We start up front at a position that saw DE Malik Jackson leave for Jacksonville, joining former Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas. The loss of Jackson is not as catastrophic as perception would have you believe.
Sylvester Williams is back on the last year of his rookie deal. The team hasn’t yet exercised his fifth year option. Derek Wolfe mans the left end position after signing an extension towards the end of last season. Darius Kilgo and Phil Taylor provide depth at nose tackle, with Kilgo and Williams having the versatility to play at the right end position as well.
Denver will likely fill Jackson’s vacant spot on the defense via the NFL Draft, which is considered to be one of the deepest defensive line groups ever. The team is looking at 3-4 5-technique ends which does restrict the players they would be interest as players like Jarran Reed, Adolphus Washington, Kenny Clark, Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Andrew Billings would not be fits.
Many believe a starter can be found as late as the fourth round come draft day and the Broncos will have no shortage of options, one of which, Robert Nkemdiche, visited Denver Thursday. Joining Nkemdiche are Vernon Butler, Chris Jones, Kevin Dodd, Sheldon Rankins and Sheldon Day, among many others.
Brandon Marshall is back on a restricted free agent tender, although he is considering holding out to angle for a long term deal. Denver valued Marshall more than Danny Trevathan, for whom they made no attempt to re-sign.
With Trevathan’s departure, the Broncos expect the group of Todd Davis, Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson to fill his shoes. One will step up and become the starter, with the others providing great depth.
Denver is in good position here and can look to add a player later in the draft. One name to keep an eye on for the draft is Dominique Alexander, who a couple scouts think would be a perfect Broncos linebacker. He has the positives of both Marshall and Trevathan and plays a lot like both of them, but also has some of their negatives that saw them get drafted where they did.
This position returns all major contributors from a year ago. DeMarcus Ware took a pay-cut to stay in Denver in a reduced pass rushing role to maximize his effectiveness. In his place, Shane Ray is expected to start and make a year-two jump. Shaq Barrett will look to build on the breakout season he had while backing up Von Miller once again.
Denver will likely add a player here via the draft, but it will come late or as an undrafted free agent. One name to keep an eye on is Stephen Weatherly out of Vanderbilt, whom the Broncos had in for a private workout. Weatherly is a 4-3 DE that would be making a transition to 3-4 OLB.
This is a position that the Broncos can go without investing a draft pick, but it should be noted the team held a private workout with LSU CB Rashard Robinson, whose stock is low due to eligibility issues and off-the-field issues in college.
Denver returns both starters from a year ago but have question marks beyond them. Darian Stewart is set to be a free agent next season and the Broncos have interest in extending his contract, although Stewart may want to wait until after the season to earn a better deal. Both Stewart and T.J. Ward spent time sidelined due to injury last season, with David Bruton backing both up for the majority of the season.
Unfortunately, Bruton signed with Washington for the opportunity to start. Josh Bush is a free agent and Omar Bolden signed with Chicago and former coach John Fox. Bush remains an option to be re-signed, as Denver was pleased with his play last season.
This is a position that should also be addressed in the draft, with Denver looking to find a player who can fill Bruton’s role and who would be able to start in 2017 should Stewart sign elsewhere.
The Broncos defense didn’t lose nearly as much impact as many believe — both Jackson and Trevathan are replaceable. In Trevathans’ case, just a few short years ago, Wesley Woodyard was the team’s leading tackler, then he was replaced by Trevathan, who was replaced by Marshall — before they lined up next to one another. This defensive unit will be back and will remain near the top of the league in 2016.
Note: Khalid and Erick Trickel collaborated on this series. You can find Erick on Twitter @Alaskan_Bronco.
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