Entering the offseason, the Denver Broncos' biggest free agent was defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones. The team decided against placing the franchise tag on him and would allow him to test free agency, which likely went he would sign elsewhere. That is exactly what happened when the star defensive lineman signed a big money deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
However, the Broncos did not stand pat and went out and got their guy. They decided against re-signing Dre’Mont Jones and decided to sign former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen to a big-money deal. He will reunite with Vance Joseph and looks to be an ascending player who could be a breakout player for the team this season. They have returning nose tackle D.J. Jones to be the man in the center of the defense, but after that, we have plenty of competition for playing time this season.
So let us take an in-depth look at the Broncos' defensive line and which players I think could make the 53-man roster.
Zach Allen - Defensive End - 6-5, 285 pounds
As the Broncos headed into free agency, all eyes were on impending free agent, Dre’Mont Jones. He was one of their better young defensive players on the roster, but he was set for a big payday in free agency. Ultimately, the Broncos allowed Jones to test free agency and he ended up signing a large deal with the Seattle Seahawks. This meant the Broncos would be in the market for a potential replacement for Jones, and they ended up finding one. They signed former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen to a three-year, $45.75 million contract with $32.5 million of the contract fully guaranteed including a $15 million signing bonus.
Allen now reunites with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph whom Allen played for while in Arizona. Last season, Allen had a breakout year in Joseph’s defense and he credits him for his improvement and being able to thrive in his defense.
“That definitely was a big part. I think Vance is one of the best coaches in the NFL and I was really fortunate to be with him for four years and, if you have a chance to make it five, six, seven, then you’re going to do that. So really I’m a believer in his stuff and his coaching style and at this point he’s just a really good friend.’’
Allen calls Joseph one of the best coaches in the league and even called him a “really good friend”. So, at the end of the day, we can credit Joseph for being a big factor in Zach Allen's decision to sign with the Broncos this past offseason.
I think Allen will be a damn good player for the Broncos this season, and potentially be a great one if the pieces around him stay healthy and contribute. The Broncos need that type of play from Allen this year with their lack of depth and proven players at that position so hopefully, he lives up to the expectations this upcoming season.
D.J. Jones - Nose Tackle - 6-0, 305 pounds
Jones was the Broncos' big offseason signing last year and he proved his worth to the team when he was on the field for the defense. He is a solid run defender who can push the pocket and get after the passer from time to time. Jones also does the dirty work inside the trenches and takes on multiple blockers to allow his teammates to make plays around.
This upcoming season, Jones will be expected to do the same for the Broncos' defense. He will be key to their run defense and will need to eat up blockers so the linebackers can get in the backfield and the other lineman are not getting double-teamed.
There is not much else to say about a nose tackle, but they are one of the more underappreciated positions, but Jones will be a key player for the Broncos' defense this upcoming season.
Matt Henningsen - Defensive End - 6-3, 291 pounds
After having an accomplished career at Wisconsin, Matt Henningsen entered the 2022 NFL Draft. He did not hear his name called during the first two days, but ultimately in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected him with their 206th overall selection.
Henningsen is a 6’3”, 291-pound defensive lineman who showed flashes during his rookie year when given a chance and could be in line to start this upcoming season. The Broncos lost Dre’Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams to free agency so there are spots open along their defensive line. The Broncos did sign Zach Allen during free agency to replace Dre’Mont Jones, but there is no clear Williams replacement on the roster. So, Henningsen has a shot to earn that job this summer.
Matt Henningsen was drafted with pick 206 of round 6 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.34 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 98 out of 1459 DT from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/4mtlIYPCFL #RAS #Broncos pic.twitter.com/UiilekRgII— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
After having a promising rookie season, especially for a sixth-round selection, Henningsen is competing for a starting job along the Broncos’ defensive line. D.J. Jones will be the nose tackle while Zach Allen will replace Dre’Mont Jones at one of the defensive end spots. That leaves one spot open and Henningsen is in an open competition for that job.
