News dropped late tonight that Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray suffered a torn ligament in his wrist and would miss six to eight weeks because of this injury. Thankfully, it sounds like he will be back by week one or week two at the latest to rejoin the Broncos defense, so it’s not the end of the world.
So now it’s time to move forward and see who is the next man up. If healthy, Shaquil Barrett would be that guy and the concern we have now would be gone. Unfortunately for Shaq and the Broncos, he suffered a hip injury while working out on his own this offseason and is currently on the NFI list. He’ll be activated off that list once he is medically cleared.
So let’s take a look at the players who can replace Shane Ray in the Broncos starting lineup this summer.
Broncos linebacker Vontarrius Dora: 6’4”, 256lbs
A fan favorite after having an impressive summer and preseason last year for the Denver Broncos. The former undrafted free agent totaled 10 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble during the preseason last year.
This earned him a spot on the Broncos 10-man Practice Squad where he stayed for most of the season before being activated off it late into the season.
Vontarrius Dora could be the depth that keeps the Denver Broncos pass rush fresh and explosive for 60 minutes. https://t.co/JULqlffBgh— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) June 6, 2017
Now with both Ray and Barrett sidelined, this opens up an opportunity for Dora to push for significant playing time this summer.
He showed some good pass rush ability during the preseason so he will definitely get his shot once again this summer. This could potentially launch Dora into a more significant role in the Broncos defense if he impresses.
The Broncos have had success with UDFA defensive players in the past turning into stars on their defense before, so it’s not out of the question that Dora joins Harris, Barrett, and others as UDFA defenders to become stars for the Broncos.
Plus he has dreads and those players are always cool to watch for some reason.
Broncos linebacker Kasim Edebali: 6’2”, 253lbs
The player most likely to get the first opportunity to replace Ray in the starting lineup is free agent signee Kasim Edebali.
Head Coach Vance Joseph spoke highly about Edebali after tonight’s walk-through practice.
“We signed [OLB Kasim] Edebali in the off season from New Orleans for his rushing skills. He’s a guy that’s going to help us rush from the SAM position and stop the run that’s forced on the edge. He’s capable, we’re excited about him.”
Edebali is entering his fourth season in the NFL and has had some productive years in the NFL. The former Saints player played three seasons with them and totaled 54 tackles, 8 sacks, 3 pass deflections, and 1 forced fumble. His best season came in 2015 when he totaled 21 tackles and 5 sacks for them.
So he has proven he can hold down the fort for a few games if needed and the Broncos may need him to do that for the first few weeks this season.
Broncos rookie linebacker Ken Ekanem: 6’3”, 257lbs
The undrafted rookie has earned some praise from some people after a handful of Training Camp practices, including DenverBroncos.com’s Andrew Mason.
Really like what Ken Ekanem did vs. Sambrailo in 1-on-1 -- nice job going outside, but not too wide. Then in rematch, beat Sambrailo inside.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 27, 2017
Ekanem played four seasons at Virginia Tech and put up some impressive numbers during his tenure. During his four-year career, he totaled 131 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss, 22.5 sacks, 6 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles. This past season he totaled 36 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, and 2 pass deflections.
So he has some talent and will likely get more reps with the 2’s and maybe even with the 1’s going forward if he continues to impress onlookers. He will definitely get an opportunity to play a bunch of snaps during the preseason to make a name for himself much like Vontarrius Dora did last season.
Free agent linebacker Dwight Freeney: 6’1”, 268lbs
This is just speculation, but Freeney has bounced around the league recently as a veteran situational pass rusher.
Freeney played for the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons last season and totaled 10 tackles and 3 sacks for them in limited action last season.
He’s 37 years old and his best days are long gone, but he could add a nice veteran presence in the short term. He wouldn’t be my first choice but it may add some stability to the position and a veteran who can help mentor the youngsters at the position.
Free agent linebacker Paul Kruger: 6’4”, 270lbs
This wouldn’t be the sexiest of signings, but Kruger is only a few seasons removed from having 11 sacks for the Cleveland Browns.
Older vet options on open market to include Trent Cole, Dwight Freeney & Paul Kruger. Plenty of conditional-pick trade possibilities, too.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 29, 2017
He may not add much in the way of pass rush at this stage of his career(31 years old), but could potentially be a stout run defender for the Broncos.
Kruger played for the New Orleans Saints last season and totaled 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble for them. Again, not the sexiest of options but about the best you will do at this stage in the offseason.
Other potential options:
- Trent Cole: Will turn 35 years old during the season and only has totaled 5 sacks during the past two seasons for the Colts defense.
- DeMarcus Ware: This appears to be a long shot after the veteran linebacker decided to hang them up this offseason, but why not try? He’s likely in great shape still and probably still has something left in the tank. However, back issues may keep him retired.
- Rookie DeMarcus Walker: The Broncos second round pick is supposed to add some interior pass rush, but he could line up at the edge in a pinch for the Broncos. He did so at Florida State so maybe worth a look.
- A trade: There have been many trades done over the last 72 hours so it’s possible the Broncos could call up a team who has a player on the fringes of making the team and offer them a conditional late round pick for his services. There’s likely someone available out there and that team would be getting something in return for him and that’s better than nothing.
How should the Broncos go about replacing Shane Ray this summer?
This poll is closed
Let Dora, Edebali, and Ekanem battle it out during Training Camp and the Preseason?
Sign a veteran like Paul Kruger or Dwight Freeney?
Try to convince DeMarcus Ware to un-retire?
Give DeMarcus Walker some snaps on the outside?
Make a minor trade for depth if possible?