Positional Analysis for the Denver Broncos-Defensive Line


Sep 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (94) and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (99) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to move to the defensive side of the ball as we continue or look at each position for the Denver Broncos as they head into a critical offseason.

Terrance Knighton was always going to be a priority for the Broncos but his levarge increased when Wade Phillips was hired as the defensive coordinator. Phillips will transform the Broncos into a 3-4 defense and because of that, he needs someone who can play nose tackle.

The only player on the current roster capable of doing that is Knighton. He has the ability to take up multiple blockers and can get penetration on both running, and passing plays. Knighton has said he would take less money to remain a Bronco, and it’s vital that John Elway find a way to get that deal done.

In addition to Phillips, the Broncos also added defensive line coach Bill Kollar to the coaching staff. Kollar is one of the best defensive line coaches in the business and his presence will make everyone better, but there are two players who will benefit more than anyone else.

Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson will be counted on as the defensive ends in the 3-4 defense. Kollar is known for taking good players, and turning them into great players. Jackson had a breakout season in 2014 and appears ready to take the next step. He will be asked to do more as a 3-4 defensive end and with the help of Kollar, Jackson should continue to get better.

Wolfe has been an enigma since joining the Broncos in 2012; he has shown flashes but has not been consistent enough. This is where Kollar’s expertise should come into play. Wolfe has all of the physical tools and Kollar might be the one guy who can get him to the next level. One thing is clear, 2015 is a make or break season for Wolfe with the Broncos.

2013 first-round draft pick Sylvester Williams finds himself in an odd spot heading into next season. He hasn’t been a bust be he hasn’t turned into the dominant inside force that the Broncos envisioned when they drafted him either. The other problem for Williams is that he is better suited as a 4-3 defensive tackle, and it’s hard to see him making the transition to nose tackle. So what does that mean for his future?

It’s hard to see the Broncos giving up on Williams at this point but if they could get a mid-round draft pick for him, then they might pull the trigger. If they cannot move him, then look for Phillips to use Williams in special defensive packages.

Both Marvin Austin and Mitch Unrein were used as a part of a rotation at defensive tackle in 2014 but neither are good fits for a 3-4 look. Unrein is a free agent and maybe on his way out. Austin played decent early in the season but faded late, and it would be a surprise if he was on the 2015 roster.

The Broncos were high on second year pro, Quanterus Smith and he would fit perfectly into Phillips defense but his future is cloudy at best. Smith re-injured the same knee that forced him to miss his rookie season after tearing the ACL at the end of his college career. The Broncos will monitor his rehab and hope for the best, but they cannot count on him for next season.

Remember, DeMarcus Ware will now be a linebacker in the 3-4 defense and that’s why he has not been mentioned until now. It’s possible, if not probable, that Ware will still be used as a defensive end in certain packages and could serve as a backup if someone were to get hurt during the season.

Should the Broncos lose Knighton, they are going to need someone on the inside. One name to keep an eye on is Dan Williams of the Arizona Cardinals. He is a free agent and would cost less than Knighton.

The Broncos will probably add depth in both free agency and during the NFL draft. Next up, we take a look at the remainder of the front seven when we examine the linebackers.