He will be competing against Jonathan Harris, second-year player Eyioma Ewazurike, Jordan Jackson, Elijah Garcia, veteran Tyler Lancaster, and international player Haggai Ndubuisi for that other starting spot. There are no real clear favorites for that job from this group, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes out or if the Broncos need to add to this group again before the start of the season.
As for Henningsen, I like his chances from this group. He displayed his explosiveness off the snap during training camp, the preseason, and during the regular season. He also showed that he can be a solid run defender and get into the opposing team’s backfield to make a stop. I think he can develop into a very solid two-down run-stopper at the very least for the Broncos and take over the role DeShawn Williams occupied the last couple of seasons.
Eyioma Uwazurike - Defensive End - 6-6, 320 pounds
In the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos drafted Iowa State defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike. He is a mammoth defensive lineman who has decent athleticism for a man of his size. However, the rookie struggled to get playing time last season. He appeared in just eight games and totaled 17 tackles, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 pass deflection.
Eyioma Uwazurike was drafted with pick 116 of round 4 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 6.58 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 500 out of 1459 DT from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/dn3TBy3rKe #RAS #Broncos pic.twitter.com/zkLWF221TB— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
With veteran DeShawn Williams now in Carolina, the Broncos do have an opening along their defensive line and Uwazurike has a chance to earn that spot. Now, based on last season, it does seem unlikely that he will be the guy to win that starting job, but if he takes a step in the right direction in year two, he could surprise some people.
At the end of the day, he is one of the Broncos' largest players and if he could put it all together, or at least show flashes this summer, that would be pretty exciting. However, we did not really see those flashes last season and the Broncos really need either he or one of the other linemen to step up and prove they can play some snaps along this defensive line this upcoming season.
Mike Purcell - Nose Tackle - 6-3, 328 pounds
The Veteran defensive lineman is entering his fifth season with the Broncos and is an interesting player when it comes to the 53-man roster. He has a contract the Broncos could cut to free up some cap space and just eat minimal dead money. However, he has shown he can be a solid player when he is on the field but is facing some competition for his roster spot. So, it really could go either way for the veteran nose tackle.
The depth along the defensive line does not look great on paper and Purcell is a player who could play some snaps for this defense. However, I think they have cheaper options on the roster and that could ultimately hurt his chances to make the team.
I am back and forth on Purcell and would not be surprised if he stays or is let go. A lot depends on how the other players play around and how the Broncos use him, especially with a new defensive coordinator in town.
Jonathan Harris - Defensive End - 6-5, 295 pounds
Jonathan Harris has quietly been on the Broncos roster in some capacity since 2019 and is coming off a season where he played in a career-high eight games. In those eight games, he totaled 18 total tackles and has 32 total tackles throughout his career with the Broncos.
Harris has proven to be a good depth player for the Broncos but nothing more than that. He was brought in by Vic Fangio in 2019 and he has stuck around on the practice squad or as a depth player since. I do not think he is a candidate to start and could find himself without a roster spot if the team adds a player or any of the young guys shows some improvement. So, he appears to be a bubble guy right now, but his future really depends on how the players around him play and/or if the team adds from outside the organization.
Jordan Jackson - Defensive End - 6-4, 294 pounds
Jackson was a sixth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2022 NFL Draft. He did not make the team and spent his entire rookie season on their practice squad. Clearly, he was not in their future plans since he signed a reserve/future contract with the Denver Broncos early this year.
Here is what NFL.com’s draft analyst Lance Zierlein had to say about Jackson during the draft process last season.
High-motor tweener with some intriguing physical traits, but a lack of consistency at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Jackson is at his best when he’s chasing down the line or attacking the pocket with a secondary rush fueled by hustle. His lean lower half and lack of knee-bend might always be culprits in holding the point of attack, but his snap quickness gives him a shot in a one-gapping scheme. Lateral quickness and active hands give him some life as an interior rusher, but he needs to upgrade his skill set if he wants to become more than a practice squad candidate.
For the Broncos, he is another young player looking to make that step in year two with hopes of making the 53-man roster. He is an interesting player with good athleticism but looks like at best, a practice squad player right now. He is a player to watch during training camp and the preseason to see if he flashes at all and can impress some Broncos coaches.
