Since Terrance Knighton came aboard in 2013, the Denver Broncos’ defensive line has been reborn. Knighton’s connection with former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio gave the Broncos a duo that apparently is worth its weight in gold — literally. Knighton is set for a big payday this offseason while Del Rio earned a head coaching gig from the Oakland Raiders.
It’s strongly rumored that the two could reunite again in Oakland after spending two years together in Denver, but we’ll see what the Broncos have to say about it.
The big news in Denver on the defensive line is the fact that the team hired Bill Kollar, who I’m going to refer to as ‘Wild Bill’, the former Houston Texans defensive line coach that has been working with the best defensive player in the NFL — J.J. Watt.
With Wild Bill in Denver, the Broncos will be a ferocious unit up front, but who will be in the starting lineup? The Broncos have personnel to make the transition to a 3-4 defense, but in all reality, the line probably won’t look much different than it did a year ago. The Broncos used so many different fronts and nickel packages that the base unit wasn’t even really a 4-3, it was more of a 3-4 anyway.
Still, the transition in defense will require some different or possibly new personnel, and it will be interesting to see how the Broncos adapt. Under contract for 2014 are Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams, and Marvin Austin (undisclosed contract info).
With three or four defensive linemen under contract, the Broncos will be looking to add at least that many through free agency and the draft while making sure they have enough capital to re-sign Jackson and Wolfe next offseason.
Here are some players that the Broncos could sign this offseason to play on their new look defensive line.
The (Probably) Unrealistic Dream — Ndamukong Suh, Lions
There are plenty of reasons why the Broncos won’t sign Ndamukong Suh, including scheme fit and financial investment, but boy it would make a splash wouldn’t it?
It’s probably a dream, probably unrealistic, but you have to at least throw it out there. It might not be responsible for the Broncos to invest 10 percent of their salary cap space in 2015 to Suh, but certainly it would be fun to watch. Suh is a top three defensive tackle in the NFL who plays a lot of snaps, gets to the quarterback, and terrorizes quarterbacks.
There are rumors he wants to play for Seattle, and also that the Raiders are going to hand him a blank check. The Broncos might need to stay away from that bidding war.
The Hometown Discount — Terrance Knighton, Broncos
Knighton, as I mentioned before, has been a beast since coming to the Broncos, and has helped return their defensive line to one of not only relevance, but dominance. The Broncos have apparently not extended the olive branch to Knighton yet, but you can bet he won’t leave Denver without a contract offer in hand.
That is, unless the Broncos have priorities elsewhere.
Knighton is a mammoth inside, but he’s got to keep his weight in check (he was fined at the end of the season for being over required playing weight). If he works hard and is motivated, which I expect he will be with new defensive line coach Bill Kollar, the 2014 team captain and one of the best run defenders in the NFL will be back on a three or four year deal.
Knighton signed with the Broncos for less than $3 million per year initially. I think they could double his pay on a three year deal and he would be satisfied, and the Broncos should be as well.
The Young Scheme Fit — Dan Williams, Cardinals
There were a ton of Broncos fans who wanted Williams back in 2010 when he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. The Broncos ended up taking Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow in the first round that year, and Williams was picked up by the Cardinals. He has turned into a heck of a run defender, ranking 14th among defensive tackles in Pro Football Focus overall grades.
Williams is a bit of a better pass rusher than Knighton, but not quite as good against the run. Overall, they were very close in overall rating. Williams is 27 years old and one of the top defensive linemen on the open market after the initial wave of big names, and he’s played in a 3-4 defense since he was drafted by the Cardinals.
He could be a great fit as a nose tackle in the Broncos’ new look defense.
That Other Lions Guy — Nick Fairly, Lions
Once upon a time, the Denver Broncos and John Elway attempted to trade up into the first round to take Nick Fairley, and couldn’t get a deal done. It was the same year they drafted Von Miller with the 2nd overall pick, and some thought they might take Fairley with that pick.
Fairley is a good defensive lineman, but comes with his own baggage and has an issue with penalties at times. He had a bad grade from Pro Football Focus in the penalty category and at times is undisciplined, but he’s a heck of a defensive tackle and is developing into one of the best in the NFL.
The Lions are going to try to keep at least one of Fairley or Suh, and there have been rumors that they will be doing what it takes to keep Suh in a Detroit uniform. If that’s the case, Fairley could be the top defensive tackle on the open market along with Terrance Knighton.
The Broncos once liked Fairley enough to try to trade up to get him. Might they go after him in free agency this year?
Pass Rushing Bigs — Jared Odrick, Dolphins; Stephen Paea, Bears; Henry Melton, Cowboys
Odrick, Paea, and Melton all graded out on the top 20 of Pro Football Focus’ defensive tackle rankings this past season, and none of them graded well against the run. Odrick was average at best against the run, but Paea and Melton were flat out poor against it, but were so good at getting pressure on the quarterback that they received high grades overall.
Odrick has the size to play defensive end in a 3-4 look, and might be the best fit of the three. Paea and Melton might be best utilized in a four-man front.
Bargain Bin — C.J. Mosley, Lions; Cory Redding, Colts; Ahtyba Rubin, Browns