How Does Kyle Peko Factor On The Denver Broncos Defensive Line?

Doc Bear examines how D-lineman Kyle Peko might fit with the Broncos this year.

Last season, the Denver Broncos signed college free agent Kyle Peko, cousin of nose tackle Domata Peko. Denver gave Kyle some reps on the defensive line in training camp.

From the time that Vance Walker had gone on injured reserve, Denver had been scrambling to find the right combination of players to stop the run up front. Sylvester Williams hadn’t been the answer, although he was better at stopping the run than the pass. It was time to see who was already on the team.

Kyle had come into camp as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State, but in full form. He dominated in his first four days and caught defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ attention. Andrew Mason said that he was the most disruptive defensive lineman on the field in those opening days. Gary Kubiak simply said, “He stood out.” Peko wasn’t exactly dominating during his 1st season, but he outplayed what I expected. His run stopping rated at a 70.2, better than most of the Broncos defense in the area where they were most vulnerable.

Peko's pass defense was less impressive, at only 50.9 — he has a long way to go there. But in fairness, Denver already has a very good pass defense — it’s their run game, on both sides of the line, that needs immediate resuscitation.

In the offseason, Denver decided to pick up Kyle’s older cousin —Domata Peko. Domata didn’t have a good year in 2016, but many felt that he wasn’t being used properly for his age and skill-set.

The Bengals 3-5-1 defense requires one or two two-gapping nose guards attacking up front. Both Domata and Pat Sims are long in the tooth — when they’re on the field together, it’s less than pretty. Karlos Dansby is the oldest linebacker in the league, which doesn’t help either. The Bengals are retooling.

Domata’s numbers from last season, via Pro Football Focus, were below his cousin’s — 44.6 in run defense, 50.2 in pass defense. Denver believes that they can bring him back to more of the dominant nose guard player he was by converting him to single-gaping. Both the scheme and his role in it should suit him better.

Denver had one of the youngest teams in the league last year. Domata’s maturity alone should help.

There are other issues, of course. Domata Peko wants to be with a winner, and Denver provides him with that opportunity. Their defense is laudable; their offense a work in progress.

The offensive line was greatly improved this offseason, Devontae Booker is a clear upgrade on any No. 2 running back Denver's had and we’re looking at the best tight end draft that I can recall in the past 50 years (granted, once you’re past 60, recollections can get fuzzy).

No matter which of their options Denver goes with, they’re looking at a draft that’s strong where they’re weak, with the single exception of the offensive tackle position.

The O-line just got a two-player upgrade ( Ronald Leary, Menelik Watson), while DE Zach Kerr has come over from the two-gapping system in Indianapolis, where he fit like a stiletto heel on a reindeer.

Although Kerr is 6-foot-2 and 334 pounds, he is quick-footed and well-suited for a single-gap, attack-based system. In his three years in Indy he had 64 tackles, but he managed 5.5 sacks in just eight starts. With Bill Kollar’s guidance and a system that fits his skills, I expect Zach to become a favorite in Denver.  

Domata brings with him two important keys. He could be used more effectively than he was last year. I’m sure that Joe Woods and Bill Kollar will work that out.

Cincinnati’s D-line is getting older, and their 3-5-1 defense requires speed, quickness and penetration. Denver needs a nose guard who can stop the run, and preferably one who can mentor their next NG. Both sides seem to have what they wanted from this arrangement.

To make 2016 more difficult for them, Cincinnati lost Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall and three position coaches on the defense in the offseason, including Vance Joseph. Never believe those who claim that position coaches aren’t essential — they can make or break a Super Bowl season.

It’s why I’m so high on men like Bill Kollar, Joe Woods, Jeff Davidson and Reggie Herring. They make the team better every week.

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Domata Peko is 6-foot-3, 325-pound nose tackle. He’s nearing the end of his run, but he’s tough against the run, and the run game killed Denver’s chances last season. As much as anything, Peko provides maturity and leadership for a team that lost Peyton Manning a year ago, and hasn’t found their locker room sage since then.

Peko is also the perfect mentor for Kyle — there tends to be a familial respect that comes with that relationship, in addition to the personal success Domata has achieved. Listening to a man who has accomplished what Domata has won’t be difficult.

For those who wonder how the 6-foot-1, 305-pound Kyle can fill the nose guard slot of his 6-foot-3, 325-pound cousin, let's scrutinize the case of Jay Ratliff. Ratliff played All-Pro nose guard for the Cowboys, along with three years with the Bears.

Jay was listed at 6-foot-4, 293 pounds. In a single-gap scheme, size matters far less than quickness and balance, which Jay had in spades. It’s what Kyle will need to provide a similar level of protection for the Broncos D-line.

Domata has seen it all and done it twice. He can give Kyle some pointers about how to achieve his goals. After that, it’s up to Kyle to do the work.

With the group he has around him, Kyle Peko has the best chance possible to maximize his skills. We’ll soon find what they are, through the crucible of the grid-iron.

Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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