3 under the radar edge rushers the Broncos should target in the NFL Draft

National offensive lineman Adrian Ealy of Oklahoma (79) drills against National defensive lineman Elerson Smith of Northern Iowa (47) during National practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Jan 28, 2021; Mobile, Alabama, USA; National offensive lineman Adrian Ealy of Oklahoma (79) drills against National defensive lineman Elerson Smith of Northern Iowa (47) during National practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Headlined by the star pass-rush duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, at first glance, the edge position may not seem like a very big need for the Broncos, but if you take a closer look, there is potential change on the horizon.

One of George Paton’s first moves, as a newly hired General Manager, was to secure that Von Miller would return for the 2021 season, and he did just that, by picking up his team option valued at 17.5 million dollars.

While this is a great short-term move for the Broncos, Miller is now 32 years old and on the final year of his contract. Chubb also currently has one but should have two once the Broncos pick up his fifth-year option.

With that in mind, and questions looming around whether Malik Reed is a starting-caliber player, it would be wise to draft a developmental pass rusher in hopes of having a replacement option down the road.

In the chance the Broncos bypass on selecting an early edge in the draft, there are three under-the-radar options that could possibly fill that role.

Jordan Smith

Jordan Smith, who most recently played for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is a developmental pass rusher in every sense of the phrase.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Smith has the full physical package. Showing the desired blend of size, length, and athleticism scouts covet, he has more than enough tools in his toolbox to be a productive NFL player.

In particular, Smith has great movement skills that could translate well to multiple areas of the Vic Fangio defense. Often asking one of his outside linebackers to drop in coverage, Smith has the length, athleticism, and change of direction to thrive in this role.

This was shown in 2019 when he was asked to play in space quite frequently for the Blazers.

As a pass rusher, Smith has yet to put it all together. He flashes greatness with a fantastic first step and a trademark dip move, which is rare for someone his size. Unfortunately, those flashes were few and far between.

Although he has plenty of ability, he is still a work in progress when it comes to his hand placement, rushing with a plan, and overall technique.

Smith could benefit greatly from having a year of NFL coaching before being thrust into a major NFL role. With the unique opportunity to learn under one of the best to do it, in Von Miller, the Broncos could be the perfect landing spot to unleash his potential.

Jonathon Cooper

Jonathon Cooper is not the longest edge, at 6-foot-2, but there is still a lot to love with his game.

As a former five-star recruit coming out of high school, Cooper had very lofty expectations for his collegiate career but unfortunately, due to injuries, was only able to complete one full season.

Although he only finished with 2.5 sacks in 2020, scouts will find his pass rush skills intriguing.

Cooper’s energy and motor are unmatched while rushing the passer. Getting off the line of scrimmage in a hurry, he consistently displays a tremendous first step. This first step is matched with active hands and great power. Cooper’s bulky, yet low-to-the-ground frame allows him to get underneath offensive tackles with ease, effectively converting speed to power.

In the NFL, Cooper’s length may be reason for concern. Offensive tackles often have a big reach advantage on Cooper, which highlights his physical deficiencies. Those deficiencies also show up in the run game, as Cooper chooses to shoot gaps rather than attempting to engage with the offensive lineman to keep gap integrity.

Cast as a defensive end at Ohio State, Cooper may be better off as a 3/4 outside linebacker in the NFL, to help mitigate for his lack of length. Although he was not asked to play in space much for the Buckeyes defense, he has an opportunity to carve out a role as a designated pass rusher early in his career, until the rest of his game comes around.

Elerson Smith

At 6’6 1/2 and 262 pounds, the University of Northern Iowa product, Elerson Smith, has all the traits needed to be an exceptional pass rusher in the NFL.

At the senior bowl, Smith was a standout performer where he impressed at the weigh-in and dominated a large portion of the one-on-one drills.

Being one of the longest edge rushers in this class, Smith shows fantastic movement skills for a player his size. Specifically, while in pursuit, Smith moves effortlessly down the line of scrimmage where his long and lengthy build gives him an extraordinary tackling radius to track the ball carrier with.

While getting after the quarterback, Smith often wins with a good ball get-off, length, and suddenness.

The one big weakness in Smith’s game is his run defense. Although he looked much improved at the Senior Bowl, Smith does not carry the strength needed to set an edge or take on incoming blockers at this point in his career. This can be improved upon under an NFL strength and conditioning staff but leaves questions on how extra weight will impact his style of play.

Much like the others on this list, Smith is not ready to be an NFL starter as a rookie. He needs to greatly improve his raw power and strength but offers any team that selects him a moldable skillset that if invested into can pay off greatly.

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