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2019 Broncos Roster Review: Edge Rusher Jeff Holland

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Will Sensei Mud blossom into a key role player?

DENVER BRONCOS
Is Sensei Mud ready for a breakout?
Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

I’ve been driving the Holland train for a little over a year now. I wrote this last summer:

Count me among those that were surprised when the Auburn Tiger fell into Elway’s lap as an undrafted free agent. His 9 sacks ranked second only to the 10 Charles Wright and Montez Sweat put up a year ago. He also forced three separate fumbles, which again ranked second in the conference. Simply put, he was a disruptive force

If you haven’t already had a chance to check out my GIF Horse study on Holland coming out of Auburn, I’d like to say it’s worth your time. If you’re hard-pressed, I’ll summarize:

He’s a gamer. If Ware and the Broncos staff can work on him outside of the lines to get him into better shape and equipped with another move or two to beat blockers? Elway may not need to worry so much about Shaq or Ray’s contract demands in 2019.

It sure looks like Elway wasn’t too concerned, does it? I suspect Holland is an unsung reason why.

Jeff Holland profile

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 249 lbs

Age: 21

Experience: 2nd season

One of the hardest things about studying Holland’s tape from 2018 is just how limited it was. He spent the majority of his rookie year on the Broncos practice squad before he was activated to the roster on November 29.

He didn’t see game action until almost a month later when Denver squared off against Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns. In total, he wound up logging 43 defensive snaps over the last three games of the year.

However, once he got his chance he flashed a lot of promise.

The good

  • Quick snap reaction.
  • Good first step.
  • Edge play vs tight ends.
  • Capable tackler.
  • Quick hands.
  • Intriguing pass rush plan.
  • Hustle and discipline.

While Holland is most definitely undersized, his unconventional build works in his favor. He has a thick bubble and strong core which shows in his ability to recover and stay balanced. He also possesses deceptively good feet. In fact, one big reason Holland was such an effective edge player in the SEC is how quickly he keys the snap and bursts out of his stance. He most definitely carried that quick get off with him into the NFL.

Holland plays faster than he tests.

Holland looked capable of setting his edge against tight ends in limited time last year. He also showed a willingness to brace and shuck blockers when he can use their momentum against them.

Joel Bitonio (75) outweighs Holland by more than 60 lbs.

Holland’s hand-eye coordination looks every bit as good as his feet. In the limited snaps I had to study of him from last year, he flashed a solid swim move. Even better, word out of camp is that Von Miller has helped him to continue to add to his rush moves.

Word is Sensei Mud’s been studying karate from Grandmaster Von.

The bad

  • Undersized.
  • Measurables.
  • Ankle flexion.
  • Play in space.

One of the big reasons a player like Jeff Holland can produce in the SEC and still go undrafted is that he measures in at 6’1” 249 lbs and runs a 4.78 40-yard dash, 7.25 3-cone, and a 4.72 short shuttle. His rough numbers don’t end there: any way you cut it, Holland measured considerably lower than most team’s ideals for edge players.

As I mentioned above, his tape shows a player who can win despite the athletic limitations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In my three game study, I saw just one play where Holland dropped into coverage. He played all of nine special teams snaps. If Fangio wants the Broncos’ edges to play in space, Holland is a huge question mark at present.

One spot drop isn’t enough to say with any conviction what Holland can do in space, especially after his athletic numbers cast this in question.

Going back to his time at Auburn does suggest Holland may not have great ankle flexion. His ability to corner is similar to Shaq Barrett’s, which means he may never be able to finish like some of the best pass rushers in the league. This isn’t a death blow to his effectiveness, but it is a notable limitation.

This doesn’t just show up as a pass rusher, either. For example, observe the two play sequences below:

Jon Gruden is a crafty play caller.

The first play is a run aimed at the C gap with a pulling guard and fullback leading the way. Holland, Justin Simmons, and Josey Jewell do a commendable job of fighting through the trash to shut it down for minimal gain.

Play number two comes on the next down. Pre-snap motion with Derek Carrier (85) makes it clear to all how Simmons is in man coverage. Once the ball gets to Derek Carr, the play looks a lot like a Duo concept with the line blocking down to double team at the point of attack.

This action, combined with the initial steps by the backs, pulls in Jewell, who winds up getting blocked once one of the guards double-teaming on Derek Wolfe moves up to him. Holland blows by Carrier at the snap and finds himself looking inside as the ball skirts up underneath him. Simmons has to respect Carrier, who looks like he’s releasing into a route. By the time he recognizes the run, it’s too late.

On the first play, Holland seals his edge to ensure the Broncos D bottles up the run. On the second play, he goes mostly unblocked. Unfortunately, he’s slow to react and lacks the lateral mobility or straight line speed to chase the play down from behind.

Jeff Holland’s roster status with the Broncos

Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are complete locks for the 2019 roster. Reports out of camp suggest Dekoda Watson should be considered one as well. Over his tenure with the Bears, Vic Fangio has always carried four or five edge rushers. Simple math reveals Holland is fighting with Malik Reed, Aaron Wallace, and Ahmad Gooden for two spots on the roster. Depending on how the coaching staff views Justin Hollins, it may actually be one. It’s just July, but I’d consider Holland the early favorite.

Still, ask me again in a couple of weeks.