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Broncos free agent target: Nose tackle Johnathan Hankins

The Vic Fangio defense needs a competent plugger. Hankins could be just the man for the job.

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Oakland Raiders v San Francisco 49ers
Hankins could be a bargain bin steal in the right role.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With the NFL Combine completed, we are now looking towards free agency as the legal tampering period opens up next week. As of now the reports suggest Elway and the Broncos do not plan to resign Domata Peko before free agency opens. That means Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, and Shelby Harris are the only defensive lineman with real experience on the roster. None of the 3 neatly fit into the profiles of most of the nose tackles Vic Fangio has employed over the years, so expect Denver to turn over some stones for one.


Two weeks ago Benjamin Allbright broke the story that the Broncos intend to pursue Johnathan Hankins.

Hankins was a second-round pick by the New York Giants in the 2013 NFL Draft. The 27-year old will be entering hsi 7th season in the NFL and has a reputation for being an uppier tier run defender.

Pro Football Focus has Hankins ranked as their 10th best free agent interior defensive lineman.

After going unsigned all offseason, Hankins latched on in Oakland after Week 1 of the regular season, quickly earning the starting nod when Justin Ellis went down on a thin Raiders defensive line. Hankins’ first four seasons of starter level play for the Giants earned him a big payday with Indianapolis in 2017, a marriage that only lasted one season. The veteran played admirably in Oakland this season, but his overall grade took a step back to 66.5, second-worst of his career. While Hankins offers very little as a pass rusher, the nose tackle has demonstrated spurts of very strong run defense and finished with 18 run stops in 2018. He can remain a depth piece moving forward.

Why this makes sense

In 2017 Hankins was considered one of the 25 best interior run defenders in football who once played well enough to earn a 3-year $27 million deal from the Indianapolis Colts. Last year he went to Oakland and still performed admirably on one of the weakest defenses in the league.

Hankins is strong at the point of attack.

If you look back at Fangio’s nose tackles over his recent history as defensive coordinator, names like Eddie Goldman and Isaac Sopoaga are the memorable nose tackles. Both have comparable profiles to Hankins 6’2 320 lbs.

When you watch recent Raider and Colts tape, it’s apparent that Hankins’ a scheme fit as some of his best plays happen to come from a nose shade, which is the role he’d serve when Fangio uses the base 3-4 defense against heavier fronts with two tight ends or backs.

Hankins is also younger and more explosive than the departing Peko was in 2018. While he’ll never be confused for Aaron Donald, the former Raider would be an upgrade against the pass. Lastly, his cost is unlikely to be exorbitant and would free the front office from needing to select a nose tackle prospect in the draft unless the value is there.

Why it doesn’t make sense

He may eat all of the donuts?

No, but for real this move makes too much sense on paper. If the Broncos decide against it it will be due to monetary reasons as I doubt the team throws big money at a free agent tackle. If someone else pays funny money to Hankins he won’t come to Denver.

Final thoughts

While moves like this barely move the needle in the offseason, it’s often small upgrades at the margins that make a difference between 6 wins and 7, 7 and 8, etc. The 2018 version of Hankins was a vastly superior player to Domata Peko and the Broncos would be lucky to add him to their defensive line rotation.


Should the Broncos sign Johnathan Hankins?

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