The Denver Broncos edge rusher position is one area the team has questions about as they prepare for this upcoming season. With high expectations surrounding the position, what’s the outlook for second-year pass rusher Nik Bonitto?

Can Nik Bonitto break into the rotation for the Denver Broncos this year?

This is a question that many Broncos fans have asked surrounding Denver’s late 2022 second-round draft pick, Nik Bonitto. Bonitto is an extremely athletic player who has demonstrated flashes here and there as an outside linebacker.

Heading into this season, the initial starting projected players at edge rusher included Randy Gregory and Baron Browning. Gregory is fully healthy after dealing with a knee injury last season, while Browning is expected to start the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, according to Broncos head coach Sean Payton. Initially, it would feel like Bonitto would step into that role based on his status as a late-round two pick, but that hasn’t been the case yet.

Last season, Denver dealt with a multitude of injuries at the position while also dealing away Bradley Chubb. Even under these circumstances, Bonitto only played 35% of the team’s defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. During those 357 snaps played, he contributed 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and six quarterback pressures. Considering his sample size, Bonitto has all of the tools and traits to develop into an impact player for the Denver Broncos defense.

Third-year player Jonathon Cooper has quickly emerged as a player to watch based on his performance during organized team activities. He put together one of the more consistent performances at outside linebacker from the first day of practice until the last day. On top of that, the Broncos also signed former Kansas City Chiefs pass rusher Frank Clark during OTAs, with Payton deeming him as an outside linebacker.

These moves don’t indicate that the Broncos feel Bonitto is behind, but one of the keywords that Payton and general manager George Paton have mentioned is ‘vision.’ How does Bonitto factor into that vision?

Competition is key. Despite the additions to the position, Bonitto will be in line to compete for a role on defense this season and has every opportunity before him to make it happen. He’ll have to produce consistently during training camp and, more importantly, carry that over into production in the NFL Preseason, where Denver will be on the road for the first two weeks before concluding the preseason at home against the Los Angeles Rams.

With players like Cooper, Clark, Aaron Patrick, Christopher Allen, Marcus Haynes, and Thomas Incoom, competition will be extensive for Bonitto — but if he produces consistently during the preseason, he’ll prove without a shadow of a doubt that he should be involved in the Broncos pass rush rotation this season. This extends to production on special teams as well.