With the free agency season about to kick off for the Denver Broncos, it is a great time to step back, take a look at the roster, and play a little armchair GM leading up to all of the excitement of possible free agent signings, trades, and of course the NFL Draft.
All of this is my own personal opinion based on the tried and true eye test of what I’ve seen from these players on the field. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be leaving out guys that didn’t see the field in any significant way in 2019. Enjoy the discussion, join the subjective debate, and share your thoughts good or bad in the comments.
All snap count numbers come from Football Outsiders. All contract information is from Over The Cap. Any football statistics noted are from Pro Football Reference.
We’ll kick things off with our defensive line groups and find out what holes the Broncos should be looking to fill in the 2020 NFL offseason.
Player Rating Key:
1 - Project / developmental - lacking necessary skills to contribute as it stands today
2 - Backup quality - Can play, but isn’t a guy you want out there every snap
3 - Mediocre starter - Doesn’t bring anything special to the table, but is able to do the job
4 - Good starter - An above-average talent
5 - Blue chip player - Top 10 talent in the NFL at what he does
Unit Rating Key:
1 - Critical Need - lack of talent at starter and depth
2 - Lacking at least one starter
3 - Mediocre need
4 - Solid talent and depth
5 - Elite talent level
Dre’Mont Jones - 4
Dre’Mont Jones is a young player who got some very decent action in his first year in the NFL. Like most defensive linemen that teams draft, I penned him for making a splash more so in his 2nd year than his rookie outing.
That being said, he saw 27% of the snaps the defense had in 2019 and that’s some significant playing time for a rookie DE. Those were effective snaps as well with Jones showing he could get after the passer (3.5 sacks, 6 QB hits) and be effective against the run as well (3 TFL, 14 tackles).
All good defensive linemen in the NFL get a great opportunity to make a big jump in capability in their 2nd year in the league with far better conditioning and more size and I expect that to be the case for Jones. I rate Jones so highly because I see him as a guy that has a serious shot at holding down a starting role this year.
DeMarcus Walker - 3
We get almost the same story with DeMarcus Walker that we saw from Jones, only with a couple of more years of wear on the tires (so to speak). Walker’s career with Denver has been a real head-scratcher with him being bounced out to OLB his rookie season, then seeing little play in his second season, but thankfully Vic Fangio has him back on the line and productive in his version of a 3-4 defense.
Walker got 21% of the snaps on defense in 2019 and was on paper more productive than Jones. He had 4 sacks, 5 QB hits, 5 TFL and 22 tackles with less playing time. My hesitation on rating him higher though has largely to do with how he disappeared from the playing field as the season wore on. He had some trouble with his shoulder and his short career thus far has included trouble with staying healthy.
I see a lot of really good flash from Walker from what he did in 2019, but there are too many question marks on this guy to be a full time starter. He’s the perfect guy to be a rotational end though and I if Fangio find a way to use him that way, he’ll have an opportune role to be productive in 2020.
Jonathan Harris - 2
Harris was a guy the Bronocs claimed off of waivers from the Chicago Bears early in the 2019 season. He only saw ~4% of the snaps on the season and didn’t really stand out either on paper or on film.
As an undrafted guy, everything for his future is going to depend on what kind of work he puts in this offseason in order to set himself up for success in the future. He has a great opportunity to carve out a backup spot for himself with how thin this group appears to be for now.
Defensive End Unit Rating - 2
This is a pretty thin defensive unit. While no ship has yet to sail on the two key free agents (Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris), I find it pretty unlikely that the Broncos are going to be able to bring back either one. The hope is that between the two young guys they developed last season, they have starters. That’s the best case scenario though. This unit is going to need at least some depth and at most a starter and depth guy to round it out properly.
I’m betting to see a veteran defensive end added to the roster in free agency and wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see the Broncos draft a developmental prospect as well.
RFA Mike Purcell - 4
Purcell was one of the really bright stories from the 2019 season. While the Vic Fangio defense doesn’t run base the vast majority of the time, when it does, it needs a big dude to hold it down at the nose tackle position and be able to take on double teams without giving ground and opening gaps.
He was the third largest contributor from a snap percentage standpoint of defensive linemen for the Broncos at ~39% and racked up 48 tackles, 8 TFL, and 2 QB hits.
Purcell is that guy and has a very secure position on this team in 2020. His play against the run is excellent and is the perfect modern day run stopper you need on obvious run downs in the middle of the line.
Unit Rating - 3
The only real issue this unit has is depth. The Broncos carried a few linemen who could have stepped in and really leaned on the DEs to act as backups for the NT position with Shelby Harris spending a bunch of time here early in the season until Fangio realized he worked much better kicked out at DE.
Ultimately, this is a great place to see the Broncos add a developmental guy in the draft as their strategy of using DEs for depth is pretty sound in today’s NFL.