Entering training camp, the Denver Broncos' edge rushing unit has a good mix of veterans and youth but has more questions than answers. You have veteran starters Randy Gregory and Frank Clark penciled in as your starters for week one. Behind them, you have Jonathon Cooper and former second-round pick Nik Bonitto who will push for playing time. Then you have Aaron Patrick, Christopher Allen, Thomas Incoom, and Marcus Haynes all vying for a roster spot. Then you have the injured Baron Browning who was expected to start but is now expected to start the season on the PUP list.
So, this unit has some depth but it also has more questions than answers right now. Your pass-rushing unit is one of the most critical units on your roster so the Broncos hope they do not disappoint this upcoming season.
Let us take an in-depth look at the Broncos' edge rushers ahead of the start of training camp.
Randy Gregory - Edge Rusher - 6-5, 242 pounds
Last offseason, the Broncos signed former Dallas Cowboys edge rusher Randy Gregory to a five-year, $70 million dollar deal. This was after they traded away Von Miller during the 2021 season, so they needed a replacement at edge rusher and Gregory was viewed to be that guy. Unfortunately, it was a rough season for Gregory who only totaled 2 sacks and missed a majority of the season and the entirety of the offseason due to injuries.
When he was healthy for the first handful of games, he looked like one of the better edge rushers in the league. However, he ended up getting hurt in week four and missed a chunk of the season. When he did come back, the Broncos were already eliminated from the postseason and looked like one of the worst teams in the league. The disappointing season continued on Christmas when he punched a Rams player at the end of the game.
Now, he enters the 2023 season looking to bounce back from a disappointing season and lead the team in sacks. The Broncos need him to do this, especially after they gave him so much money in free agency last offseason.
As I said, Gregory looked good when he was healthy, but those injury concerns are the big red flag when it comes to his game. He has never played a full season during his career and has only played more than 12 games in a season once, and that came in 2018 when he played in 14 games. So, it’s basically a guarantee that he will miss some games, it is just a matter of how many games will he miss during a season.
Frank Clark - Edge Rusher - 6-3, 272 pounds
Last month, the Denver Broncos signed veteran pass rusher Frank Clark to a one-year deal to add depth to their edge rushing unit. They made this move after expected starter Baron Browning underwent knee surgery and is expected to start the season on the PUP list.
Frank Clark is a former second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. He is a 3x Pro Bowler and won two Super Bowls during his stint with the Chiefs. Now, at age 30, he will join the Broncos and provide some much-needed depth to their edge rushing unit.
During his eight seasons in the NFL, Frank Clark has played in 120 regular season games and has totaled 264 tackles, 59.5 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 13 pass deflections, and 2 career interceptions. This past season for the Chiefs, Clark totaled 39 tackles, 5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
This season, Clark will start the year as a starter opposite Randy Gregory at edge rusher. He is solid at setting the edge and can contribute as a pass rusher. However, I would not be surprised to see them spell him at times with Bonitto or others on passing downs. When Browning returns, it will be interesting to see how they use both him and Clark on defense.
Baron Browning - Edge Rusher - 6-3, 240 pounds
Prior to the announcement of his injury of a partially torn meniscus, I had viewed Browning as a potential breakout candidate for the Broncos this upcoming season. He would be coming off a promising first year at edge rusher and would likely be the starting edge rusher opposite of Randy Gregory. Unfortunately, Browning is looking at a stint on the PUP and will be facing competition for snaps against recently signed veteran Frank Clark.
So, Browning will miss the first four weeks of the regular season if he does indeed start the season on the PUP and will be eligible to return in week five as the Broncos prepare to take on Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets.
With all that said, Browning likely will still be a key member of this Broncos defense when he returns. He is an explosive athlete off the edge who flashed big-time potential last season when given the opportunity. So, he will be featured once again when he is healthy and returns to the field. You also have to look at the injury history of Randy Gregory. He has never played a full season and has only played in more than 12 games once in his career (14 games in 2018). So, he will likely miss a number of games this upcoming season, so you will need your depth which now included Browning to step up when he is sidelined.
