith plan on having him taking anything close to 60% of the snaps in a season.
As far as his play, he's the complete package much like Von. He's not weak against the run. He absolutely was a show stopper in the post season. The guy played hungry and rambunctious. I think he can do the same thing for us in 2016 if we can keep a good rotation in and get his snap count down.
Honestly from a business standpoint, I have a hard time paying almost 12M for a guy who only takes about 40% of the snaps in a season. Yes he lends a ton to the team in intangibles, but at some point you have to look to younger guys to step up and carry that torch. We have so much real quality depth behind him that it is makes it very easy to argue that he should be restructured to save the team some money this year if he wants to stick around.
This cat was the surprise of the season to me. I was wowed by him in the preseason. I continued to be impressed with him through the regular season as well. Shaquil Barrett is a friggin NFL player. He's got the goods and I think so highly of him, I'd be completely comfortable with him as our starter across from Von if it came to that.
The big thing I noticed this year from watching him is that Phillips was very much using him as a well rounded line backer. He is a talented pass rusher, but the dude has all the tools. He was really solid in coverage and also superb against the run.
No need to worry about Barrett for 2016, but he's a guy to watch moving forward. He's not going to be this cheap to resign. I'm honestly more interested in making sure he stays with the team moving forward than I am in Malik Jackson.
Shane Ray had himself a pretty decent rookie season in 2015. He showed the pass rush ability we thought we were going to get when he was drafted. He's only going to get better as the game slows down and he gets more comfortable in all the responsibilities his role requires.
The biggest struggle he had was defending the run at times. I'm honestly thinking it was mostly a size / strength issue. Once he gets some more bulk and better technique this should turn into a non-factor in his play.
This young gentleman is going to be a Bronco for quite some time to come. He's going to be invaluable as a rotational player in 2016 and should be fighting to a starter in training camp.
Lerentee McCray is the guy in the unit that easily gets forgotten on the depth chart, but honestly I've been impressed with him as well. He's got that "playmaker" look to him when he's on the field and with a team as stacked as ours it is unfortunately hard to stand out enough.
We haven't seen enough of it, but I remember in earlier preseasons being pretty darn impressed with his pass rush speed. As a OLB he's got a role that really plays to his strengths.
McCray is a restricted free agent this year. Look for the Broncos to tender him in all likelihood. If they don't, some team is going to get a very talented player.
This position is stacked no matter how you look at it. We could lose a guy and we'd still be in great shape as a defense. I do expect to see this unit keep the same members moving forward. I think Ware isn't done yet. I think Von is going to get his deal done and continue his dominance of the NFL. I think Barrett is going to have a monster season in 2016.