clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Training camp positional preview: Defensive Line

A room with plenty of potential, the Broncos’ defensive line will be critical to their success in 2022.

NFL: DEC 12 Lions at Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s a new level of excitement coming out of the Denver Broncos’ facility. It’s almost at tangible levels, and the team is feeling it.

Between a massive trade for QB Russell Wilson, the hiring of HC Nathaniel Hackett and his staff, and GM George Paton bringing in another talented class of rookies, the excitement is palpable and will only build as training camp continues.

While the defensive scheme will largely be similar to what Vic Fangio ran, new Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero does have his own unique splash, and a large part of that splash is a new, disruptive defensive front. The Broncos’ defensive line will be a critical part of their defense this season, and it could decide just how successful the Broncos are in 2022. It’s no surprise that the team invested so heavily into it this offseason, signing D.J. Jones, drafting Eyioma Uwazurike and Matt Henningsen, and re-signing DeShawn Williams. This unit will need to step up in 2022 if the Broncos want to field a productive defense this season.

Dre’Mont Jones #93

Report: One of two players still on the roster from the 2019 NFL Draft class, Dre’Mont Jones is perhaps the most intriguing player on the defensive line moving forward, and there is plenty of optimism on his potential moving forward in this defense. Jones has a lightning-quick first step off the line of scrimmage, and he pairs that with plus lower-body agility that enables him to change directions quickly-making him deadly on stunts. His pass-rush arsenal, while not at an elite level yet, has gotten better every season. His athletic tools make him a handful for offensive linemen to handle, and that’s not factoring in his IQ, pass-rush moves, and motor. The biggest hang-up on Dre’Mont Jones has been his run defense, and he’s struggled with powerful offensive linemen at the point of attack. If he doesn’t win right off the snap with his quickness, he’s struggled to win reps versus the run-something he’s struggled with going back to Ohio State. Hopefully, getting him into more one-on-ones and manufacturing some stunts to free him up can help limit his exposure to double-teams and let him win with his quickness. Moving into a new defense with an uptick in 5-1 fronts, Jones should face more one-on-one reps, which should increase his production dramatically. Given the influx in talent around him and a new defense, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that Dre’Mont Jones could hit 10 sacks this season and cash in on a shiny new contract.

D.J. Jones #97

Report: It’s no surprise the Broncos realized their issues defending the run, and there’s no better way to improve there than signing a mammoth run defender. D.J. Jones is a stellar run defender and an absolute monster-there’s no other way to put it. He eats up double-teams with excellent pad level and play strength and pairs that play strength with a surprising quickness and athleticism that lets him win plenty of reps almost right away. Many people have sort of stereotyped Jones as just a run-stuffing nose, but that couldn’t be further from the truth and doesn’t do him any justice. Jones has a nasty spin move and has the quickness to execute stunts. He’s incredibly smart and has a motor that seemingly never quits, hunting down opposing quarterbacks and chasing down backs in space. The staff has already said that Jones has the ability to play both nose tackle and defensive end, and that kind of versatility will certainly help them matchup against opponents and enables a bit of creativity with personnel, play design, and formations. The Broncos haven’t really had a defender like D.J. Jones in quite a while, and his presence will certainly be felt moving forward.

Mike Purcell #98

Report: Mike Purcell’s journey in the pros has been quite a roller coaster. From signing with the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie to bouncing around several different NFL teams before winding up in the AAF to now on a three-year deal with the Denver Broncos. Purcell’s game is built around stopping the run. Purcell bulked up from 305 in his college days to roughly 330 pounds in the NFL to become a run-stuffing nose tackle. His film in 2020 was pretty solid, showing off good pad level, good lateral movement to fill in gaps, and good play recognition, but he, unfortunately, sustained a season-ending foot injury in 2020. Purcell went into 2021 as the expected starter at nose, but he struggled on the field partly due to still recovering from his foot injury and other injuries he sustained throughout the season. Purcell had the highest missed-tackle percentage of his career, and he struggled to sustain and fight through blockers. With the signing of D.J. Jones, who is a much, much better nose tackle, and the drafting of Eyioma Uwazurike, who can also play nose at a high level, Purcell will have to fight for a roster spot this season. The Broncos could save roughly $3.5M of cap space if they do cut him, which will help with impending extensions to Russell Wilson and Dre’Mont Jones. If Purcell returns to his 2019 and parts of 2020 form, he’ll be a key part of the Broncos’ rotation up front as they look to improve versus the run. If not, he seems to be a likely cap casualty.

DeShawn Williams #99

Report: A former undrafted free agent from Clemson, DeShawn Williams bounced around a few teams in his professional career, including a stint in the CFL, before sticking with the Broncos in 2020. Williams has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play in the past, and his film in 2021 wasn’t quite as good as it was in 2020 and Williams ended the season on IR. Williams provides some solid rotational depth, but his impact as a pass-rusher came and went and his film versus the run wasn’t much better. Williams has some burst and he certainly stood out on a woeful Broncos’ defensive line last season. He’ll be in the competition for snaps to replace Shelby Harris’s role at defensive end in 2022.

