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Why did the Broncos draft Oklahoma Edge Rusher Nik Bonitto?

George Paton uses the first pick from the Von Miller trade to replace him.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Texas Tech at Oklahoma
Is Bonitto ready to rush the passer?
Photo by David Stacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 64th selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto. A four-star recruit out of St. Thomas Aquinas, Bonitto received football and basketball scholarships out of high school. After a redshirt year in 2018 Bonitto began to carve out a role on the Oklahoma Sooners. He finished his career with 18.5 sacks and was a second team All American his sophomore season.

A 22-year-old who stands 6’3 and 248 lbs., Bonitto is an explosive edge rusher with the burst and bend to beat tackles around the arc. He also has the fluidity in space for the Broncos new scheme to utilize him in coverage.

There’s plenty of reasons to love the Bonitto pick. He’s very twitched up and should be a real chore for tackles when he’s rushing from a wide 9 technique. He enters the league with a good enough repertoire to give opponents trouble, even if he’d benefit from using them all more often. His go-to move is a speed rush and that makes sense with his ability to fly by blockers, but he also brings a promising spin and swipe.

All signs point to Ejiro Evero running a variant of the scheme Vic Fangio utilized the last three seasons, which means an edge rusher needs to be able to drop into space. Bonitto was a stand-up edge for the Sooner’s 3-3-5 and was asked to drop into coverage and spy the quarterback a decent bit. While he’s undersized, Bonitto is very fluid in space.

Last, but not least: it makes sense. Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory pair to form one of the better edge tandems in the league, but only Chubb has ever played in a full 16+ game season. Long term there’s also pressing concerns about the edge rotation because Chubb and Malik Reed have expiring contracts in 2023.

In 2022 I believe Bonitto will fit into the Broncos edge rotation as either the first or second player off the bench, depending on the plan for Baron Browning. Early on I suspect he’ll have similar issues to what Reed deals with against power running teams because he can get overwhelmed by down blocks. He’ll need to refine his hands, get stronger, and improve against the run to flourish as a good full time starter. In the Broncos’ scheme, I like his chances.


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