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What Ejiro Evero’s defense might look like given his coaching history

What can we expect from the first time defensive coordinator?

San Francisco 49ers 2011 Headshots Photo by NFL via Getty Images

At the top of the Denver Broncos coaching staff none of the coaches have had that position before. This is definitely a youth (and inexperience) movement for the coaching staff.

Nathaniel Hackett has never been a head coach at any level, but he does have thirteen years as an NFL coach.

Justin Outten has never been an offensive coordinator (above the HS level). Outten only has five years of experience as an NFL coach.

Ejiro Evero has never been a defensive coordinator. Evero does have thirteen seasons as an NFL coach.

Dwayne Stukes is the only “top” Bronco coach who has held that position at the NFL level. He had one season as the special teams coordinator for the Buccaneers (2011). Mike Mallory who will be Stukes assistant ST coach had the top ST coach job for the Jaguars 2013 to 2016. Mallory was demoted to asst ST coach for the 2017 to 2020 seasons with the Jags.

One big reason why the Broncos have hired Dom Capers and retained the services of Bill Kollar (as a consultant) is the relative inexperience of the rest of the coaching staff. This includes Evero.

Here’s a list of the coaches with years of NFL coaching experience shown (some I could not even find data on):

Offense

  • Offensive Coordinator: Justin Outten (5)
  • Passing Game Coordinator / Quarterbacks: Klint Kubiak (8)
  • Offensive Line: Butch Barry (?)
  • Wide Receivers: Zach Azzani (5)
  • Tight Ends: Jake Moreland (1)
  • Running Backs: Tyrone Wheatley (4)
  • Assistant OL: Ben Steele (9)
  • Quality Control: Justin Rascati (?)
  • Quality Control: Ramon Chinyoung (?)

Defense

  • Defensive Coordinator: Ejiro Evero (13)
  • Senior Defensive Assistant: Dom Capers (lots and lots)
  • Defensive Line: Marcus Dixon (1)
  • Inside Linebackers: Peter Hansen (3)
  • Outside Linebackers: Bert Watts (?)
  • Defensive Backs: Christian Parker (2)
  • Assistant DB: Ola Adams
  • Consultant: Bill Kollar (lots and lots)

Special Teams

  • ST Coordinator: Dwayne Stukes (14)
  • ST asst: Mike Mallory (12)

So what can we expect Evero do do as the defensive coordinator? His first NFL gig was with the Bucs in 2007. Jon Gruden was HC and Monte Kiffin was the DC. Kiffin runs a 4-3. In 2009 DB coach, Raheem Morris, was hired as the Bucs HC (and DC). Morris also runs a 4-3 (most of the time). After spending one season out of the NFL, Evero landed a job with the 49ers in 2011 as the “quality control coach.” The DC for the 2011 49ers was Vic Fangio. Fangio also runs a 4-3. Evero would stay with the 49ers in 2012 and 2013 as “offensive assistant” before he was switched to defensive assistant for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. In 2014 the 49ers DC was still Fangio, but the DC for the 2015 season was Eric Mangini. 2015 was a disastrous season for the 49ers and would result in the firing of Tim Tomsula as the head coach after only one season. Mangini is the first DC that Evero worked under who runs a 3-4.

The 2015 49ers defense was decent (18th in point allowed), but was hampered by worst scoring offense in the league. Much like the 2021 Bronco defense was hampered by a poor scoring offense.

In 2016 Evero would move to the Packers staff as defensive QC. The Packers DC in 2016 was Dom Capers. Capers runs a 3-4, but has been known to use a 4-3 if it fit his players better. Capers had some elite defenses in Pittsburgh and Carolina that ran a 3-4, but has Jags defenses ran a 4-3. The 1999 Jaguars finished first in points allowed. His Packers defenses (where he was DC from 2009 to 2017) ran a 3-4.

In 2017 Evero would move to the Rams staff as the DB coach under DC Wade Phillips. Phillips has always run a 3-4 and is a huge proponent of the “dominant nose tackle” theory of 3-4 defenses. In 2020 Brandon Staley would take over as the Rams’ DC. Staley runs a 3-4, but Staley would be hired away by the Chargers as their HC which brought Evero back under former mentor Raheem Morris who decided to keep the Rams as a 3-4 for 2021.

So we can’t really tell from this whether Evero will run a 4-3 or a 3-4, based solely on the coaches under whom he has worked. He has essentially learned from proponents of both and it may come down to which defense he feels more comfortable calling and which better fits the players he will have on the 2022 Broncos. So let’s look at who is under contract on our front 7 for 2022.

Bradley Chubb will be back as the Broncos exercised his fifth year option. Chubb is probably a better fit as a 4-3 DE than as a 3-4 OLB, as he has been used for the past four injury-plagues seasons. Chubb will have a cap number of fourteen million in 2022, which will make him our second biggest defensive cap hit behind Justin Simmons. After playing 78 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie, Chubb missed the majority of the 2019 and 2021 seasons. According to SIS datahub, Chubb was in coverage for a total of 142 snaps over four seasons and his receiver was targeted a total of eleven times (7 catches). His one interception came in 2021 on a screen pass that he tipped (where he was rushing the passer).