The injury is disappointing but hopefully, we see Browning come back better than ever and we see him get after the quarterback on a consistent basis when he does.
Jonathon Cooper - Edge Rusher - 6-4, 257 pounds
As we head into training camp, there is a chance that Jonathon Cooper could either earn a starting job or be a valuable third edge rusher for the Broncos. Right now, he is behind two veteran edge rushers who are in their 30s and one that has a lengthy injury history. So, if they will likely need to spell these two, or at least hold them to a pitch count in games, so a player like Cooper could see a lot of playing time.
He is already one of their better edge setters on the roster, and if he can get after the passer more consistently, he can be a solid player for the Broncos. What is already helping his case is the fact that he had himself a strong offseason and has already impressed new head coach Sean Payton.
Third-year edge rusher Jonathon Cooper was a standout of Broncos OTAs, and while the proof will be in the pudding of training camp, Sean Payton is impressed so far with what the former seventh-round pick is doing | by @MaseDenver https://t.co/uklJoKF89g— Denver Sports (@DenverSportsCom) June 21, 2023
Payton told reporters that Cooper’s get off, explosion and experience are noticeable and that “he is important to what we’re doing”.
“It’s difficult because those are the groups that aren’t in pads, but you certainly see the get off, the explosion and the experience. I think when we get into training camp, you then get a better feel. I’ll get a better feel for a lot of these players that I still don’t know well. I know them now and I know their names, but I’ve just seen it so many times when the pads come on, and you get a completely different perspective from a certain running back or a certain someone who stands out. It becomes a little clearer, but he’s important to what we’re doing.”
I think Cooper could be a breakout player in camp and take advantage of the absence of Baron Browning and the veterans ahead of him. He lost some weight this offseason, so if he can be more explosive off the edge and do better as a pass rusher, it could be a big year for Cooper.
Nik Bonitto - Edge Rusher - 6-3, 240 pounds
The Denver Broncos selected Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto with their 64th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. They recently traded away Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller and were looking to bolster their edge rushing unit during the draft, and they hoped they did that here with the selection of Bonitto.
However, it ended up being a fairly quiet rookie year for Bonitto. He flashed his quickness off the snap at times, but despite multiple injuries at the edge rushing position and a trade of Bradley Chubb, he failed to take advantage of that opportunity. Coming out of college, his weakness against the run and setting the edge was a concern and we saw that be a thing last season. With that said, he was a rookie and now is in the midst of his first full offseason so we will hopefully see some growth
Nik Bonitto (#42) played 42 snaps Sunday versus the Jags.— Full-Time Dame (@DP_NFL) November 1, 2022
He came away with a sack, QB hit, and forced a fumble off the bench!
The youth at the edge positions made Chubb expendable! #BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/xXRtHw9zYu
Bonitto will be one of the more interesting players to watch as we progress through the training camp and the preseason. His pass-rush ability is there, he just needs to continue to develop, get stronger and grow as a player. If he does that, the Broncos pass rushing unit looks a helluva a lot better than it does right now.
I am not sure that Bonitto will ever be a good run defender or set the edge consistently, but that was known coming out of college. However, if he can flourish as a pass-rush specialist, that would be huge for the Broncos. His first step, bend, and explosiveness are undeniable, I think he just needs to get stronger and develop more as a pass rusher. If he can do that, I think he can be an impactful player on the Broncos’ defense this upcoming season.
Barring injuries, I think Bonito will be a situational pass rusher and rotate in behind Randy Gregory and Frank Clark, especially with Browning out due to injury. There are injury concerns there with both so Bonitto could once again find himself with an opportunity to get meaningful snaps again this upcoming season.
Aaron Patrick - Edge Rusher - 6-4, 245 pounds
Patrick is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered during the season but appears to be on track to be ready for the start of training camp. He was viewed as a special team's ace by the previous regime, and that is where he contributed. Now, with Sean Payton running the team and an extra emphasis added to the special teams, will Patrick once again earn that role?
