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Under-the-radar pass rushers the Broncos could pursue in free agency

Who are some free agent pass rushers who could the Broncos without breaking the bank next season?

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Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It’s no secret the Denver Broncos need pass rushers. The team’s ability to put opposing quarterbacks under pressure diminished severely after Von Miller was traded, and two of their edge rushers are set to be free agents. (Neither of them should be brought back).

While people entertain the idea of the team signing Von Miller or Chandler Jones, I’m more interested in the possibility of signing a couple pass rushers who aren’t getting the same attention in free agency. These under-the-radar guys might make more sense for a team that will now have Russell Wilson’s deal on the books and face some salary cap constraints.

Stats are from PFF charting. Credit to Over The Cap and PFF for contract valuations.

Lorenzo Carter, New York Giants

A former draft crush of Draft Twitter, the former third-round pick has had some health struggles with the Giants. He’s yet to finish a full season with the team, checking in with 49 full games in his four years with the team. However, he’s still been an impact player when on the field, generating about 30 pressures and 5 sacks a season. While perhaps not elite numbers, it’s important to note that Carter came into the league as a pretty raw pass rusher and has only been with Patrick Graham for two seasons.

Watching Carter, it’s clear that he still has a ways to go to develop as a pass rusher. The counters once his initial rush gets stuffed haven’t come along yet. Carter wins primarily with his length and explosiveness up field, and he has all the athletic tools in the world. Betting on him with this coaching staff would be pretty intriguing.

Given that the Rams coveted Leonard Floyd for his length, explosive athleticism, and ability to disrupt passing lanes in coverage, it’s hard to imagine new Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero wouldn’t be intrigued by Carter’s tools. With his versatility and profile, he’s the kind of edge rusher the Broncos just don’t have on their roster. As a #2/rotational piece with Bradley Chubb, I think Carter would fit right in and would unlock more blitz looks with his ability to drop into coverage.

PFF Valuation: 2 years, $8M total. $5M guaranteed, $4M APY.

OTC Valuation: $5.88M

Charles Harris, Detroit Lions

A pleasant surprise in a season full of surprises for Detroit, the former first-round pick wound up in Detroit after stints with the Dolphins and Falcons. Turns out, Dan Campbell hired a great staff, and they helped maximize a lot of players on that Lions team this year. One of those players was Charles Harris. Harris went on to have the best season of his career, and was one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL this season.

Coming in on a one-year, $1.75M contract, the expectations for Charles Harris were pretty low. He responded with 52 pressures and 8 sacks and some of the best performance-based metrics in the NFL. Harris was PFF’s 19th-highest graded EDGE defender in 2021, and finished 22nd in total pressures in the NFL, He finished 16th(!) in pass-rush win rate at 17.5%. For reference, Denver’s best in this metric was Stephen Weatherly, who finished t-62nd with a PRWR of 13%.

Even better, on true pass sets (passes disregarding play-action, screens, rollouts), Harris was PFF’s 13th-highest graded EGDE defender on these plays. His pass-rush win rate finished 7th at a remarkable 30.5%! Harris graded out with a higher Wins Above Replacement ranking than Von Miller did!

For a team looking to bolster its pass-rush in a competitive division, there’s no real downside to taking a shot on a guy coming off of the season Charles Harris did. Denver’s already familiar with him, as he recorded 5 pressures of his own working against Garett Bolles.

PFF Valuation: 3 years, $27M total. $15M guaranteed, $9M APY.

OTC Valuation: $10.76M

Jacob Martin, Houston Texans

Generally known best for being a part of the Jadaveon Clowney trade between Seattle and Houston, Jacob Martin has flashed on a mediocre Houston team the last two seasons. Posting a respectable 38 pressures this season, Martin finished with a pass-rush win rate of 13.3%, narrowly beating out Yannick Ngakoue at 13.1%.

Boasting one of the most effective cross-chop moves in the league, Martin has bailed Houston out of a few rough spots this season. While his run defense isn’t quite on the same level, Martin can still be counted on as a reliable player.

What makes this a bit of a tricky scheme fit is his best year came rushing as more of a DE with his hand in the dirt than he was doing at outside linebacker. While he has the experience to pull off the role at OLB, he’s admitted he was more comfortable rushing from a 3 point stance this year and was uncomfortable dropping into coverage.

Still, Martin has a connection to the Broncos’ new coaching staff. Hackett and Martin’s DC in 2020, Anthony Weaver, served on the same staff in Buffalo, and Weaver was interviewed for the Broncos Defensive Coordinator job.

PFF Valuation: 2 years, $6.5M. $3.5M guaranteed, $3.25M APY

OTC Valuation: $5.624M

Obo Okoronkwo, Los Angeles Rams

An obvious link here, Okoronkwo is fresh off a Super Bowl win with new Broncos’ Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was a fifth-round pick in 2018. Since being drafted, Okoronkwo has struggled to stay healthy, playing in only 33 games.

However, when he’s been on the field, Okoronkwo’s play has been effective. Boasting a pass-rush win rate of 16.8%, Okoronkwo amassed 21 pressures on 150 pass rushes. While it’s somewhat limited by sample size, his pass-rushing productivity rate per PFF was 8.4, which tied Khalil Mack at 18th.

Unlike a couple of other pass-rushers on this list, Okoronkwo has a pretty reliable pass-rush plan. His spin move and chop are wildly effective, and his motor just does not stop running.

What makes Okoronkwo even more intriguing is that he’s still a really effective run defender too. Whereas some guys on this list are better off in a Designated Pass Rusher role, Okoronkwo’s tape makes me feel pretty good about keeping him out there as a full starter if I knew he was healthy. He was PFF’s 11th highest-graded run defender in 2021.

Given his obvious link with Evero, Okoronkwo’s name should be a common name associated with Denver. His ability as a pass rusher just adds more intrigue to that link.

PFF Valuation: 1 year, $2.25M. $1M guaranteed.

OTC Valuation: $1.258M

Ola Adeniyi, Tennessee Titans

Adeniyi has bounced around a couple of teams but really found his groove this year with the Titans, posting career highs in virtually every metric. While behind Harold Landry and Bud Dupree, Adeniyi didn’t get a ton of playing time, amassing just 216 snaps on defense this year.

However, on his 178 pass-rushing snaps, Adeniyi amassed 13 pressures with a win rate of 14.2%. 9 of those pressures came on true passing sets, and Adeniyi was PFF’s 57th highest-graded pass rusher on those sets.

Mixing in a good bit of quickness with his motor and physicality, Adeniyi flashed a good bit more as a pass rusher than I expected of him. His relentless playstyle would endear himself to fans and should bring a nice boost of energy to a room in Denver that needs one.

Unlike the other names on this list, Adeniyi isn’t a player I’m bringing in to be an EDGE2. Rather, I want to bring in Adeniyi as a special teams ace and rotational edge rusher. He’s been an effective special teams player, logging in over 800 snaps over the last three years. With his play there, Paton’s emphasis on adding player to special teams, and his flashiness as a pass-rusher, Adeniyi is a really intriguing name to throw up there as a rotational role player.

PFF Valuation: N/A

OTC Valuation: $1.14M