Ranking the Broncos’ most valuable additions on defense

Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey (99) causes a fumble by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Jan 11, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey (99) causes a fumble by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

John Elway completely overhauled the Broncos’ offensive side of the football, which has led to that unit, understandably, garnering most of the offseason hype.

That said, the additions on the defensive side figure to make the unit one of the league’s elite squads. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how much each defensive addition will move the needle for the Broncos.

1. Bradley Chubb

The Broncos pass rush took a massive hit last season when Bradley Chubb tore his ACL against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4 of last season, making his return in 2020 incredibly valuable.

Denver dropped from the league’s seventh-highest graded pass rush in 2018 to the 25th-highest graded pass rush in 2019. A lot of that dropoff stemmed from the lack of sustainable pressure coming from the side opposite Von Miller, as Chubb’s replacements totaled six sacks and 33 quarterback pressures.

For comparison’s sake, Miller alone tallied nine sacks and 77 pressures in a down year, which could also be attributed to the lack of a pass rush coming from the other side.

2. A.J. Bouye

If the Broncos didn’t trade for A.J. Bouye, their secondary would be in dire straights.

The team’s next best boundary corner is either their third-round pick Micheal Ojemudia — who most draftniks thought should have gone on the third day of the draft — De’Vante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom, or Davontae Harris.

Yikes.

Fortunately, Denver now has Bouye on the roster, who is just one season removed from Pro Bowl-caliber play and two seasons removed from All-Pro-caliber play.

His performance trailed off on the sinking ship that was the 2019 Jaguars, but pairing him with Vic Fangio’s cornerback-friendly scheme and better surrounding talent should help him return to form.

3. Jurrell Casey

An even more masterful trade by John Elway was bringing in star defensive lineman Jurrell Casey for nothing more than a seventh-round pick.

If Casey can maintain the level of play that has earned him a spot in each of the last five Pro Bowls, he will not only replace Derek Wolfe but be an upgrade on what Wolfe provided the team.

The addition of Casey also gives the Broncos their best stable of defensive linemen and interior pass rushers since their legendary 2015 unit. A starting group of Casey, Shelby Harris and Mike Purcell, with McTelvin Agim, Dre’Mont Jones and Demarcus Walker waiting in the wings is enough to make any quarterback tremble with fear.

4. Bryce Callahan

It seems everyone forgot about Bryce Callahan as he was sidelined for the 2019 season while he rehabbed from a foot injury, but he will quickly become a household name in Broncos Country.

During his first four years in the NFL, he went from being an undrafted afterthought to one of the league’s best slot cornerbacks and a star on Vic Fangio’s defense.

If he’s healthy in 2020, though that is a relatively large ‘if’, he could easily outplay Bouye and end up being the Broncos’ best cornerback.

5. Justin Strnad

Justin Strnad probably won’t start the season at linebacker next to Alexander Johnson, but it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if he stole Todd Davis‘ spot sooner rather than later.

The Broncos haven’t had a standout coverage linebacker since Danny Trevathan left in free agency following their Super Bowl victory, and Strnad projects to be just that.

His length, speed, ranginess, and instincts make him a tremendous asset in coverage, as does his feverish tape study habits that Wake Forest defensive coordinator praised him for. With Johnson and Strnad, the Broncos should be set at inside linebacker for the foreseeable future.

6. Sam Martin

A punter over McTelvin Agim, Micheal Ojemudia, and Derrek Tuszka? Really?

Yes, really. But don’t take that as a slight towards any of the Broncos other defensive additions from this offseason, as it’s actually a commentary on what Colby Wadman provided the Broncos the last two seasons.

Despite having the advantage of altitude for half of his games, Wadman’s net average of 37.9 yards per punt was the worst in the league. Not only is Sam Martin ranked 10 spots ahead of Wadman in regards to his net average, but he also finished among the league’s top 10 punters in terms of pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line.

The Broncos defense should be a top 10 unit at the very least and has the potential to be the best in the league, and giving your opponent worse field position, even if it’s just a five-yard difference on every possession further limits their ability to get within range of scoring. Martin should easily be able to accomplish that feat for the Broncos.

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