3 mid-round defensive linemen the Denver Broncos should target in the 2022 NFL Draft

Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Eric Thomas Jr. (37) and defensive lineman John Ridgeway (99) and linebacker Grant Morgan (31) hold up the Southwest Classic trophy as they celebrate the win over the Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium.
Sep 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Eric Thomas Jr. (37) and defensive lineman John Ridgeway (99) and linebacker Grant Morgan (31) hold up the Southwest Classic trophy as they celebrate the win over the Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos could stand to add some talent to their defensive line, as depth concerns still persist behind Dre’Mont Jones and D.J. Jones.

With that need in mind, who could they target in the draft to revitalize the position group? Let’s take a look at three potential options.

John Ridgeway, Arkansas

American defensive lineman John Ridgeway of Arkansas (98) and American offensive lineman Darian Kinnard of Kentucky (65) battle during American practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Feb 1, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; American defensive lineman John Ridgeway of Arkansas (98) and American offensive lineman Darian Kinnard of Kentucky (65) battle during American practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

If the Broncos decide they want to continue to upgrade their ability to defend the run, which was a major defensive weakness in 2022 (Denver ranked 21st in run defense DVOA a season ago), John Ridgeway would be an ideal target in the mid-to-late rounds.

Ridgeway has a mammoth frame, standing just over 6-foot-5 (placing him in the 95th percentile for defensive tackles) and weighing in at 321 pounds (89th percentile), which helps him perform as an upper-echelon run defender.

Although his athleticism won’t wow you, Ridgeway is exceptionally strong, allowing him to anchor with ease, even against SEC double teams. He devours double teams all game long for the Razorbacks’ defense, and he has the durability and stamina to hold those blocks in the fourth quarter just as effectively as he held them in the first quarter.

Here, he even eats up a triple team.

He’s also able to strike with power, knocking linemen back, and he’s able to toss defenders out of the way when he wants to shed them to make the play in the backfield.

Ridgeway is a fast processor with excellent eyes and refined hands, making him a bear in the run game when paired with his physical gifts.

The big issues with Ridgeway are that he has very limited mobility and there isn’t a ton of room left for development in his game. He won’t impact the passing game much, and it’s unlikely he ever does. He’s a technician with his hands, and his ability to explode into his blocks allows him to push the pocket some, but he’ll be more of a Mike Purcell upgrade than anything.

That said, he could be an extremely appealing option as a Purcell upgrade.

Phidarian Mathis, Alabama

Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis (48) against Ole Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday September 28, 2019.
Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis (48) against Ole Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday September 28, 2019.
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A more premium option Denver could target to upgrade their defensive line would be Phidarian Mathis of the Crimson Tide.

Mathis boasts a lot of the same strengths as Ridgeway, with his incredible power, excellent vision, clearly apparent football intelligence, polished hand technique, and a motor that never runs cool, but he also offers more versatility and pass-rush potential.

He might not quite have the two-gapping ability of Ridgeway, but he’s still a high-end run defender and he has better lateral range along the line of scrimmage. He’ll make tackles from the backside of the play and hang with running backs that are trying to get slippery in the backfield.

Mathis packs a powerful punch that knocks back offensive linemen, and he pairs it with an impressive array of hand moves. He’s demonstrated effective usage of the swipe, chop and rip moves, as well as just his natural talents, to shed blockers and create backfield penetration.

Overall though, his lateral range — despite being superior to Ridgeway — is still lacking, and he also received a lot more help from his supporting cast than most defensive prospects, thanks to playing at Alabama.

Matthew Butler, IDL, Tennessee

Purdue offensive lineman Gus Hartwig (53) and Purdue offensive lineman Spencer Holstege (75) block Tennessee defensive lineman Matthew Butler (94) during the second quarter of the Music City Bowl, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Purdue offensive lineman Gus Hartwig (53) and Purdue offensive lineman Spencer Holstege (75) block Tennessee defensive lineman Matthew Butler (94) during the second quarter of the Music City Bowl, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Cfb Music City Bowl Purdue Vs Tennessee

If the Broncos want a different flavor of defensive tackle, they could look to add Tennessee’s Matthew Butler, who has much better movement skills but lacks the strength of the two options above.

Butler is able to smoothly scrape across the offensive line to make plays outside his gap and on the backside of runs pretty frequently. He’s also able to slip through tight creases in the offensive line and use his solid get-off to shoot gaps and blow up plays in the backfield.

His movement skills also show up on twists and stunts, where he thrives and is consistently a productive pass rusher.

He’s also technically refined, with fast hands that constantly remain busy through the rep and make him a headache for opposing linemen, and he has excellent instincts and reactionary ability.

Butler’s on-field work ethic and activity level should also excite Broncos Country.

However, his lighter frame and limited strength could lead to him getting bullied at the NFL level. His run defense relies pretty heavily on creating backfield penetration, rather than anchoring and shedding defenders, and he might struggle to translate that ability to create penetration to the NFL, considering his athletic limitations.

Butler’s 33-inch arms aren’t too terribly short, but he struggles to utilize that length, so they appear to be much shorter when studying him on tape.

Although he’s certainly an intriguing player, Butler would feel a little redundant given the Broncos presently existing depth options on the roster. He could serve as an insurance policy for Dre’Mont Jones’ impending free agency, though, it goes without saying that he’s nowhere near Jones’ talent level.

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