The Denver Broncos have talent on their defensive line, but also need some players to step up. This past offseason they lost a talented player in Terrance Knighton. They need those that played behind him last year to step up in order to replace him.
That is where Wade Phillips and the new scheme and philosophy on defense come into play. Phillips will help to make the scheme fit the players, instead of forcing the players to try and fit into the scheme.
With that said, let us get into who makes it along the defensive line. Just like with the offensive line, the defensive line will have the starters for each position, followed by the backups.
No. 1 LDE: Derek Wolfe
Starting as the left defensive end is Derek Wolfe. Ever since being drafted by the Broncos in 2012, Wolfe has had his up and downs. He started his career off with a good rookie season, then had health issues his sophomore year. This past year, he was up and down.
He was great vs. the run, but defending the pass was maddening. He would be great every now and then, but average for the majority of the season. The big problem was him playing in a scheme that didn’t fit him and instead of adjusting the scheme to fit him, the former coaches tried to force him to fit the scheme.
All of that should be different under Phillips. Now, Wolfe won’t go from being a solid starter to a Pro Bowler, but we should see more out of him on a regular basis. He should still be stout against the run, and see an improvement in his pass-rushing capabilities.
D-line coach Bill Kollar and Wade Phillips have a long track record of getting a lot out of their defensive linemen, and Wolfe has the potential to be added to that list.
Stat Projection: 40 tackles, six sacks, 10 QB hits, 10 hurries and 30 stops.
No. 1 NT: Sylvester Williams
Manning the nose tackle position will be Sylvester Williams. Saying Williams has been a disappointment since being drafted is a bit if an understatement. However, as I mentioned with Wolfe, the new coaching staff have a long track record for getting the best out of their defensive linemen.
Also, many are worried about the lack of size at the nose tackle position. Williams weighs only about 315 pounds and most nose tackles are 330+ pounds. Those concerns would be valid, if it wasn’t Wade Phillips' defensive scheme.
Phillips has used a good variety of nose tackles over the years, but most commonly he has used smaller, more athletic players. Williams isn’t the small, athletic nose, nor the big space-eater. Instead, he is a cross between the two. Phillips will adjust the scheme to fit Williams, even though Williams is a good fit in the scheme to begin with.
Stat Prediction: 30 tackles, two sacks, eight QB hits, 10 hurries and 35 stops.
No. 1 RDE: Malik Jackson
Opposite of Wolfe, at the right defensive end spot, you will find Malik Jackson. Despite a lack of discipline on the field, Jackson has turned into a very talented player. Although, he has been primarily used as a rotational player, which best utilized his talents.
Now he is looking at a starting job. If he can get the discipline down, he can be an even bigger force to reckon with. Jackson, under the tutelage of Kollar and Phillips, should be giving opposing quarterbacks nightmares, especially with him being a starter and not just a rotational player.
If he does not get the starting position, I will be surprised, but he would still see a lot of snaps. Jackson has also seen reps in practice at nose tackle, though come game-time, I doubt it would be for more than a handful of snaps.
Stat Prediction: 45 tackles, nine sacks, 18 QB hits, 30 hurries and 30 stops.
Backup DE: Vance Walker
The first backup is veteran and new Bronco Vance Walker. Previously of the Chiefs, Walker was a good rotational piece, much in the same way that Jackson was for the Broncos. I would expect Walker to compete with Jackson for the starting job.
Also like Jackson, Walker has seen reps at the nose tackle position. He is versatile and that is is huge for the Broncos defensive line.
Stat Prediction: 20 tackles, two sacks, 10 QB hits, 18 hurries and 20 stops.
Backup DE: Kenny Anunike
The next backup I would go with is Antonio Smith. However, his legal issues are still looming and as long as they are, he won’t be on the 53-man roster. If they get cleared beforehand, then he may still make it. But it's not looking good.
So, the final backup at the defensive end position is Kenny Anunike. Anunike went undrafted a year ago and spent the year on injured reserve. He originally was weighing in at roughly 260 pounds, but reports say he has bulked up to about 280-290 pounds, and has been tearing up practice. When he has been unable to get to the quarterback, he gets his hands up to try and deflect a pass.
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Stat Production: 13 tackles, three sacks, eight QB hits, 21 hurries and 12 stops.
Backup NT: Marvin Austin
The first backup nose tackle will be Marvin Austin. In his first year with the Broncos, Austin was a solid force coming off of the bench. This year, he may compete with Williams for the starting position, but it's doubtful he is able to secure it. He should be able to secure himself the backup position above the rookie.
Stat Prediction: 20 tackles, two sacks, 12 QB hits, 17 hurries and 27 stops.
Backup NT: Darius Kilgo
The final backup on the defensive line is the rookie Darius Kilgo. The Broncos have a deep defensive line, but Kilgo should see a good amount of snaps per game. Depending on all the variables, Kilgo can see time at the nose and at the end position.
Stat Prediction: 10 tackles, one sack, eight QB hits, 13 hurries and 13 stops.
This unit leaves some young players on the outside looking in. Chuka Ndulue and Josh Watson are both undrafted rookies that the Broncos signed after the draft. With the depth on the defensive line it is hard to see either making it. Although, I would not be surprised if both make the practice squad.
That wraps it up for the defensive line. Next up are the linebackers, but only the outside linebackers. Stay tuned.
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