Our good friends at Pro Football Focus recently released their rankings of all front sevens for each of the NFL’s 32 teams. Let's break down how PFF came to their grades and findings.
“To arrive at this season-ending ranking, we leaned on our season grading of the starters, with strong deference to those receiving the bulk of the snaps. When injuries occurred, we weighed the snap counts of the injured players against his replacement in order to arrive at the most accurate ranking.”
After all was said and done, who ending up being the Broncos highest/lowest rated player and where did they stand as unit among the rest of the NFL?
Highest Rated Player: Von Miller
It should come as a surprise to few that outside linebacker Von Miller was the top-rated front seven player for the team, grading out at a lofty 91.1. Trailing only Khalil Mack at his position, Miller stakes his claim as one of the game’s best defensive players regardless of where he lines up on the field.
In the span of a couple of seasons, Miller has transformed himself from being a one-dimensional pass rusher to a player that every opposing offensive coordinator accounts for in their respective game plans. In the playoffs leading up to Super Bowl 50 and his MVP-winning effort in the NFL title game, Miller unveiled his ability to be a presence in several areas of any contest.
Whether it was making life miserable for right tackle Mike Remmers and Cam Newton, to splitting out wide covering wideouts, Miller took that dominance and continued to build off it this past season. Demanding constant double and triple teams, Miller still led the team and AFC in sacks with 14, while freeing up teammates like Shane Ray to have his best season so far.
Lowest Rated Player: Jared Crick
One of the most notable drop-offs from last season was the play of Denver's run defense. Tumbling from having the third-best run defense in 2015 to just the 28th spot this past season, many teams found it easier to bypass the No-Fly Zone and instead focus its efforts on attacking Denver on the ground.
Losing defensive tackle Malik Jackson hurt but with Vance Walker set to take on a bigger role, along with the recently-signed Jared Crick and the drafting of defensive end Adam Gotsis, the platoon of all three players was thought to be adequate.
Walker went down with a season-ending knee injury in camp, leaving a rotational player like Crick to take on major snaps. While the tackle did have moments during the season, he frequently was exploited stopping the run.
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With opposing teams avoiding Wolfe’s side of the line and Gotsis' slow development, Denver had little choice but to stick with Crick through the majority of the season.
The Broncos still ranked in the top-10 according to PFF and finished the year as the No. 7 ranked front seven. Even with the drop-off in personnel and in production, there were plenty of good things to notice among the defense.
Considering how dominant the front seven was in 2015, coupled with the offseason defections of Jackson and Danny Trevathan, it would have been difficult to match the historical unit
The woes of the offense hurt the Denver defense as well. With pass rushers in abundance, the Broncos are built to get after opposing quarterbacks, which they did this year, collecting the second-most quarterback pressures. But with the offense going through sizable stretchs of the year showing little to no production, the defense was forced to play more conservatively as the year progressed, getting away from being aggressive and forcing turnovers.
The Broncos still had a very good front seven in 2016 and finished ahead of all three division rivals in the Kansas City Chiefs (8th) San Diego Chargers (14th) and Oakland Raiders (15th). There is reason for optimism, as Denver owns 10 picks in this year’s upcoming draft, leaving them in a position to upgrade spots on the defensive line and linebacker.
Coupled with the always aggressive GM John Elway, Denver will have money in free agency to look at infusing his team with a face-lift. Depending on what happens this offseason, Denver may once again find itself in the top-five of next year’s PFF rankings.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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