The Denver Broncos three top edge defenders combined for 12.5 sacks last season, partly because the top two only played a combined 14 games for the Broncos (due to trade and injury).
The Bronco pass rush was almost non-existent after the trade of Bradley Chubb. I wrote about this a few months ago. This was partly because of Randy Gregory’s inability to stay on the field. Gregory only played in six games last season, and he has only played in 56 games in his NFL career which began in 2015. That’s 56 games over nine NFL seasons, or 6.2 games per season. Admittedly he missed the entirety of the 2017 and 2019 seasons, but even in the seven seasons he has played, he has only averaged 8 games per season.
The 2023 Broncos may be relying on the 30 year old pass rusher as the primary pressure generator. Baron Browning had some good games last season and he was one of our better pass rushers in 2022 getting pressure on 13.3% of his pass rush snaps. Normally 13.3% is not good for an edge defender, but 2022 was a down year for pass rushers. Only nine edge defenders with 200 or more pass rush snaps did better than that last season.
SIS is much more generous than PFR in terms of giving credit for QB pressures. According to SIS, the best Bronco in 2022 in terms of QB pressures was Dre’Mont Jones with 34, but that was on 422 pass rushing snaps - meaning that he got pressure on only 8.1% of those plays, which was still the best among hand-in-the-dirt DEN DL guys in 2022. Trey Hendrickson led all DE/DT guys at 18.9% last season (min 200 PR snaps).
Gregory got pressure on 15.7% of his PR snaps, but that was only on 102 snaps. Jonathan Harris, the putative starter at DE for 2023, only generated pressure on 1.8% of his pass rush snaps, which is terrible, but wasn’t the worst on the D in 2022. That would be Matt Henningsen who only got pressure on 1.0% of his PR snaps - (1 of 100). That happened on a play where he was completely unblocked (resulted in a sack). So on every passing play where he was blocked in 2022, he was unable to get pressure on the QB.
Free agent signee Zach Allen, might be able to replace the pass rush that Dre’Mont Jones generated, but he might not be able to do so. He could be worse than Jones as a pass rusher.
Nik Bonitto could turn into a viable pass rusher in 2023 as could Jonathan Cooper or Christopher Allen, but right now, most of our pass rush is just potential and not reality.
The current Bronco depth chart at Ourlads.com, shows that we have very little in the way of above average or better pass rushers in our current front seven. Our two deep at DE and NT is this:
- DE - Zach Allen, Eyioma Uwazurike
- NT - DJ Jones, Mike Purcell
- DE - Jonathan Harris, Matt Henningsen
Those six have combined for 26.0 career sacks with the majority of those coming from Allen (11.5).
Vance Joseph might try to use Drew Sanders in a similar manner to how the Cowboys use Micah Parsons. As such, Sanders might provide pass rush for us. He was an elite pass rusher for the Razorbacks even with only one year as a starter in college. There was too much talent for him to be a starter in Tuscaloosa so he transferred to a lesser SEC school where he knew he would play. Ourlads shows him as an ILB.
Our two deep at OLB is currently:
- LOLB - Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto
- ROLB - Randy Gregory, Jonathan Cooper
Those four have combined for 29.5 career sacks.
The 2022 Bronco defense finished the season with 36 sacks which was tied with the Cardinals for 24th in the league. The Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2022 is now the Broncos defensive coordinator for 2023. Yay?
Because of this general lack of pass rush on the 2023 defense, the Broncos have been searching high and low for pass rush. While they only drafted one player who will be potentially rushing the passer on a regular basis in Sanders, they did “sign” three guys who have the potential to help the Bronco pass rush, although one is much more NFL ready than the other two. We should look at each as a potential supplement to Sanders who should quickly become the Broncos best pass rusher.
