It’s no secret the Denver Broncos could and should continue to add talent into their pass-rushing room. That unit fell apart after the Von Miller trade last season, and it’s no guarantee that Randy Gregory and/or Bradley Chubb stay healthy.
Recently, I was asked on Twitter about pass-rushers I’d like the Broncos to draft at 64. I listed a couple of names that will be on here in that tweet, but I liked the idea of picking an EDGE rusher in each round for the Broncos to consider. Given that the Broncos are likely going to adopt a “Best Player Available” method this draft, it’s no guarantee they’ll take a pass-rusher with their first pick, so it’s important to keep in mind additional names in each round.
I didn’t use any consensus boards or anything like that for these spots, I just went off of my own draft grades to assign players.
Round 2: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
I’m glad that Nik Bonitto’s name has started to pick up steam, because for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t getting any sort of draft buzz. All he’s done over the past few seasons is make opposing quarterbacks miserable. On an Oklahoma front that’s had Ronnie Perkins and Neville Gallimore drafted on Day 2 with Perrion Winfrey and Isaiah Thomas likely joining them, Bonitto has been the Sooners’ most effective pass-rusher.
Bonitto simply flies off the snap, winning with some silky smooth pass rush moves and excellent bend around the corner. Deploying one of the best overall repertoires of pass-rush counters, Bonitto’s wreaked havoc upon opposing teams and has been one of the most productive pass-rushers in college football.
There have been some pre-draft concerns about his size and length, but Bonitto measured in one pound lighter than Brian Burns and Azeez Ojulari (who’ve turned out pretty alright in the NFL I’d say) and his arm length came in longer than Aidan Hutchinson and with a wingspan longer than Kwity Paye. I gave him the pro comp of Yannick Ngakoue, who I’m sure many Broncos fans are familiar with by now, and he’ll be a productive pass-rusher early on.
Round 3 (Pick 75): Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
A contrast to the bendy style of Nik Bonitto, Kingsley Enagbare is a lengthy rusher who wins primarily through power. Enagbare is on the heavier side, and he’s not bendy around the edge like a few other guys on this list as a result, but he’s pound for pound one of the most powerful rushers in this draft class, and I think Denver desperately needs a player with that and the length that Enagbare boasts.
A productive pass rusher, Enagbare boasts some of the highest win rates and pressure rates in the country. His lack of sacks has been dinged this offseason, but pressures translate more to the NFL than sacks and he’s accumulated those in bunches. His motor runs all the time, and unlike some other rushers on the Broncos, Enagbare rarely gets overwhelmed in the run game.
I’m mainly intrigued by Enagbare’s ability to be an inside/outside rusher for Denver. That kind of versatility is something the Broncos don’t really have. The Rams have used rushers that can line inside and outside and all over the defensive line in the past, and I think kicking Enagbare can do the same. Having the ability to play outside and move inside in sub-packages or the ability to bulk up and play 5T presents an intriguing skill set Denver could use up front.
Round 3 (Pick 96): Alex Wright, UAB
I’m partially cheating here by listing two edge rushers in the 3rd, but I’m justifying it by dividing them by pick ranges. I just would be remiss in not mentioning Wright on this list. If Denver is looking for a developmental type with all the traits, Wright makes a ton of sense in the third round.
Wright’s tape is littered with moments of outright freakish movement skills. He’s long, agile, quick, and has some pretty good bend for his 271-pound frame. Wright lined up all over for UAB, and absolutely wrecked C-USA competition. Much like Enagbare and Bonitto, Wright’s production metrics are off the charts.
Given the long-term questions about Bradley Chubb’s future with the team, snagging a developmental edge rusher with enticing tools to develop long-term would be a wise move. That kind of versatility, production, and tools is the kind of pass rusher the Broncos need, and would help them match the pass-rush Star Destroyers that are being built on the other AFC West teams.
Round 4: Eyioma Uwazurike, Iowa State
I’ll get a kick out of listening to media members try and pronounce his name, but Uwazurike is an excellent fit for Denver on Day 3. I’m somewhat cheating by listing him on this while projecting him to a 5T role, but he’s played the majority of his snaps outside, so sue me. He earned a higher grade than a 4 from me, but
Uwazurike is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. Boasting a 95th percentile wingspan and arm length with some eye-opening explosiveness, Uwazurike makes almost too much sense for a defense desperate to improve its run defense. Uwazurike’s not just a run-stopper though. Per PFF’s charting, Uwazurike posted a pass-rush win rate of 16.6%, ahead of some guys like Deangelo Malone, Jermaine Johnson, Dominique Robinson, and Travon Walker. SIS’s charting is pretty similar, with a pressure rate of 10% (tied for 4th among DTs) and a true pressure rate at 11%, tied for 6th.
Uwazurike’s growth from year to year at Iowa State speaks to his coachability, and his traits are pretty enticing. He’ll be an older prospect and doesn’t have the ceiling to be a Michael Bennett rusher, but there’s every-down potential in his game and I think he’s the perfect Shelby Harris replacement and upgrade there.
Round 5: David Anenih, Houston
I’m hoping Denver doesn’t wait till this late in the draft to pick an edge rusher, but if they’re looking to add to their rotational rusher with some real length, Anenih fits that bill. A fluid athlete, Anenih’s bend around the edge is noteworthy.
This late in the draft, they’re not getting a pass-rusher without flaws, however. Anenih’s biggest issue is in the run game, which might make some fans nervous. He’s a bit of a tweener and his frame at 6’2 245 isn’t really filled out. That frame shows up when taking on offensive linemen and tight ends at the point of attack in the run game. While he uses his length well in attacking blocks, he needs to continue to get stronger if he doesn’t want to be a liability in run defense.
As a rotational rusher, I think Anenih can fill in and effectively replace Malik Reed. Not only is he a better athlete, but Anenih is longer and has the upside to develop into an effective sub-package rusher while on his rookie contract.
Round 6: Tyree Johnson, Texas A&M
Tyree Johnson is on this list solely because I couldn’t get Jonathon Cooper out of my head when watching him, except I think Johnson is a better prospect. Neither of them offers much versus the run but are pretty quick pass-rushers.
Johnson will offer better bend and explosiveness as a sub-package rusher than Cooper or Reed, but the 30 7/8’’ arms likely limits him from developing into a full-time starter. Still, Johnson is a rocket as a pass-rusher with some traits worth banking on this late in the draft.
Round 7: James Houston, Jackson State
Arguably the best FCS pass rusher this season, James Houston started off as an off-ball linebacker at Florida before transferring to Jackson State, where he was unleashed as a pass-rusher. Houston’s numbers per PFF’s charting are absurd for a single season.
-29 run stops
-6 forced fumbles
-35.5% win rate vs true pass sets
Houston boasts some pretty nice pop in his hands, and his 34 1⁄4 arms come in handy in keeping tackles out of his chest. I didn’t get enough tape on him to be comfortable giving him a super high grade, but Houston checks off enough boxes with his length, athleticism, versatility, and production. At worst, he projects like a valuable special teamer with upside.