Every historically great defense starts with the big bodies in the trenches. They may not be the flashiest or most athletic players on the field, but they are the nastiest, most tenacious, and physically imposing ones. They are the anchors that allow the ship to maintain its stability.

The Denver Broncos did not do much to change the look of the defensive line this offseason and rightfully so. 2020 had the potential to be special for this group if it were not for a number of injuries, including a season-ending foot injury for Mike Purcell.

Luckily for Denver, Shelby Harris was brought back on a new contract, reuniting him with his linemates to run it back in 2021.

The Starters

The Broncos have a solid, if not stellar, big three starters on the 2021 defensive line unit giving them a nice starting place to operate from coming into training camp.

Harris, Purcell, and Dre’Mont Jones all have had time inside of Vic Fangio’s defense, and have all shown that they can be impact players on this already touted defense.

Purcell bolsters the middle of the line and plays the nose tackle position with strength and leverage. Purcell has been a vital piece holding running backs like Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, and now teammate, Melvin Gordon in check, causing them to walk away with subpar performances.


Purcell has made a respectable career for himself, filling gaps and pushing offensive linemen into the laps of ball carriers. Even coming back from a major injury, the expectation is that he will come in and play his role prominently and effectively.

Harris has been a leader on this defense for the last few years and has really rounded into his own. He has the innate ability to create chaos and reads quarterbacks like a soothsayer gazing into their crystal ball. With sixteen batted passes in the last two seasons.

There was a worry that Harris would not be back as he became a free agent this offseason, but with a new contract under his belt, Broncos Country can rest assured that he will be terrorizing defenses for at least three more years in orange and blue.


Harris’s leadership is something this young team sorely needs and fortunately, he will get to continue to lead the charge in Denver.

Jones potentially has the most upside of the core three being it is only his third season on the NFL. Jones has proven to be a load on the edge and is the most gifted pass rusher of the bunch.

Given the shallow depth of the position group, he should be an absolute lock to start every game this upcoming season. Jones has not had a career free of bumps along the way, but he has shown growth each season thus far and, should that continue, has a chance to be an even more exciting playmaker.

With 6.5 sacks last season, he is picking up from a great place and will likely match or surpass that production in 2021.

Defensive line depth

We have covered how nice starting group looks, but as you look further down the depth chart it becomes less like a who’s who of names and more like a game of “Guess Who?”.

If any of the players will sound familiar to fans, it will likely be McTelvin Agim. Agim is played in ten games as a rookie last season, with minimal statistical impact, recording only two solo tackles and zero tackles for loss.

That is not to say he is a bad player, but Denver will need more from him as a rotational guy on this defensive line if they hope to spell the starter’s minutes at all.

In college at Arkansas, Agim flashed because of his speed and quickness for a man of his size. Those traits allowed him to be exceedingly effective in shooting gaps and creating pileups. He has a ways to go but his potential, if cultivated, could make him a mainstay in the line rotation.

Another familiar name to fans might be Marquiss Spencer. Selected with the Broncos’ seventh-round pick in this year’s draft, he may not have a clear path to meaningful minutes but instead looks more like a developmental project.

If Spencer comes out and shows out early in minicamp and training camp there may be an opportunity to earn some field time, especially with the special teams unit, but the likelihood of him being an impact player from day one is slim.

Beyond those two, the waters get a little muddy as the rest of the defensive linemen consist of journeymen who have had no team to call home and inexperienced young players who have yet to cut their teeth in the NFL.

Between Jonathan Harris, DeShawn Williams, Isaiah Mack, Dayon Sizer, and Shamar Stephen the battle is on to see who will end up getting in there and having an opportunity to put their personal stamp on an NFL game.

The Broncos may have some tough decisions on who to plug into the starting lineup should one of the staters go down, including a potential look to free agency, should none rise to the occasion.

Guys like Jurell Casey, Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, and former Bronco Kyle Peko still have gone unsigned and might be worth a look should the need arise. Denver does not need to make a move today, but it will likely be something they are eyeing as the season gets underway.

How it shakes out

Any competition in training camp will be solely for depth spots as the staters are set in stone. As of today, the depth chart should have Jones, Purcell and Harris starting with Agim, Williams, Spencer and the rest playing a rotational or reserve role.

Denver will need dominant play upfront if they hope to boast a top-five defense this year as some have predicted.

Fortunately for Denver, they have the anchor players they need to do just that. Health remains the biggest factor considering a lack of reliable depth, but if they can remain injury-free, go ahead and put the rest of the NFL on notice.