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New Broncos defenders to watch for in 2022

After Denver’s top-three scoring defense lost three starters from 2021, can its new additions hold their own?

Broncos hold early season practice session at Dove Valley Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Denver Broncos and good defense are two things that have gone hand-in-hand the past few years. Even with coaching changes and scheme differences, the defense that Elway began to form in 2014 has been a force every year.

But the 2021 defense was among the franchise’s best in recent years and even though it lost multiple players due to injury, it held opponents to an average just under 19 points per game. It was a stat that could have been far more remarkable if there had been a complementary offense to go with it.

But its also coming off a season in which it only boasted 36 sacks last year, the team’s lowest in the previous four seasons, yet hauled in 13 interceptions, the third-highest since the “No Fly Zone” in 2015.

Heading into this season, the Broncos have lost Bryce Callahan, who signed with the Chargers; AJ Johnson, who’s still a free agent; Kyle Fuller, who went to the Ravens; and Shelby Harris, who was traded to the Seahawks as a part of the Russell Wilson deal. Some losses will be more felt than others, but let’s turn to the additions who could really help this defense take a step forward.

Randy Gregory

Randy Gregory signed with the Denver Broncos in March for $70 million over five years. After the Broncos put up its lowest number of sacks in 2021 over the last four seasons, Gregory adds a much-needed benefit to Denver’s pass rush. Gregory logged six sacks with the Cowboys in 2021 along with three forced fumbles. PFF gave him an 84.7 pass-rushing grade for his career.

Outside linebacker Baron Browning was asked if he viewed Gregory as a leader and he admitted he asks Gregory tons of questions.

“I ask ‘RG’ a lot of questions [and] he breaks things down—small things, whether it’s the set line of the offensive tackle or if I could have taken a better approach,” Browning said. “It’s just small things that he sees. I have even kind of gotten with him after practice just to pick his brain one-on-one. I definitely enjoy having him around and learning from him. He has a lot of knowledge in him that you can learn from him.”

Although some people will have high expectations for Gregory, especially without Von Miller to apply most of the rush, head coach Nathaniel Hackett had good things to say about his new pass rusher.

“He’s been great in the meeting room,” Hackett said. “I’ve gotten to sit in on a couple of meetings with that group. Just watching them and how they talk and how they interact with each other is awesome. That’s partly him. He has to find a way to continually learn and we’ll just keep working.”

Although Gregory brings some risk, he has the tools needed to be very good in the Broncos’ defense in 2022.

D.J. Jones

D.J. Jones inked a three-year, $30 million deal with the Broncos this spring. Jones was an anchor for the 49ers defensive line getting two forced fumbles, two sacks, and 34 total tackles in 2021. His former defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans even compared him to Fletcher Cox.

“I think D.J. is in his own category, but I think a guy who I’ve seen with the strength and power that D.J. has — similar guy, different body types — but Fletcher Cox is one guy I played with who was a very physical guy, being able to shed blocks and wreck things in the backfield,” Ryans said. “That’s what you see D.J. doing as well. So the one guy I played with that I can compare to from that nature as far as being violent, attacking, knocking guys back and making plays in the backfield would be Fletcher Cox.”

This should get a lot of Broncos fans excited for Jones’ arrival.

The loss of Shelby Harris on the defensive line was a big blow to the defense, and fans will look to Jones to be the guy to step up in that spot. Jones received a 73.4 PFF grade for the 2021 season, which is higher than the grade for both Mike Purcell and Harris. Jones can be the anchor for the interior defensive line for the 2022 season.

And Jones certainly sees promising things for this defense.

“We can be the best D-line in the NFL as long as we continue to work hard, stay healthy and lean on each other,” he said. “We can be the best.”

Alex Singleton

Alex Singleton signed a one-year $1.1 million deal with the Broncos during the offseason. Singleton’s signing I think has gone under the radar for most fans, he led the Eagles in tackles last season with a combined 137 tackles, the 20th best in the NFL last season, and in 2020 he also got triple-digit tackles getting a combined 120 tackles. With a lot of linebackers going down with injuries during the 2021 season and being a weakness in the defense Singleton will make a big difference, he has only missed six games in his three-year NFL career. With A.J. Johnson most likely leaving the Broncos Singleton will be the guy to step up in his place. Ejiro Evero had praise for the middle linebacker saying,

fans should look forward to seeing and hearing Alex Singleton’s name a lot during the season he will be the guy to get the tackles for the Broncos.

Nik Bonitto

With the 64th overall pick in the 2022 draft, the broncos selected edge rusher Nik Bonitto from Oklahoma. along with Randy Gregory, the broncos brought in Bonitto to help bolster the pass rush even more. While with the Sooners in 2021 Bonitto had seven sacks and 30 tackles. In his Sooner career Bonitto had 13.5 sacks, he ranks 13th all-time in sacks for the Sooners and third in linebackers.

The Draft Network noted that Bonitto wins with “speed, quickness, body control, and bend”:

He has excellent get-off to gain the edge and has flexibility in his ankles to bend tight angles. He is creative in his rush moves and is extremely hard to land punches on as he has excellent lateral agility to make offensive linemen miss. He can knife through gaps, contorting his body and slipping through. Bonitto plays with outstanding effort and is relentless in his rush.

On paper, Bonitto’s pass rush style may remind some fans of Von Miller. He has a good upside as he is very athletic, he can drop back into man coverage, defend the run, and rush the passer. Bonitto can easily slip into an outside linebacker role for the Broncos.

When defensive coordinator Ejiero Evero was asked about Bonitto’s role for the Broncos, he was very clear.

“You can never have enough pass rushers so, we will take all of them,” he said.

Although it is uncertain as of right now if Bonitto will be a Week 1 starter or play behind Bradley Chubb, Randy Gregory, and Baron Browning, look for him to still be a major contributor as a rookie.