For several seasons, through the good, bad, and awful, one constant about the Denver Broncos was the strength of the defensive front seven.
Whether it was Von Miller living behind the line of scrimmage, Bradley Chubb having a career year before being traded, or guys on the front line like Dre’Mont Jones, Shelby Harris, and Terrance Knighton bullying offensive lines, the unit has always been a valuable asset.
That why it seems so strange that entering the 2023 season, the defensive line appears to be one of the team’s most glaring areas of concern.
Ranked as the #28 overall unit in the NFL by Pro Football Focus (and discussed more in depth here), the group is without some of its major contributors from past seasons, like Jones and Harris, and as of this writing, will have newly signed Zach Allen, DJ Jones, and former sixth-round pick Matt Henningsen as the starters with not much backing them up.
Therefore, it should be viewed as a golden opportunity for a young, hungry player to show his worth in training camp. Elijah Garcia, a second-year defensive end out of Rice University, who was picked up off the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad last December, is a candidate who can capitalize off said opportunity.
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 302 pounds
Arm Length: 35” | Vertical: 30” | 40-yard dash: 5.01 seconds
Age: 25 | Experience: Second season
Garcia, after being undrafted in the 2022 NFL Draft, signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams, where he would be among the final cuts before finalizing the 53-man roster. He was, however, retained on the practice squad and still was able to receive tutelage from highly respected defensive line coach Eric Henderson.
His number was finally called when the Broncos picked him up after an injury to Jonathan Harris, and he made his NFL debut on New Year’s Day vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would play seven snaps but record no tackles. He made his first NFL tackle the following week in a win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Broncos defensive lineman Elijah Garcia’s 2023 outlook
Outside of Allen, who is coming off an excellent year for the Arizona Cardinals, there is a lot to be desired out of the defensive end position in Vance Joseph’s scheme.
The door is quite literally wide open for someone like Garcia, who can utilize a standout camp experience to make it to the final 53-man roster and perhaps turn into a difference maker.
He was a first-team All-Conference USA selection his senior season at Rice, tallying 67 tackles and 4.5 sacks, and getting to learn professionally under Henderson had to have been beneficial.
In a perfect world, the team wouldn’t be holding out hope for a former undrafted rookie with one career tackle to step into a featured role, but Garcia has received high marks for his discipline and work ethic and is going to have a prime opportunity during camp.
Garcia is a large and long defensive end fit for a 3-4 scheme who possesses above average athleticism and deceptive speed. He has all the tools to be an NFL player, but is still in need of fine-tuning when it comes to mechanics.
He was a three-year starter in college and displayed impressive balance for a man his size and a quick change-of-direction ability. He reportedly had a slow first step off the snap, though, and despite his size, doesn’t possess or utilize the kind of strength the top players at his position have.
The thin depth at the position will give him every opportunity to see the field, though, and barring any kind of surprise free agent signings or trades, he will likely duke it out with Eyioma Uwazurike for one of the final roster spots.
His potential for growth, though, is something the team will consider, and if he doesn’t make the final cut, expect them to try and keep him on the practice squad with the potential to jump to the active roster sometime during the season.