The Denver Broncos are gearing up to revamp their defense in 2023. Part of that revamp will require key players staying healthy at the outside linebacker position.

State of the Denver Broncos outside linebacker position

Gone are the days of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb anchoring the outside as the Denver Broncos’ key pass-rushing duo. Here to stay are Randy Gregory and Baron Browning being the hopeful duo going into this season.

What does the position look like overall?

Randy Gregory and Baron Browning could be a dynamic duo
When Broncos general manager George Paton brought in Randy Gregory last year during NFL Free Agency, it was evident that he would become an important part of the team’s defense.

Shortly after signing with the Broncos, Gregory had an operative procedure on his shoulder that the team previously knew about, indicating that he would be brought along throughout the offseason program.

Gregory missed a good portion of training camp, but he was ready for Week 1 last season and demonstrated why he can be a dominant player for Denver defensively.

Through the first four weeks of the season, Gregory’s presence was easily noticed on film as he generated consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks including two sacks in the first four weeks. Unfortunately, Gregory suffered a torn meniscus in Denver’s Week 4 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and would go on injured reserve after having surgery.

He’d miss a majority of the season before returning in Denver’s Week 15 win against the Arizona Cardinals and playing against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 before being shut down to protect the team’s investment.

In 2023, he’ll enter training camp fully healthy and if he can remain healthy — the Broncos’ defense will benefit significantly.

Opposite of him is Baron Browning who has a ton of potential at the position.

After playing inside linebacker during his rookie season in 2021, Browning excelled in his transition to edge rusher. While he also battled some injuries last season, Browning emerged as a starter after Bradley Chubb was traded away.

His supreme athleticism stands out on tape. Combine that with his freakish bend and elite first step, he looks a lot like Von Miller if you were to remove the number 56 on his jersey and just observe him.

The soon-to-be third-year player played in 14 games last year for Denver, accumulating five sacks, 18 quarterback pressures, and six hurries. He projects to be the starter opposite Gregory in Vance Joseph’s defense.

What’s even more impressive is that he still has plenty more room to grow, which doesn’t bode well for opposing offensive tackles.

What does the Broncos depth look like at outside linebacker?
Behind Gregory and Browning, the Denver Broncos outlook at outside linebacker presents several question marks.

Nik Bonitto enters his second season in the NFL after being drafted by the Broncos in the second round of last year’s NFL Draft.

In 2022, Bonitto only played 35% of the team’s defensive snaps despite appearing in 15 games — finishing the season with 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and six quarterback pressures. The expectation for 2023 is that he’ll play a more pivotal role for Denver’s defense, but he’ll face competition along the way.

After the Chubb trade, the Broncos traded for former New York Jets pass rusher and special teams ace Jacob Martin. Martin suffered a knee injury shortly after his arrival, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

Perhaps one of the biggest wildcards at the position is Jonathon Cooper who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Cooper’s high motor stands out in a big way on tape — finishing last season with 48 tackles, two sacks, and playing 47% of the team’s defensive snaps ahead of Bonitto.

He could push Bonitto for the key reps as a 12th-man option for direct snaps behind Gregory and Browning.

Other players at the position feature undrafted rookie free agent Christopher Allen and special teams ace Aaron Patrick.

Allen dealt with an injury during training camp last season that put him on the shelf, getting placed on injured reserve and allowing him to use 2022 as a red-shirt year.

Patrick showcased some promise on the defensive side of the ball but stood out in a big way as a key special teams player last year. However, he will be working his way back from an ACL injury that he suffered in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Chargers in a freak incident.

If the Broncos pass rush duo of Browning and Gregory can stay healthy this upcoming season, they will have a significant impact on the success of the defense.

It is fair to ask whether or not the Broncos look into adding a pass rusher with one of their limited number of draft picks coming up at the end of the month.

The last time the Broncos had a defensive player surpass double-digit sacks came in 2018, in Vance Joseph’s final season with the team — since then the team hasn’t had a single player hit double digits.

Can Denver’s pass rush unit answer these questions surrounding the position? Only time will tell.