While the offensive needs were headlined by the same position every time, there was some disagreement on where we think the top needs are on defense. But really the disagreement was on priority, not the position groups included.
The Denver Broncos defense is also a hard one to figure out. You can basically split their 2023 season into three parts. The first part being the horrific ‘worse defense ever’ type start, then the insane record-setting run of turnovers that catapulted them to a five-game win streak. The last part was just a completely average defense that couldn’t do enough to help an equally average offense win many important games down the stretch.
So given that context, here’s where the rest of our Mile High Report staff landed on this list for top defensive needs this offseason.
The Broncos have some pieces at edge rusher but no difference-makers. I think they need to continue to add to that position and hopefully add someone who can be a consistent threat off the edge.
IDL from to bottom needs work. Zach Allen was solid this year but after him? It’s all up in the air. D.J. Jones is a cap cut candidate, and the depth in general behind these two is suspect at best. We saw the run defense struggle all season and this unit provided very little pass rush outside of Allen. Depth and pieces are needed here badly.
Secondary could move up this list depending on what happens this offseason. Will Justin Simmons be traded? Will P.J. Locke be re-signed? Can Caden Sterns stay healthy? Could the Broncos use Surtain as a trade chip? Then we need to see how the team feels about Riley Moss, JL Skinner, and Damarri Mathis. Three young players who played very little this season. Will they be big parts? or will they continue to add?
Depth and talent are needed at every positional group.
- LCB/Secondary Depth
EDGE is a problem that needs addressing, with pieces but no difference-makers as Scotty said. But there are at least some pieces there. Denver’s run defense was atrocious this year. On a yards-per-carry basis, it was the worst in the NFL by a full 0.3 yards. For perspective, the three teams sitting at 29th-31st worst YPC allowed all sit nearly tied at a rounded 4.7 yards per carry allowed while Denver allowed 5.0. Zach Allen should be safe, but every other guy on the IDL should be on notice that he’s very replaceable. And adding the right pieces on the IDL can also help our EDGE guys get home to the QB.
Despite some hiccups late, McMillian should be a shoo-in at SCB (Slot CB), and of course Surtain’s name is engraved in titanium at RCB. But Moreau, Mathis, & Ross did not combine to give us any solidity across from Surtain. That’s a hole that needs to be filled, and some depth pieces need to be added.
- Interior defensive line
- Inside linebacker
We can agree that Baron Browning is a solid pass rusher. And so is Jonathan Cooper and Nick Bonitto. But it felt like there was a lack of consistency and a true pass rushing attack.
When it comes to the defensive line, Zach Allen was a very pleasant surprise and a bright spot, but he was about all Denver had. There is no true run-stopper on the line and that consistently hurt the defense. And the inside linebacker unit needs a step up in talent when it comes to pass coverage.
- Defensive Line
- Defensive Back
The Broncos’ defensive line with the exception of Zach Allen was dreadful to watch this past season. The Broncos are in need of at least two quality players on their defensive front to help improve their defense against the run and help out their secondary on the back end. That number might go to three if they wind up cutting D.J. Jones to save over $12M on the cap for the 2024 season. It’s time for Denver to get serious about investing in the defensive trenches.
The Broncos have some talented edge rushers with Nik Bonitto, Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning. That being said, the two Ohio State products are entering their contract years. Denver doesn’t have a true blue-chip pass rusher in the mix, so I wouldn’t be surprised if EDGE is one of the positions they target early in the draft if they decide a QB isn’t worth it at #12 overall.
Last but not least, we have to remember that Justin Simmons is entering the final year of his contract. Caden Sterns, who has been perpetually hurt, is also entering the final year of his deal. We don’t know if P.J. Locke will be back, and Delarrin Turner-Yell had an ACL tear at the end of the season. The Broncos needed to find a way to add someone to their defensive backfield who has starting potential at safety for the 2024 season. Even though they are short on picks, I’d add someone as competition besides JL Skinner moving forward.
- Defensive Line
- Inside Linebacker
It’s no secret that the front seven had issues last season. Add that to the fact that Denver is likely to face some tough roster decisions due to the salary cap. I have D.J. Jones as my top target for potential surprise cut this offseason and with him gone the Broncos will suddenly have a very suspect interior defensive line. For that reason alone, I put that position at the top of my list.
While I like the three main young edge rushers Denver has, they often disappeared at critical times. Edge depth is another primary concern I have and due to its vital importance in today’s NFL, it grabs the second highest priority on the list for me.
To round things out with the front seven concerns, I do not like Denver’s inside linebacker situation. Josey Jewell is likely gone in free agency and Alex Singleton racks up the tackles, but disappoints also. Nothing I saw from rookie Drew Sanders gave me confidence he is ready to step into a starting role. This ILB situation definitely concerns me heading into the offseason.