I think he has a shot, but he may need to show more as an edge rusher during training camp and the preseason if he wants to make the team. He will be facing competition from Thomas Incoom, Christopher Allen, and Marcus Haynes for a roster spot.
We shall see if Payton and the Broncos' special teams coaches view Patrick the same way the previous staff did. If they do, Patrick likely has a good shot at making the team, but if they do not, it could be tough for him to make the team.
Christopher Allen - Edge Rusher - 6-4, 242 pounds
Last year, Alabama’s Christopher Allen was the most popular undrafted free agent to make the team. He was productive at Alabama and was coming off an injury so the Broncos got themselves a steal here. However, a foot injury that limited Allen during camp, and eventually his rookie season was cut short before it even started when he was placed on the injured reserve. Now, he enters his second training camp with the Broncos but his finally healthy and looking to show the Broncos that he can be a contributor for them on defense this upcoming season.
The Chris Allen Story…— DNVR Broncos (@DNVR_Broncos) July 15, 2023
2020: Led the SEC with 13 tackles for loss.
2021: Played one game at Bama. Got one sack. Missed the rest of the season with a broken foot.
2022: Highest-paid Broncos UDFA. Spent the year on IR with the foot injury.
He is a bit of an unknown since he has not really been healthy in two years. Is he the same player and will he stay healthy this time around? He will need to prove himself to the Broncos coaching staff and have a strong summer if he wants to make the team. He will likely get a bunch of playing time in the second half of preseason games and will look to advantage of second and third-team tackles.
Ultimately, Allen appears to be a longshot for the 53-man roster, but could find a spot on the practice squad.
Thomas Incoom - Edge Rusher - 6-2, 265 pounds
At the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos signed Central Michigan edge rusher Thomas Incoom as an undrafted free agent. Money is usually a good indicator of how a team feels about a player, so the fact that Incoom received the highest signing bonus and total guarantees of any UDFA’s the Broncos signed is likely a good sign for him.
The reason the Broncos likely had to pay up for Incoom was the fact he was likely among the top UDFA’s available. He was a Senior Bowl standout player and was even highly thought of by many of the top draft analysts prior to the draft. The Athletic’s lead draft analyst Dane Brugler gave Incoom a 4th to 5th round grade and said that he believes he can be a useful edge rusher in an NFL rotation.
Incoom, if he has a strong summer, has a chance to make this team. The Broncos' edge rushing unit is deep but full of questions and injury concerns. Baron Browning is already expected to start the season on the PUP while veteran starter Randy Gregory has injury concerns as well. So, there is certainly a pathway for Incoom to make this team and even potentially earn some playing time.
If you look at the depth behind expected starters, veterans Randy Gregory and Frank Clark, there are more questions than answers. The Broncos’ second-round pick in 2022, Nik Bonitto is coming off a down rookie season and will need to improve to contribute on defense this season. Jonathon Cooper is coming off a strong offseason per reports, but only has 4.5 career sacks since being drafted. Aaron Patrick is coming off an ACL injury and Christopher Allen was placed on the injured reserve last August due to a foot injury. So, Incoom could certainly make some noise here.
With the Broncos giving him a decent chunk of money, I would assume that he will be a lock for at least a spot on their practice squad if he does not make the 53-man roster. How he performs during training camp and the preseason will determine ultimately where ends up.
Marcus Haynes - Edge Rusher - 6-4, 240 pounds
The undrafted rookie out of Old Dominion has joined the Broncos' edge rushing unit and is fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster or a spot on the practice squad.
Marcus Haynes is a DE prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 7.39 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 426 out of 1629 DE from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/eQz4ey8BcI pic.twitter.com/ArgT1FQc47— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 22, 2023
The odds of Haynes making the 53-man roster are slim at best. He was not a highly productive player at Old Dominion and will face a pretty jump in talent in the NFL. He will certainly get a chance to prove he should stick around, but he is likely competing for a spot on the Broncos practice squad.
He will likely get a chance to play late in the preseason games and will need to take advantage of the limited playing time he does get.