The Denver Broncos vaunted Orange Crush defense was a little less imposing in 2016. After allowing just 283 yards, and 18.5 points per game in 2015, last year’s squad wasn’t quite as stingy. The Broncos surrendered 316 yards and 18.6 points per game this past season. That isn’t a giant difference, but those extra yards proved to be costly down the stretch.
Unlike their Super Bowl season, we saw this defense wear down at times and as a result they were unable to make plays at crunch time. How much of the letdown was due to the defensive line?
Jared Crick (DE)
The Broncos quietly signed the five-year veteran in the offseason, without much fanfare. Crick had played four seasons in Houston, and the Broncos signed him to a two-year deal for just $4 million.
Crick responded with one of the best years of his career. He compiled 53 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and maybe even more importantly, he managed to play all 16 games. He was solid against the run from the end position, and was one of the more consistent defensive linemen on the roster.
Final grade: B
Derek Wolfe (DE)
There is no questioning the effort of Derek Wolfe every time he steps on the field. Wolfe plays hard on every snap, and has turned into one of the most productive 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.
Wolfe finished the season with 51 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and is one of the top defensive linemen in the league against the run. The concern about Wolfe is his ability to stay healthy. The fifth-year veteran has battled a number of neck injuries, and also suffered through an elbow injury, late in the season. Wolfe missed just two games, but let’s hope that he can get back to full strength for the upcoming season.
Final grade: A-
Sylvester Williams (DT)
When Malik Jackson left last year for more money in Jacksonville, the Broncos pinned a number of their hopes on Sylvester Williams. Drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Williams had been solid playing alongside Jackson, benefiting from playing in a rotational system.
This season, getting more snaps than usual, Williams posted only 29 tackles, and just a single sack. The Broncos were definitely hoping that he would have a more impactful season. With his contract expiring this week, Williams is set to become an unrestricted free agent. It’s hard to imagine that he will be back in Denver.
Final grade: D+
Billy Winn (DE)
Playing in a backup role, Winn didn’t get many opportunities. A sixth-round draft choice by the Cleveland Browns in 2012, Winn had some bright moments this season in the playing time that he did receive. He was very disruptive to the Cincinnati Bengals offensive front in Week 3, and the Broncos coaching staff felt like he was showing improvement every week.
Final grade: C-
Adam Gotsis (DE)
While many draft pundits had Gotsis falling to the third or even fourth rounds, the Broncos liked the athletic Australian, and grabbed him with their second-round pick. Coming off of a torn ACL during his senior season at Georgia Tech, he got himself ready to play by training camp, and impressed the coaching staff with his hustle.
Gotsis got playing time in 14 games, but is going to need to add some bulk to hold up to the rigors of the NFL trenches. He finished the year with nine total tackles and a fumble recovery. With Vance Walker set to become a free agent, the Broncos need Gotsis to be ready to go next year.
Final grade: D+
Darius Kilgo (DT)
The Broncos selected Darius Kilgo in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and he had showed some promise, but was struggling to earn any real playing time. Kilgo played in a total of nine games, making just five tackles. The Broncos released Kilgo in November, so that they could sign long snapper Thomas Gifford. He was signed by the Patriots, and placed on the practice squad, then released following the Super Bowl.
Final grade: D-