P.J. Mustipher - Nose Tackle - 6-4, 315 pounds
At the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos went out and signed a number of undrafted free agents. One of those undrafted free agents who the team signed was former Penn State defensive lineman, PJ Mustipher.
The undrafted rookie has a chance to make the Denver Broncos 53-man roster but at the very least, he appears to be a lock to make the practice squad. Mustipher is a space-eating nose tackle who will compete for a roster spot behind starter D.J. Jones.
Coaches were just giving NT-DT PJ Mustipher some love. Undrafted out of Penn State, Mustipher is 6-4, 318. #9sports— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) May 13, 2023
Mustipher’s main competition for a roster spot is veteran Mike Purcell. The veteran nose tackle has a moveable contract, so if Mustipher continues to have a strong summer, training camp, and preseason, he could provide the Broncos with a younger and cheaper option at that position.
His athleticism and pass-rushing ability are not really there, but he has the size, thickness, and ability to be a space-eating nose tackle. That is what he did at Penn State, and likely what he will do in the NFL if given the chance. What you are also getting is a high-character player who was a two-time team captain at Penn State. Head coach Sean Payton wants to change the culture in that locker room, so adding players with high character with leadership skills is important to him. So, if Mustipher plays well, he will provide the Broncos with a cheaper, younger, and high-character option to be D.J. Jones’s backup.
Elijah Garcia - Defensive End - 6-5, 302 pounds
Garcia went undrafted during the 2022 NFL Draft and ended up signing with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent. He did not make the team but did sign to their practice squad. Late into the season, the Denver Broncos signed Garcia off the Rams' practice squad and he made his NFL debut vs. the Chiefs on New Year's Day. In that game, he played a total of seven snaps for the Broncos' defense.
It will be interesting to see how Garcia fits in with this Broncos defense. He is yet another young player who will be looking to take that next step in his second season in the NFL. What works in his favor is his defensive line coach Marcus Dixon. The former Rams coach likely had some input or influence on the signing of Garcia and he is one of the few coaches the Broncos kept on their staff from the previous regime. So, it is possible Garcia has a fan amongst the coaches and he may need that support if he wants to make the 53-man roster.
Like Jordan Jackson, Garcia seems like a better practice squad candidate than a 53-man roster candidate, but we shall see how the second-year player looks in training camp and the preseason.
Tyler Lancaster - Nose Tackle - 6-3. 313 pounds
Earlier this offseason, the Denver Broncos signed former Raiders and Packers defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster to a one-year deal.
The former undrafted free agent out of Northwestern played four seasons with the Green Bay Packers before joining the Las Vegas Raiders last season. However, he missed the entire 2022 season due to injury and was released off the Raiders’ injured reserve, and was given an injury settlement.
During his career, the veteran defensive lineman has played in 59 games and totaled 21 starts. In those games, he has totaled 110 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble, and 1.5 sacks. Now, he joins a Broncos roster desperate for depth along the defensive line after losing defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams in free agency.
Lancaster provides the Broncos depth and versatility at the position and gives them a player who can be a two-down run defender/space eater if needed. I believe he is on the roster bubble but could be viewed as a solid veteran presence who could play some snaps as a run defender if needed.
Haggai Ndubuisi - Defensive Lineman - 6-7. 323 pounds
Defensive lineman Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi of Nigeria was allocated to the Denver Broncos as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. He competed as an offensive lineman last season with the Arizona Cardinals, but this season, he will be competing as a defensive lineman.
He just started playing football five years ago and is making the transition from offensive lineman to defensive lineman this season. He is a great story and a player with a lot of size and strength. However, if we are being realistic, he has no shot at making the 53-man roster and even a practice squad spot seems unlikely. It would be great to see him develop this summer and make some plays during the preseason to change this, but I have my doubts that will happen.
Still, this is a great story of an international player living out his dream to become an NFL player. Let’s see what he can do and if he makes some noise despite the odds being stacked heavily against him.