While perusing the clips from The Afternoon Drive for our daily partnership post, I noticed they discussed the most important members of the Denver Broncos defense. I kind of touched on that topic a few days ago, noting some snap count data, but I thought it would be fun to rank the twelve most important players on defense heading into 2016. And do it in order of importance, because why not.
- Sylvester Williams: Eating up blockers and stuffing the run at the point of attack are key aspects of this defense. Though he isn't a dominant force, Williams is a fine starting nose tackle in this league.
- Shane Ray/Shaquil Barrett: Why were Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware able to terrorize teams through the playoffs? Because Ray and Barrett kept the pressure up, allowing the two star pass rushers stay fresh all game long. Expect that trend to continue, but with the two youngsters getting a little more glory than they did in 2015.
- Vance Walker: Replacing Malik Jackson is going to be a tall order. It's going to come down to a committee approach, I am sure, but Walker looked pretty good in his time on the field. Enough so, that I remember thinking that he could be a starter somewhere. Little did I know Jackson was going to get a dump truck of cash as a free agent.
- DeMarcus Ware: On any other team, Ware would be near the top of this list. However, the Broncos have so many quality pass rushers that this defense would only really miss Ware when it really matters - on third down or in the playoffs.
- Bradley Roby: Again, on any other team, Roby would be near the top of this list. The Broncos have so much talent on defense that it almost feels disrespectful to put both Roby and Ware way down here. Roby has become the catalyst that made the No Fly Zone so incredibly effective in 2015.
- Aqib Talib: Early in the season, Talib was picking off so many passes that we wondered how many touchdowns he would end up with. Well, he lost some of that early dominance down the stretch and have a couple of really bad penalties. However, he is a shutdown corner and it's nice to have two of those on a roster.
- Derek Wolfe: The man who eats up runners like they were nothing. Wolfe seems to have an innate ability to shed a blocker just in time to make a run-stuffing tackle. Having Wolfe locked up long-term will afford the Broncos some measure of security against the run. Oh, and he sacks some fools also.
- Darian Stewart: It sure seemed last year that when Stewart was down and out with injury, the entire Broncos No Fly Zone collapse around the void he left. He is the Broncos quiet leader back there and a guy that seems to always be in the right position to make the play that is needed most.
- Brandon Marshall: Only two players were on the field for more defensive snaps than Marshall and they were both cornerbacks. He's playing on a restricted free agent tag in 2016, but hopefully he is a guy that John Elway intends to target long-term. He's an inside linebacker worth keeping around.
- T.J. Ward: On defense, you need a little nasty and a whole lot of heart. Ward has both. I feel like he is the most vocal leader on the back end and a guy who will get nasty when the team needs it and will show some heart when a spark is needed. The enforcer of the No Fly Zone deserves to be up in the Top 3.
- Chris Harris Jr.: The guy who gets no respect around the league has all of the respect within Broncos Country. Sure he got burned heavily against Antonio Brown, but every Superman has his kryptonite. Frankly, I attributed his struggles in that game to some injuries at the safety position. I think we'll see CHJ get his redemption the next time he sees Antonio on the field.
- Von Miller: Duh. This defense flows through the greatness that is Von. He is the only player on the roster who can transcend the moment to take over a game. He single-handedly put the Broncos on track to win Super Bowl 50 and when there was still doubt, he snatched hope away from the opposing team. He will be worth every penny of the Hall of Fame worthy contract he will sign this year.
There you have it. Hopefully, we will see a rookie or two make themselves known enough this season to crack a list like this a year from now. As it stands, the Broncos defense is so loaded with elite talent that it is amazing to know they are all on the same team.
What changes or reordering would you make to my rankings here?
Eric and Les talk more with Tyler Polumbus about concussions and also a little bit about Peyton Manning as a potential coach in the NFL.