Sacking the quarterback wasn’t a problem for the Broncos in 2011. That becomes easy when you employ Von Miller, the defensive rookie of the year who had 11.5 sacks despite missing two games, and in front of him was defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who returned after missing all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle. Together they combined for 21 sacks, pacing Denver to a total of 41 a year after they had just 23.
So with that defensive step forward now solidified with the tandem of Miller and Dumervil, the focus will likely turn to the rush defense in this year’s draft. Denver’s front seven is a unit that also took a step forward in 2011, but defending the run is still the greatest area of need following a free agency period in which John Elway focused primarily on the offense between the signing of Peyton Manning, and reeling in his new targets (Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, and Andre Caldwell).
Two years ago Denver fielded one of the worst defenses against the rush, allowing 154.6 yards per game (31st). That number dropped nearly 30 yards to 126.3 in 2011, which is a sizable improvement, but it still put Denver well in the bottom half of the league (22nd).
1. As expected, Miller formed a formidable pass rush tandem with Dumervil. But the rush defense was still weak, so is it time for the Broncos to turn their attention to another area of the front seven and grab a run-stuffing defensive tackle in the first round?
The rush defense wasn’t weak all year or against every team, but I agree, it’s an area that needs to be addressed. The Broncos had one of the best run defending DTs in the league in Brodrick Bunkley, but he bolted for the New Orleans Saints. Since they spent so much money on Peyton Manning, I think the Broncos’ plan was to use their top pick on a defensive tackle in the first round unless someone is on the board that they simply can’t pass on. Lucky for them, this year’s draft is very deep at defensive tackle, so there will be quite a few guys that they are able to choose from.
2. Willis McGahee had more rushing yards in 2011 than he did over the previous two seasons, but he’ll turn 31 next year, and behind him Knowshon Moreno is recovering from an ACL injury. Is it safe to assume that a running back will be targeted early too?
Yes, running back will be targeted early by the Broncos. From what I’ve been told, there is a good chance their first three picks will be some combination of DT, CB, and RB. The Broncos didn’t target any running backs in free agency, and Moreno is probably on his last life with the Broncos organization even though he’s just entering his fourth season. He has a lot of work to do to stay on the roster past training camp. The Broncos have been looking at running backs this offseason, and I think one player who could be a great fit for them is Boise State’s Doug Martin, but they may have to take him in the first round if they want him.
3. Any other positions you’d like to see addressed?
If I were in charge of the Broncos’ draft (seven picks) I would look for two-to-three defensive tackles, two running backs, a cornerback, a receiver, and a quarterback. I’m not too worried about the quarterback situation right now, but I know the Broncos really like Brock Osweiler, and another guy who would be a really good fit is UT Chattanooga’s B.J. Coleman in the mid-rounds. It has to be the correct value, though. I think they also like undrafted free agent Mario Fannin, who came in from Auburn last year and spent 2011 on the injured reserve. I’d like to see us take two defensive tackles at least, because we’re really lacking there, and we’ve never really drafted at that position.