He has been on the field for 1214 passing snaps and on 88 percent of those he has been rushing the passer. It does not seem like putting him as a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end would be a stretch or much of a change for him. Chubb reminds me of Robert Ayers who is another highly drafted edge player that the Broncos “misused” as a 3-4 OLB for the first few years of his career. He was much better when he was used as 4-3 DE. FWIW, Ayers and Chubb are almost the same size. So as 3-4 OLBs they are both heavy, but as 4-3 DEs they are on the lighter end of the scale. Eliminating those snaps where Chubb ends up in coverage seems to me to be a better use of his talents than those 142 snaps where he was asked to cover a receiver.

Shelby Harris will also be back for 2022. At 6’2, 300 lbs, Harris is light for a 3-4 defensive end, but Harris game has always been more about quickness than mass. He might benefit greatly from a shift to a one-gap defense as opposed to the gap-and-a-half defense that Fangio/Donatell ran for the past three years in Denver.

Malik Reed is a restricted free agent, but I would be very surprised if the Broncos do not bring him back. For a 3-4 OLB, he is tiny. He is generously listed at 235 lbs. As a 4-3 OLB, he is a much better soma-type fit. Reed led the team with 22 QB pressures in 2021, despite having one of the worst pressure rates in the league among edge defenders. Reed will always be a pass rusher who will fail if he is the best pass rusher your team has on the field. He needs a healthy Chubb or a Von Miller on the field with him for him to get pressure. In other words, Malik Reed is not going to beat decent (or better) pass blockers. His pressures come when he is facing backup and/or slow offensive linemen (or on persistence/coverage plays). Reed only dropped into coverage on 40 snaps in 2021. So he will need to get comfortable in coverage to be able to play full-time as a 3-4 OLB. Good pass rushers are always in demand, but, honestly, I’m not convinced that Reed is one. That being said, as a backup (and cheap) 3-4 OLB, the 2022 Broncos could do much worse than Reed.

Mike Purcell is currently under contract for 2022, but I can see him being a cap casualty. The massive NT/DT is a great two-gap run-stuffer, but he offers no pass rush. So a move to a 4-3 could mean he is cut.

Dre’Mont Jones (6-3, 281 lbs) has a body and skillset that means he would fit nicely into a 4-3 DE role. Generally DEs and DTs/NTs in a 3-4 are larger bodies to be able to handle double teams. Jones is not a larger body and moving to 4-3 could benefit him similarly to how I think it will benefit Chubb. Jones was second on the Broncos in 2021 in terms of QB pressures with 21.

Jonathan Cooper is listed at 254 lbs. That makes him on the large side for 3-4 OLB, but very small for a 4-3 DE. Cooper dropped into coverage on 22 of 274 passing snaps and his man was only targeted once (a catch for negative seven yards). I don’t know how good he is in coverage, but if he is going to be a 4-3 OLB he will need to be. If Cooper develops a secondary pass rush move, I could see him being a third down pass rush specialist as a 4-3 DE.

McTelvim Agim is listed as 310 lbs. That makes him a good size fit for a one-gap 4-3 DT. His quickness has never been in question, but his strength at the POA has been lacking during his two years in the NFL. He will need to improve against the run to become a starting 4-3 defensive tackle.

One problem that will be mitigating somewhat by a shift to a 4-3 is the current lack of inside linebackers on the Bronco roster. Of those with significant ILB snaps for the Broncos in 2021, only Justin Strnad and Baron Browning are under contract for 2022. If the Broncos shift to a 4-3, those two may be all we need. Browning ended the 2021 season with the highest number of ILB snaps (528). Of those 285 were coverage snaps, so Browning is a candidate as a 4-3 OLB as well (and that may be a better fit for him).

Ideally the Broncos can resign either Alexander Johnson or Josey Jewell to play 3-4 MLB. Both guys could thrive in that role, but Johnson has the edge in size and speed and I think he would be a better MLB (IMO).

Kenny Young could also be resigned. He’s on the smaller side, like Jewell. Young has experience playing in “Evero’s defense” on the 2020 and 2021 Rams. I don’t know how comfortable he would be in a 3-4 OLB spot, but he spent most of the time in coverage on passing snaps in both 2020 and 2021. He has a combined 612 pass snaps over the past two seasons and only on 78 of those did he rush the passer.

Poll

Which defense do you think Ejiro Evero will run as the defensive coordinator for the Broncos?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    4-3
    (473 votes)
  • 23%
    3-4
    (326 votes)
  • 5%
    5-2
    (72 votes)
  • 37%
    it all depends on who we draft and who we sign in free agency
    (512 votes)
1383 votes total Vote Now