The Denver Broncos should be a much better team than they were last year, their first season after Peyton Manning’s retirement, in which they struggled to find an identity. This year, they come into the season much healthier, more experienced, and ready to take the next step. They were a lucky field goal and a dropped pass away from making the playoffs last year.
With this year’s improved roster, the Broncos should return to their usual playoff form. Having already examined the offensive side of the football, now let’s take a look at the defensive roster, position by position.
Denver Broncos Roster Preview: Defense and Special Teams
Projected starters: Derek Wolfe (DE), DeMarcus Walker (DE) and Domata Peko (NT)
The Broncos will still be using a base 3-4 defense in Joe Woods‘ system. The Broncos defensive line will see many different combinations, but Derek Wolfe is certain to be the anchor of it all. Wolfe is becoming one of the NFL’s most feared defensive ends due to his strength and ability to power through blocks.
The Broncos also signed Domata Peko from Cincinnati to start at nose tackle. Peko will bring veteran experience to the line and help with pressure up the middle in obvious passing situations. The Broncos schedule this year is filled with great quarterback competition, and there is no better way to disturb a passer’s rhythm than having constant pressure up the middle.
The last spot on the defensive line is still up for grabs. Rookie DeMarcus Walker from Florida State is a serious option here. Though he still has work to do in terms of run defense, he is a first-round talent when it comes to the pass rush. Walker was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season and has the potential to become a premier defensive end in this system.
Many other plays will get snaps on the defensive line. Jared Crick, Zach Kerr, Adam Gotsis and Kyle Peko will all see playing time this year. The Broncos have one of the most feared front sevens in the league, and the production all starts from the defensive line. This year, the Broncos defensive line has potential to be even better, thanks to the mix of experience and athleticism. The Broncos struggled against the run last year. With improved speed and size on the line this year, expect that to change.
Projected starters: Von Miller (OLB), Shane Ray (OLB), Brandon Marshall (ILB), Todd Davis (ILB)
The Broncos have arguably the best edge rushing combination in the NFL with the duo of Von Miller and Shane Ray. Miller’s production the last few years speaks for itself, and he is one of the most consistent and feared pass rushers in the league. Miller has a very unique ability to take over games himself which is incredibly rare for a defensive player. All the attention on him will allow for Ray to have a breakout season, as Miller constantly getting double teamed will allow for the Missouri product to get after the quarterback.
In terms of the inside linebackers, Brandon Marshall will lead that crew. Marshall had a bit of an off year in 2016, but was hampered by injuries. This year, he comes into the season healthy and ready to cement himself as one of the top inside linebackers in the league.
Marshall shows great leadership, whether it be in pass coverage, pass rush or against the run. Essentially, he “quarterbacks” the defense very well and is a great extension of the defensive coordnator on the field. The last inside linebacker spot will be split. Todd Davis has proven that he should get most of the snaps, but expect to see Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson too.
The 3-4 defense will once again allow the Broncos to have one of the best pass rushes in the league. Shaquil Barrett is another player poised for a breakout season. Barrett will play behind Miller and Ray, but will see many snaps in obvious passing situations. Expect this linebacker unit to take another step forward as one of the best units of all time. No doubt that losing DeMarcus Ware hurts, but it creates an opportunity to go younger and faster.
Projected starters: Chris Harris (CB), Aqib Talib (CB), Darian Stewart (SS), T.J. Ward (FS), Bradley Roby (NCB)
The Broncos unquestionably have the best secondary in the league. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib were named the number one and two cornerbacks in the league, respectively, by Pro Football Focus. Harris is time and time again overlooked when discussing top defensive players in the league, as he consistently shuts down the opposing teams most feared receiving weapon. Talib has many balls come his way due to quarterback’s reluctance to throw in Harris’ direction, and racks up big plays and is one of the most clutch defensive backs in the league.
Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward are not as celebrated, but their importance cannot be ignored. Stewart is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league, as he is very good against the pass and also has the ability to play in the box. Ward is one of the smartest safeties in the league, playing spectacularly against both the pass and the run. Ward is also one of the best blitzing safeties in the NFL. Lastly, Bradley Roby is without question the best nickel corner in the league. On most teams he would be a starting corner but instead, he is the last important piece of the “No Fly Zone”.
In a very “pass happy” league, having elite secondary play is imperative. The Broncos have been the best defensive team against the pass over the past two years, in terms of yardage. Even the best of quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Derek Carr all struggle against the Broncos secondary. The “No Fly Zone” even applies to Hall of Famers. If the Broncos want to compete in the playoffs, their secondary must maintain their high level play.
Projected starters: Brandon McManus (K), Riley Dixon (P), Isaiah McKenzie (KR and PR)
Special teams play is very important in the NFL. The Broncos are lucky to have a reliable kicker in Brandon McManus and a very good up-and-coming punter in Riley Dixon. Last year the Broncos struggled to make big plays in the return game. Expect that to change with the arrival of Isaiah McKenzie from Georgia, a very speedy wide receiver who will be primarily used in the return game. Many are anticipating game changing plays from him in a Tyreek Hill-esque role in the return game.