The Denver Broncos have only played one game to date. It’s hard to make any definitive analysis with that in mind, but everyone saw how poorly their defensive front seven played with respect to their pass rush in their Week 1 loss against the Las Vegas Raiders.
If the struggles in that area continue, I’d start penciling in upgrading the franchise’s EDGE room as a top need for them in the 2024 NFL Draft. Before we begin looking at some of the best college prospects available at the position, let’s take a deeper dive into the players they have right now to understand why a premium pick should be considered on one of them next April.
Analyzing the Broncos’ Edge Room
One of the Broncos high-profile signings from the 2022 offseason was Randy Gregory. He earned a five-year deal worth $70 million dollars. Unfortunately, Gregory missed a lot of time last year and it is beginning to look like George Paton whiffed on that acquisition. Short of some miraculous turn around, I don’t see him having a role with the team beyond this season.
If he doesn’t perform very well this year, dollars to donuts the Broncos will be looking to get out of that contract. According to OverTheCap, if the Broncos released him after this season they would incur dead cap hits of $2.1 million dollars over the next three years, but save $14 million in cap space over that time frame. That’s precious cap space the Broncos are going to need for Sean Payton to reforge the roster in his image.
Alongside Gregory, veteran Frank Clark was added this off-season on a one-year deal worth $5.5 million dollars. With that in mind, it’s safe to say he isn’t in their long-term plans—though another one-year deal could be possible if plays well when he returns from injury. But even if he did re-up in the Mile High City, that shouldn’t preclude Denver from considering an edge player early next April.
Now let’s get to the young guns. Undrafted free agent Thomas Incoom has some serious pass rushing talent, but as of now—he’s just a rookie who hasn’t proven anything in the National Football League.
Jonathon Cooper has been a solid player for the Broncos after being drafted in the seventh round several years ago, but next year will be the last on his rookie deal. Baron Browning, his collegiate teammate from the same draft class, has shown some promise, but has also missed a lot of time with nagging injuries over his career. He too, will be in the final year of his rookie contract next season.
Couple that with 2022 second-round draft pick Nik Bonitto failing to impress and you begin to realize that Denver’s edge room situation is quite a bit more ambiguous than we may have all thought. Vance Joseph said it was the best group of edge rushers he has ever had. There are still sixteen games left to actually prove that, but I’m thinking that might have been a little bit of a hyperbole.
With all those things considered, I think it’s apt for us all to take a strong look at some of the best pass rusher’s available in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Cream of the Crop - Florida State’s Jared Verse
Unless the Broncos bottom out and finish with one of the worst records in the league, it’s highly unlikely that they will have a chance at Florida State standout Jared Verse. But a preliminary list of top prospects at the position just wouldn’t be the same without him.
Verse started his collegiate gridiron journey in Albany, but transferred to the Seminoles last year and took college football by storm. During his 2022 campaign, he racked up 9 sacks, 22 quarterback hurries, and 17 tackles for loss. Not too shabby of a year playing against top competition for the first time.
Jared Verse is so explosive that he can stumble in his get-off and still capture the corner against a really good LT.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 4, 2023
And that closing burst... pic.twitter.com/yzHniDRHzn
At 6’4 and 251 pounds, he stands out on tape and his top-tier athleticism is evident on every snap. He has good bend, a great first step, and the length to be a top-notch pass rusher in the pros. Verse not only possesses pass rushing prowess, but is a capable run defender as well with enough strength at the point of attack to set the edge and be a formidable foe against the run.
You can catch Verse in action today when the Seminoles take on Boston College.
Dark Horse Candidate - Laiatu Latu, UCLA
A few years ago, Laiatu Latu was informed he would never play a down of football again after suffering a significant neck injury in the fall of 2020.
That catastrophic news sidelined him for two seasons, Latu transferred from the Washington Huskies program and joined the UCLA Bruins. His football career, in fact, didn’t come to and end—it was only just beginning.
What he did in 2022 was an absolute miracle. He dominated the PAC-12 with 10.5 sacks being a pitch starter for their squad and was collegiate football’s comeback player of the year. How’s that for production being multiple years removed from any organized football activity? It’s absolutely incredible.
At 6’5 and 265 pounds, Latu’s an absolute force with pro-ready strength and size for the Bruins and has certainly catapulted up draft boards. He doesn’t have the athleticism of the aforementioned Verse, but his technique and dominance at the point of attack help alleviate those concerns.
If Latu replicates what he did last year, he will end up getting first-round consideration in April. However, medical evaluations from each team will have a profound impact on his draft stock. As of right now, I have him as a Day 2 player with the potential to rise higher with another productive campaign for the Bruins this Fall.
You can catch Latu in action today against North Carolina Central.
Other Top Prospects to Consider and Keep Your Eyes On
Chop Robinson, Penn State (6’4, 250 pounds)
Bralen Trice, Washington (6’4, 255 pounds)
Dallas Turner, Alabama (6’4, 240 pounds)
J.T. Tuimoloau, Ohio State (6’4, 270 pounds)