2017 Broncos Season, Defensive Line
We're rapidly approaching Training Camp and, with it, the start of the 2017 season in earnest. In preparation, I'll be deep diving into each position group. Today, I continue with a unit that needs to stand tall, the defensive line.
Everyone knows the Broncos have a good defense, and that's true. The team was ranked No. 4 overall defensively in 2016, which is great. But hidden in those numbers and an overall great performance was a stinging flaw. The Broncos' run defense leaves plenty to be desired.
On The Roster:
* Derek Wolfe
* Jared Crick
* Adam Gotsis
* DeMarcus Walker (Rookie)
* Domata Peko
* Zach Kerr
* Kyle Peko
* Kasim Edebali
* Billy Winn
* Shelby Harris
* Shakir Soto (R)
* Tyrique Jarrett (R)
A Look at 2016: The Broncos finished No. 1 against the pass in 2016, but they were a woeful against the run, finishing 28. The Broncos allowed 2,085 yards on the ground, 15 touchdowns and 4.3 yards per carry. While stopping the run is a team issue, you can place a lot of the flaws on the defensive line. The Broncos returned Derek Wolfe and added pieces like Jared Crick and Adam Gotsis, but it wasn't enough. And former first round pick Sylvester Williams clearly wasn't THE answer at nose tackle, and has since moved on.
What Changes in 2017: Well, first, the Broncos have a new coach. Vance Joseph is a defensive specialist who spent last year as defensive coordinator for the 10-6 Miami Dolphins, a playoff team. That should help, right? Well, actually, the Broncos managed to bring in a "defensive specialist" who actually captained a group that was worse against the run. The Dolphins finished 30th, allowing 2,247 yards, 12 TDs and a woeful 4.8 yards per carry against average. That's not exactly encouraging, especially considering most feel Miami had better pieces up front.
Well, if coaching isn't the answer, surely we've made personnel upgrades. Eh, hard to say. The Broncos drafted DeMarcus Walker, who seems like a promising defensive end prospect, and brought in free agents like Domata Peko, now 32, Zach Kerr and Kasim Edebali. Had the Broncos landed Calais Campbell, or a couple other targets, that would be something to write home about. This merely feels OK.
What to Expect in 2017: Well, Williams is gone. So now Domata and his cousin, Kyle, will likely fill the nose tackle position. Domata Peko has been a solid force in the league for some time, but he's aging and isn't viewed as a full time player. Kerr could also slide into that spot some.
On the outside, Wolfe is still the anchor and best player in the unit. He has struggled some to stay healthy, playing just 12 games in 2015 and 14 in 2016. But the Broncos are better when he's on the field. On the other side, Crick, who came over from the Texans, had an OK first season. He racked up three sacks and 32 tackles. Behind them, Walker holds promise as a rookie, and the Broncos are hoping 2016 second round pick Gotsis shows more in his second year.
In other words, this is a young unit, and one without a lot of flash.
Who Makes The Roster: The Broncos kept six to seven last year, and that feels about right in the 3-4 defensive alignment. Wolfe, Domata Peko, Crick, Gotsis and Walker feel like locks on the roster. That leaves a host of guys fighting for two to three spots. Let's assume seven make the roster. I think Kerr and Kyle Peko likely make the cut. That gives the Broncos a good mix of potential, youth and experience at a position that needs to improve.