Nik Bonitto provides exciting pass-rushing depth and brings a new element to Denver’s D

Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto (11) celebrates after sacking Iowa State's Brock Purdy (15) during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Oklahoma won 28-21.
Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto (11) celebrates after sacking Iowa State's Brock Purdy (15) during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Oklahoma won 28-21. Ou Vs Iowa State Football

After trading Von Miller away last season, edge rusher became a major need for the Denver Broncos, so it only makes sense they would continue to invest in it here, especially with such a talented edge-rushing class at their disposal.

Denver ended up selecting Nik Bonitto. Could he be their next Von Miller, their next Shane Ray, or maybe somewhere in the giant gulf between those two? Let’s look.

Reasons to love the pick

The Broncos had a severe need for help rushing the passer off the edge. Randy Gregory has never played more than 600 snaps in any given season, and Bradley Chubb has two terrific seasons and two injury-plagued campaigns.

In other words, both feel like 50-50 propositions.

Bonitto provides Denver with a depth piece that can consistently affect the passer in case of Chubb or Gregory going down with an injury, and will be a nice rotational piece that can get a considerable amount of playing time as a rookie in a designated pass-rusher role.

He also provides the Broncos with a presence off the edge they were previously lacking. Chubb and Gregory are both big-bodied powerful edge rushers, while Bonitto is an F-14 fighter jet off the edge who wants to beat opposing tackles with speed and his ability to bend.

Box score scouting is always dubious, but production at edge rusher tends to translate better to the NFL than production at other positions, and Bonitto was nothing if not productive.

His pass rush win rate (25.2%) ranked second among all Power Five edge rushers since Pro Football Focus started tracking it, trailing only Nick Bosa, and his 2021 pass rush win rate (27.3%) led the class.

It’s not frequent you’re able to get an edge-rushing talent like Bonitto at 64, so the Broncos found quality value for the pick.

He even has good enough lateral mobility to kick inside and play inside linebacker occasionally, which provides depth at another position of need for the Broncos. He might not be your standard inside linebacker, but he can provide some nice pass rush and attacking ability from that position, creating a potentially dead pass rush package.

Reasons to hate the pick

As talented a pass rusher as Bonitto is, there are still concerns about how his productivity will translate to the NFL.

His 32.5-inch arms are shorter than ideal from an edge rusher and will lead to NFL tackles getting the first point of meaningful contact more often than not. On top of that, Bonitto is fairly light in the pants, so when an opposing tackle gets a hold of him, he struggles to disengage and win the rep consistently.

At the end of the day though, Bonitto is an excellent speed rusher and should be able to continue to thrive in that role at the NFL level, but the other areas of his game are presently underdeveloped.

This is especially true of his run defense, as he struggles to set the edge, especially against stronger tackles. To win reps in the run game he has to rely on his speed and flexibility to create backfield penetration, which he’s good at, but still isn’t enough to cover all his warts in this facet.

If he’s asked to defend the run consistently early on in his career, it will probably be bad for the Broncos.

Final Thoughts

If Nik Bonitto is able to play within his designated role as a pass-rushing specialist during his rookie season, this pick could be a grand slam.

Bonitto will immediately upgrade Denver’s depth there and is talented enough to make some splash plays for the Broncos, even with limited playing time. There are some concerns about how well his pass-rushing ability should translate, but if utilized properly, that shouldn’t be too big a problem.

However, if he’s forced into a starting role early in his career — which is a very real possibility considering the injury history of Chubb and Gregory — the Broncos will likely suffer from his lack of run defense.

Grade: B/B-

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