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Is the Broncos Defense Worse than Last Year?

Over the offseason, the Broncos led by GM John Elway focused on building up the offense. They secured Melvin Gordon to add backfield depth and Graham Glasgow for run blocking. The front office also used their first two picks on stud wide receivers in Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe leaving in free agency certainly didn’t help a team with a lot of holes to fill. With all this focus on crafting a high-powered offense does it affect the aging defense much? And will the Broncos schedule be too much for the defense to handle?

Defensive Line

Not a lot of changes were made talent-wise on the D-line but there will be a leadership change. Eight-year Bronco leader Derek Wolfe left for Baltimore to join Denver native Calais Campbell on a revamped defensive line. Wolfe may not stand out much on paper but in his time in the mile-high, he developed into one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the league. In his place, the front office sent a seventh-round pick to Tennessee for defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

Image courtesy of Zach Bolinger

For Casey’s abilities, this is great value but he tends to be injury-prone and at 30 years old those injuries could sideline him longer. On the field, Casey plays a much different style than Wolfe. Casey is a defensive tackle who can sometimes edge rush and Wolfe is a defensive end who can sometimes play on the interior. Casey uses his 6-foot-1 frame to bully offensive linemen and get to the quarterback. Skills wise they’re both fairly different but in terms of effectiveness, they’re pretty equal.

The Broncos also added McTelvin Agim and Derek Tuszka in the draft. Both are decent in terms of talent but if given a chance Tuszka might develop into a terrific pass-rushing option for the team.

Linebacker

The linebacking core is still the same as last year which is a huge bonus. In recent years the defense has relied on the linebackers to not only play tight coverage but also to rush the passer when the d-line is bad. The Broncos run a 3-4 defense meaning there are four linebackers out on the field most of the time. Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Alexander Johnson are all staples in the linebacking core that will carry the defense if they stay healthy. Look for rookie Justin Strnad to also make a difference in the limited downs he’ll play.

Secondary

Even with the loss of Chris Harris Jr. in free-agency, the secondary may have gotten better. Before Harris even signed with the Chargers the Broncos made a trade for A.J. Bouye. The Broncos sent a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for Bouye as the first move of the offseason. Bouye was expected to be cut by the Jags but the Broncos front office stepped in before it could happen. In Jacksonville, Bouye was a pro-bowler with his counterpart Jalen Ramsey and in 2017 he racked up a career-high six interceptions.

Image courtesy of Jeff Yoder

Another great addition to the secondary came through this year’s draft. Michael Ojemudia was drafted in the third round from Iowa who has produced a lot of good corners in recent years. The Broncos staff has high praise from the rookie even before any practices have started. The staff says he’s a fast learner and has already picked up this new system. Ojemudia is expected to start in week one so expect to see a lot from him out on the field.

Defensive Schedule

On paper, some may see the new Broncos defense as worse than last year but on the field, it might be different. Next season the Broncos face the fifth easiest defensive scheduled in the league. Week one against Derrick Henry and week three against Tom Brady may be hard but after that it’s smooth sailing. At least for out of conference play. The Chiefs will still be high powered and hard to stop so beating them is a long shot. So not only will the Defense not be worse on paper, they might be better on the field.

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