The immediate help - Trent Harris
Trent Harris went undrafted out of Miami in 2018. The former Hurricane is an edge, but his combine was so poor that no team took a chance on him in the draft. He was originally signed to the Patriots practice squad and has been on the Dolphins, Giants, Ravens and Raiders in the NFL. Harris has appeared in 19 NFL games starting five and has 2.0 career NFL sacks. He’s either an undersized DE or an average OLB at 248-pounds. Harris led the XFL in sacks last season with 9.5 playing for the Houston Roughnecks. Four of those sacks came in one game against the Orlando Guardians, who finished the season 1-9. Orlando allowed a league-worst 37 sacks in 10 games. The Broncos have invited him to tryout at their minicamp this week.
While 9.5 sacks might not seem like much compared to what elite NFL edge guys get in a season, consider that there were only 179 sacks in the XFL during the 2023 season and Harris got 5.3% of those by himself.
It remains to be seen if Harris sacks (and pressures) in the XFL translate to pressures and sacks in the NFL. SISdatahub.com shows that Harris has 15 pressures on 147 NFL pass rushes. 10.2% is not great for an OLB (compare his numbers to Browning from 2022 above), but maybe he has learned some things since his last playing time in the NFL which was in 2021 with the Giants.
Harris finished his college career with 26.5 TFL and 15.0 sacks appearing in 44 games for the Hurricanes. As a senior he finished 3rd in the ACC with 8.5 sacks. Harris had 2.0 sacks in three games that season: vs Toledo, ND and UVa. On one of those sacks against ND, Harris beat current Bronco RT, Mike McGlinchey.
The future pass rush - Thomas Incoom and Marcus Haynes
With zero draft picks spent on the defensive front seven and only Zach Allen added via free agency, any “new juice” for the pass rush is going to have to come from Harris or one of these two UDFAs. I know very little about Haynes since he was so far below the radar that he didn’t get any analysis in “the Beast” that Dane Brugler puts together before every NFL draft. Incoom on the other hand has intrigued me since we signed him, mainly because of his background. Originally from Ghana, he has only been playing football for six years. Interestingly his combine performance and his college stats are very similar to 13th overall pick, Lukas Van Ness.
The 262-pound Incoom has an extremely quick first step which is why was able to get a 1.56s 10-yd split on his 40 time. He did slow down in his final 20 yards which led to him running an relatively unremarkable 4.66s 40 while Van Ness ran a 4.58 at 272-pounds.
In two seasons at Central Michigan Incoom played 24 games, had 27.5 TFL and 15.5 sacks to go with 85 tackles (47 solo). Compare that to Van Ness who played at Iowa; in 26 games, he had 19.0 TFL, 13.0 sacks and 70 tackles (34 solo). Admittedly Van Ness faced tougher OL guys in the Big Ten than Incoom did in the MAC. Incoom was very consistent as a senior getting at least one sack in all but two games (those two were Penn St and E. Michigan).
What made Van Ness the 13th overall pick and Incoom an undrafted free agent?
It can’t be solely based on what conference the FBS player played in, can it? Nope, since Khalil Mack also came out of the MAC (Buffalo). What made Mack the 5th overall pick? Part of it was his production. Mack played in 49 games in his college career with 74.5 TFL, 28.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 21 PD, 3 FR, 327 tackles (185 solo) and 16 FF. Mack was the 2013 MAC defensive player of the year. Mack also dominated during the senior bowl.
And this is where we truly see the difference between Van Ness and Incoom. Van Ness dominated in Senior Bowl practices while Incoom looked stiff and was easily handled in practice by just about every OL player he faced. Against NFL-level OL guys, Incoom was lost, Van Ness was not.
For comparison Marcus Haynes appeared in 40 college games and had 22.0 TFL, 15.0 sacks, and 103 tackles (56 solo). Over at Mathbomb, I ran the comparison of Haynes and Incoom as both played at lower level FBS schools (ODU moved up from FCS about a decade ago)
Haynes was slower and not as quick despite being 30 lbs lighter than Incoom. Haynes lack of quickness for a guy his size tells me he has little chance of even making the practice squad, but I thought the same of an undrafted OLB from CSU a few years back because of his short arms, terrible vertical and poor bench. I’m glad Shaq Barrett proved me wrong.
Which of the three pass rushers has the best chance to make an impact on the Broncos pass rush in 2023?
This poll is closed