The Denver Broncos made improving their edge rushing room a priority this offseason after a lackluster showing last season. That lackluster showing was amplified by longtime Broncos edge rusher Von Miller being traded away to the Los Angeles Rams and Bradley Chubb battling injuries.
To do that, they signed former Cowboys' first-round pick Randy Gregory to a big-money free agent deal and spent their first draft selection on Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto. They also moved 2021 third-round pick, Baron Browning, from inside linebacker to edge rusher. So, the Broncos added talent and youth to the group while they’re hoping former top-five pick Bradley Chubb stays healthy and has a bounce-back season.
The Broncos' two projected starters are veterans Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory. However, both have injury history’s to watch, but as of now, these two are your projected two starters.
Bradley Chubb: Probably the one player the Broncos need to bounce back and have a good season the most. The former fifth-overall pick has struggled with injuries throughout his career which has limited his production on the field. He is coming off a 0-sack campaign last season, and just 8.5 sacks through the past three seasons. So an improvement is needed from Chubb if the Broncos want to improve their pass rush this upcoming season.
The silver lining here is that Chubb had a fully healthy offseason and should be entering camp at 100%. He has flashed talent when healthy, so hopefully he can have a big year this upcoming season.
Randy Gregory: Randy Gregory signed a 5 year, $70 million dollar contract with the Denver Broncos this past offseason. He’ll be tasked to replace Von Miller’s role and production for the defense this upcoming season. However, Gregory had arthroscopic surgery after signing with the Broncos that sidelined him throughout the entirety of the offseason. His status for Training Camp has yet to be determined, but at the very least, he will be eased into action throughout the summer.
He was explosive off the edge for the Dallas Cowboys during his time with them and the Broncos are hoping he’ll bring that with him to Denver.
The Broncos have two edge rushers who have a ton of upside, athleticism, and youth on their side but need to develop to reach their full potential. Those two players are rookie edge rusher Nik Bonitto and the very athletic Baron Browning.
Nik Bonitto: Using the pick they received from the Rams in the Von Miller trade, the Broncos selected the explosive Nik Bonitto with the final pick in the second round. He is a little bit undersized but has the explosiveness to beat tackles off the snap and get to the quarterback rather quickly.
He most likely will start with the second and third-team defenses this summer, but a strong start to his camp could get him some looks on the first-team defense sooner rather than later.
Baron Browning: Coming out of Ohio State, he played a little bit of off-the-ball linebacker and edge rusher, so his true position coming out was in question. It seemed like that question was answered last year when the Broncos had Browning play inside linebacker for them. However, with a new coaching staff coming in, they decided that his athleticism would be best utilized on the edge.
What to expect from Browning this summer is a bit of an unknown. He’s a talented player with elite athleticism, but that transition will likely come with some growing pains. Like Bonitto, he’ll likely get second and third-team reps during camp, but a strong start could get him some first-team looks as well.
Malik Reed: Malik Reed has played in 45 games the past three seasons and totaled 15 sacks in that span. He earned this playing time because of injuries to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and he made the most of it.
With all that said, he seems like a potential trade candidate this summer. If Browning or Bonitto flash this summer, it could make Reed expendable and help GM George Paton acquire some more draft picks for next season. You also have guys behind Reed who could replace his roster spot as well, so he’s a name to watch.
Jonathon Cooper: The 2021 seventh-round selection played in 16 games last season and netted 2.5 sacks. He was coming off a strong summer/preseason and ended up contributing in his rookie season. He showed he can provide decent depth and most importantly, contribute on special teams as well.
As I mentioned above, I think a player like Malik Reed could be a trade candidate and one of the main reasons for that is the presence of Jonathon Cooper on the roster. He has shown to be a solid reserve and if he can show improvement this summer, he could knock Reed off the roster.
These are the rest of the players who face long odds at making the Broncos' 53-man roster but could surprise everyone this summer.
Aaron Patrick: Patrick signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad late in 2020 and stuck around in 2021 and was later signed to their practice squad. During the 2021 season, the Broncos signed him off the Jags practice squad and added him to their active roster. He ended up playing in 12 games for the Broncos and even had one start. He totaled 8 tackles during those 12 games.
He’s likely on the outside looking in, but his best chance at making the roster will be showing that he can contribute on special teams. Obviously, getting after the passer will help as well, but special teams will be what gets him on the roster. If not, he seems like a solid practice squad addition.
Jonathan Kongbo: He has bounced in and out of the NFL and CFL throughout his professional career, but will now get a chance to prove himself with the Denver Broncos this summer.
This feels like a classic summer depth addition. He has bounced around the NFL and CFL and really hasn’t dominated at either level and is now at the bottom of the depth chart here with the Broncos. Realistically, he is pushing for a practice squad spot.
Christopher Allen: The intriguing UDFA has the best chance of this group to crack the 53-man roster. He seems a shoo-in for a practice squad spot at least, but could easily push for an active roster spot. He played at Alabama and played well when given a chance. If his 2021 season didn't end early because of injury, he very likely ends up being drafted by someone. So, it’s safe to assume that the Broncos may have got themselves a steal here.
He’ll need a strong summer/preseason and show out on special teams for this to happen, but it’s certainly possible.
This is a pretty intriguing group full of question marks, potential, and red flags. You have injury concerns, experience concerns, talent concerns, and positional change obstacles as well as potential, raw talent, and bounce-back options as well. It’s a truly intriguing group.
Ideally, Chubb and Gregory are your starters with Bonitto, Cooper, Browning, and potentially Reed as your depth. Allen could sneak in, but he and Patrick appear to be the best options of the rest to crack the 53-man roster as well.
I am anxious to see how this group plays out. Hopefully, Chubb and Gregory can stay healthy and produce at a high level, hopefully, Bonitto and Browning flash their potential, and the rest produce on special teams.