McTelvin Agim #95

Report: A former five-star defensive tackle recruit, McTelvin Agim parlayed a successful college career with the Arkansas Razorbacks into a top-100 draft selection by the Denver Broncos in the 2020 NFL Draft. Agim’s career in Denver hasn’t gotten off to a great start yet, as he’s yet to carve out a significant snap count on the field. That could change in 2022 if he earns a spot. Agim has been incredibly productive as a pass-rusher, flashing good quickness, agility, burst off the line, and a solid pass rush-move set. Indeed, as a pass-rusher, his flashes were far better than the other players the Broncos kept throwing out there, but he never found a full-time role due to his lack of run defense.

His pad level, play strength, and technique versus the run just haven’t been at an NFL level yet, and he frequently was overwhelmed or washed out by double teams and stronger guards. It’s been a persistent issue for him since his college days. What might help Agim is the new 5-1 defensive front. The goal of the 5-1 front is to create more one-on-one matchups across the board and change the protection and blocking scheme for offensive linemen. With DJ Jones potentially next to him at nose and Dre’Mont Jones the opposite end, Agim could be productive as a rotational defensive end in these looks. The Broncos won’t run these looks all the time however, and Agim still has to improve both as a pass-rusher and as a run defender, but there’s a path for Agim to have a career season with the Broncos and help improve their woeful play there.

Eyioma Uwazurike #96

Report: The selection of Eyioma Uwazurike in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft wasn’t met with a lot of aplomb, but there’s a path for Uwazurike to play the most snaps of the Broncos’ rookies. Uwazurike is an excellent run stuffer-with incredibly long arms, power at the point of attack, motor, and technique. Uwazurike’s length, boasting a 96th percentile wingspan and 94th percentile arm length, was a problem for Big 12 offensive linemen to deal with, as it was almost impossible to establish first contact. He needs to improve at dropping his pad level, but it was an issue that got better as time went on and he started playing further inside. Uwazurike isn’t just a run stuffer, as he has a pretty solid arsenal to build off of as a pass-rusher. He’s got heavy, powerful mitts, a good bull rush, motor, and obviously the superb length. Uwazurike isn’t the most athletic defensive lineman out there, and his quickness is only about average, but he still has a lot of traits to offer the Broncos moving forward. Like DJ Jones, he can play both defensive end (5T/4i) and nose tackle for the Broncos, enabling some creativity up front. I imagine he probably starts off as a backup, but he also has the ability to outright win the starting 5T role replacing Shelby Harris. Uwazurike is an intriguing option, and his versatility and traits are outstanding qualities for the Broncos’ depth.

Matt Henningsen #91

Report: Another rookie defensive lineman, Matt Henningsen was a sixth-round selection of the Broncos. It’s easy to see why the Broncos took a gamble on Henningsen. His athleticism completely pops off of film, with some impressive athleticism and explosiveness. His tools let him shoot gaps with ease and change directions with some impressive fluidity for his size. Henningsen boasts impressive physical tools, but he needs further seasoning and development with his play strength and technique, as he’s entirely too reliant on his athleticism to win the rep and he stalls out if that doesn’t win. Henningsen has too much upside to risk placing on the practice squad, but other players might be more NFL-ready. Matt Henningsen has a bright future with the right coaching and his intelligence can’t be doubted, but his impact in 2022 might be minimal.

The rest

Marquiss Spencer had some intriguing flashes as a prospect, but he seems destined again for the practice squad this season given the talent ahead of him. Jonathan Harris doesn’t seem like a lock for the team either. Harris was out-snapped by worse players last season, and while this is a new coaching staff, it’s a better unit overall and Harris didn’t show enough last season for me to feel comfortable projecting him on the roster


We know for certain that Dre’Mont and D.J. Jones are the most talented and impactful players on the Broncos’ defensive line. Those two will help guide the Broncos up front, and the team will go where those two go. How the rotation goes could be intriguing, as the other defensive end spot opposite of Dre’Mont Jones could be a wide-open rotation. D.J. Jones, Eyioma Uwazurike, DeShawn Williams, McTelvin Agim, and Matt Henningsen can all play that spot. Part of the appeal of D.J. Jones is he has the ability to play both nose and end, which can create intriguing matchup potential.

To put it a bit more simply just how many possibilities there could be on this team:

DE: D.J. Jones/DeShawn Williams/Eyioma Uwazurike/Matt Henningsen/McTelvin Agim
NT: D.J. Jones/Mike Purcell/Eyioma Uwazurike
DE: Dre’Mont Jones/McTelvin Agim/Deshawn Williams

Yeah. There’s so many possibilities here for the team up front to play around with and create mismatches against certain teams.