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Why did the Broncos draft Wisconsin defensive lineman Matt Henningsen?

George Paton drafts an explosive 3-technique to add to the Broncos’ defensive line rotation.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Nebraska at Wisconsin
Can Henningsen carve out a role in the Broncos’ DL rotation?
Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 206th selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select Wisconsin defensive lineman Matt Henningsen. A former two-star recruit, Henningsen elected to walk on at his dream school over taking an offer from a MAC or FCS school, and earned a scholarship after a redshirt year in 2017. Following his redshirt, he became a significant contributor for the Badgers and notched 91 tackles, 8 sacks, and 4 passes defensed in 42 games played with 29 starts. He graduated with his degree in 2020 and earned his masters in engineering this past year. Henningsen was also member of the Bruce Feldman’s Freak List and tested like an elite athlete during the pre-draft process.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old Henningsen will join 24-year-old Eyioma Uwazurike as older toolsy rookie additions to the Broncos’ defensive line rotation. The tight end, linebacker, corner, and tackle groups have long looked like the Broncos’ needs, but the defensive line had significant questions after the Russell Wilson trade. Shelby Harris was sent to the Seattle Seahawks, and despite the D.J. Jones signing there were questions about who would log snaps at 5-technique (defensive end) in the Broncos 3-4. There’s also long term questions about the interior because Dre’Mont Jones’ contract expires in 2023, and McTelvin Agim has failed to develop into a starter to this point in his career.

Where Uwazurike is a monstrous 6’6 and 320 lbs. with the power, anchor, and length to stone opponents at the point of attack, Henningsen’s build is closer to Jones at 6’3 and 289 lbs. He does lack the length to thrive in a fulltime role as a 5-technique, but I suspect he he can pitch in there and develop into an interior rusher for the Broncos’ nickel and dime personnel groupings. He could also become a viable alternative to Jones down the road if George Paton does not elect to retain the 2019 third rounder.

Henningsen’s testing numbers hint at the skillset he’ll bring with him into the league. He’s a scrappy lineman who won’t always beat bigger opponents. He’s an explosive gap shooter with the phone booth quickness to cross face and make some splash plays.

It does appear the Broncos took Henningsen before most draft analysts believed he’d go. His average draft position on the Athletic’s top 300 was 263. I believe the Broncos saw the dearth of alternatives in this class, his testing numbers, and decided to take a swing. It makes plenty of sense.

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