In deep: How our depth makes Broncos defense scary


Before I begin with my analysis, let’s just get this out there.  How was that for “kicking and screaming”? To come back from 14 down on the road and come away with a victory is not only fantastic, but more importantly, it could set the tone for the rest of the season.  Although some of our biggest playmakers made the difference in the game against KC, it’s the depth behind our stars that will make the difference late in the season.  Let’s break it down.

Defensive End

Behind Malik Jackson, Antoino Smith and Derek Wolfe, you have Kenny Anunike and Vance Walker.  Up until this point, we haven’t been able to see Anunike in regular season action.  To me, he’ll have his impact towards the end of the season. His pass rush ability and knack to make plays will earn him some time in the line rotation. He may not see a whole lot of time in the rotation, so it’s imperative that he makes the most of his snaps while some of the veterans take a breather on the sidelines. Walker, on the other hand, offers a re-assuring veteran presence coming off the bench.  With more than 29 regular season starts on his resume and ability to play all three spots on the line, Walker boasts the experience and versatility necessary to remain a constant presence.

Nose Tackle

Rookie Darius Kilgo is the primary backup to Sylvester Williams at nose tackle, but without question, he’s shown

May 27, 2015; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos nose tackle Darius Kilgo (98) warms up before the start of organized team activities at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

enough playmaking ability to contend for that starting job at some point.  By all means, I’m not saying that Williams has been a slouch, but Kilgo’s game has made that much of a smooth transition from college to the pros.  A pure nose tackle coming out of Maryland, Kilgo was a team captain and three year starter for the Terrapins.  In an era where many college players change positions or have difficult adjustments to the pros, Kilgo is a longtime player at his position and his experience in the position shows as he made a noticeable impact in the preseason and will get his chances to do so throughout the regular season.

Outside Linebacker

Out of all the defensive positions, this position may have the best depth(in terms of ability and potential).  Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray offer a scary tandem that could start for most other teams in the NFL.  A projected top 10 draft pick, Ray fell to the #23 pick for the Broncos this past spring due to an arrest leading up to the draft. Although the off-field incident is concerning, the pure ability that Ray possesses was well worth the risk.  A dominant force at Missouri, Ray is a natural fit as an OLB in a 3-4 defense. His pass rush ability may never reach the level of Demarcus Ware or Von Miller, but he certainly has the ability to develop into a good-pro bowl caliber player opposite Miller in the future.  As for Barrett, no player earned their spot on the roster more this preseason than him.  A constant force through the preseason games, Barrett earned positive grades from Pro Football Focus in all of the games he played and often lead the team in defensive performance throughout the preseason. Barrett’s play makes him impossible to ignore and despite Ray’s draft status, Barrett should get every chance he gets to get on the field when Von or Ware take a play off.

Inside Linebacker

Unlike the pure potential that the depth at outside linebacker can offer, the players behind Danny Trevathan and

Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Todd Davis (51) in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Marshall offer as many question marks as upside.  Todd Davis is a 2nd year player that was acquired from the Saint practice squad late last year.  Despite starting two games at the end of the 2014 season, Davis showed moments of inexperience. He had trouble in coverage and did not provide a real presence in the pass rushing department.  With a change of defensive scheme, it gives Davis a chance to establish himself as a good role player.  He is a regular player on special teams, so his spot on the team is certainly secure, it’s just a question of whether his skill set can develop beyond role player status.  The other reserve is Corey Nelson. A 7th round pick in the 2014 draft, Nelson was a talented, but often injured linebacker out of Oklahoma. After spending most of his rookie season on the practice squad, his stellar special teams play is what ultimately sealed his roster spot and beat out veterans like Steven Johnson in the process. It’s hard to imagine him carving out a role as a consistent player on defense at this time, but his special teams ability will keep him on the roster for the foreseeable future.


Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster and Lorenzo Doss back up arguably the best pair of starting corners in Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. Roby, a former 1st round pick, is a virtual starter due to the amount of snaps that he sees on defense.  In a league that admires the ability to pass often, it’s wise to have three capable cornerbacks to combat the aerial assault.  Roby offers a luxury in the #3 CB, as he would be a good starter with many other teams in the league. He will find a way to work his way into the defense more often, even though he already plays a good chunk of the defensive snaps.  Webster offers a true balance of solid defensive depth and reliable special teams play. I don’t know if he’ll ever crack the Broncos starting lineup again, but it’s good to know that you have a player in Webster that can offer upside at his position, if his number is called upon.  Doss is a rookie who up to this point, has been inactive for both regular season games.  I expect him to spend much, if not the entire season on the inactive list.  A ball hawk at Tulane, Doss has a “boom or bust” potential that needs time to refine for the pro game. I don’t see him being a factor in the Broncos defense this year. Maybe 2016 will be the year we see his turnover making skills on the field, but the guys ahead of him are just too good to leave on the bench.


A trio of special teams driven players round out the defensive depth behind TJ Ward and Darian Stewart.  David

Sep 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive back Darian Stewart (26) pulls in a interception over Baltimore Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore (80) and Broncos strong safety David Bruton (30) late in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Ravens 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Bruton, the longest tenured defensive player with the team, has been a stalwart on special teams for many years now.  He’s such an important pillar for this team and it’s impossible to keep him out of the game.  That has been proven with him getting the nod to start at SS in place of TJ Ward to open the season.  A great athlete with plenty of experience, Bruton offers great ability to cover different offensive players and make the big play.

Omar Bolden is a fourth year player who when drafted, was seen as a potential starter at CB.  With his flexibility, he has not only made the transition to safety, but also made an impact on special teams. After serving as a returner for the Sun Devils, Bolden made the step to pro returner last year, leading the team in kick return yardage. His combination of special teams prowess and ability to play every position in the secondary makes Bolden an invaluable player in the secondary.

Rounding up the defensive depth is Josh Bush.  Coming into the league with the NY Jets and under the tutelage of Rex Ryan, Bush came to Denver last year and has served primarily as a special teams player. Like Doss, I don’t see Bush getting many, if any, opportunities to shine on defense this year.  His special teams ability gives him the ability to play this year, but I wouldn’t count on him working his way into the defensive rotation anytime soon.


It’s clear that the Broncos may have collected the strongest and most talented defensive unit that could rival any defensive unit that ever played for the team. It’s dynamic, scary and full of versatile players.  For a team that will rely heavily on its defense to carry them throughout the season, I believe it will be their depth that will serve as the backbone and keep the team upright for the entire season.

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