Denver Broncos Offseason Analysis: Defensive Line
The defensive line for the Denver Broncos had a surprising season in 2012, playing better than almost anyone expected. However, John Elway and the front office have some work to do in the offseason. If the Broncos are going to go a step or two farther in 2013, upgrades at the defensive tackle position are necessary.
Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan both had solid seasons as the starting defensive tackles but both are free agents, and re-signing both of them is unlikely. The guess is that Bannan will choose to stay with the Broncos provided the team wants him back. Vickerson seems more likely to explore his options and may choose to leave.
The Broncos had the best pass rush, by the numbers, in the league but they must get more of a push up the middle. There were too many times when quarterbacks were able to step up into the pocket and make big plays down the field. Edge rushers are great, but it is the rush up the middle that really bothers quarterbacks. The most logical move is moving Derek Wolfe back into the tackle spot, his natural position. Wolfe’s biggest strength in college with his ability to get pressure up the middle and that’s what the Broncos need.
If they do move Wolfe inside, then they have a hole a defensive end but they have more options out there. Robert Ayers played well in 2012 and has the potential to be a nice bookend to Elvis Dumervil on the other side. The wildcard is Jason Hunter who was hurt in training camp, and missed the entire season. No single player was having a better camp than Hunter when he got hurt; he was on pace to be the starting defensive end with Wolfe at defensive tackle. Hunter is a free agent but the Broncos should be able to sign him without too much trouble, as there probably will not be a lot of interest around the league for a player who missed the entire year.
If Hunter is healthy and can regain his form, his return solves a lot of issues. Wolfe could easily move back to the tackle spot, and Hunter and Ayers would then rotate at defensive end. The other end spot is in great hands with Dumervil who went to the Pro Bowl in 2012. The Broncos also like Mitch Unrein and Ben Garland - Unrein was a great rotation guy at the tackle spot and Garland has tremendous upside. Often injured, Ty Warren is a free agent and it is highly unlikely that he returns to the Broncos.
As for free agency and the draft, the Broncos need to add a defensive tackle or two to their rotation. Every team would love to find the next JJ Watt, but those players do not come around very often. The best bet for the Broncos is to do what they did last season – establish a rotation that keeps everyone fresh.
The key, I believe, is Wolfe. He has the potential to be the pass rusher on the inside that the Broncos are missing. Make no mistake, though, defensive line must be a focus for the Broncos in the offseason.
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