Player: Sylvester Williams
Explanation: The 2013 1st round pick finally gained steam in his third year with the Broncos, setting career highs in starts, tackles and sacks. In a position that is notorious for slow development at the pro level, the third year proved to be the charm for Williams as he was given the right
opportunity combined with the right position coach to maximize his abilities.
The only reason why I don’t list him as a brick at this time is that he only has one year left on his rookie deal. The Broncos could certainly use the fifth year option on him to keep him around in 2017, but the question is, is he worth the fifth year value? Williams is one of those players that played fairly well throughout the entire season, but it may not be enough to warrant a sizable raise for his second contract.
Also keep in mind that teams have to designate the fifth year option on their eligible player/s no later than this coming May. That means in order to secure Williams’ services in 2017, they’d have to be willing to give him the fifth year option money based off only one year of starting experience.
The fifth year option is a nice option to have, but the Broncos may be better off trying to re-sign him to a multi-year deal that may be more cap friendly than the fifth year option. At this point, I’m willing to guess that he may be a candidate for an “in-season extension” like Chris Harris and Derek Wolfe were, if Williams can keep up his play and both sides can come to a reasonable number.
Player: Vance Walker
Explanation: The seventh year pro made his third AFC West stop in as many years after Kansas City released him last off-season. One very underrated aspect of Elway and the Broncos’ formula for Super Bowl success has been finding unheralded or unknown free agents and giving them the chance
to “bet on themselves” with short term, reasonably priced contracts. Walker is definitely one of those players.
After inking a two year, four million dollar deal with Denver, Walker immediately found himself a large role on the Defensive Line. With the exception of replacing Derek Wolfe for the first four weeks of the season, Walker was mostly a rotational player for the length of the 2015 season.
Walker wasn’t just any guy coming off of the bench, though. He was a versatile and dynamic playmaker all throughout the Defensive Line. Despite the average size for a 3-4 lineman (6’2, 305 lbs), Walker had the ability play all three positions on the line. Wherever Walker played, he made an impact.
Want another great fact about Walker’s acquisition by the Broncos? He makes no difference when you factor in team acquisitions/losses for compensatory draft picks. Since he was cut by the Chiefs last spring, they can’t count him as a loss and therefore, does not effect the Broncos chances of receiving less for draft compensatory. You add a good player at an important position while weakening a division rival. I’ll take that two for one deal…
With one year left on his deal, I imagine that he would be the first in-house candidate to replace Malik Jackson on the starting line(if he were to depart).
Player: Darius Kilgo
Explanation: A 6th round pick in the 2015 draft, Kilgo was seen as a developmental guy that profiled well in a 3-4 defensive line. After showing promise collapsing the pocket and more pass rush ability than he did
in college, Kilgo secured himself a spot on the 53 man roster. Despite the productive pre-season, Kilgo was only active for 9 games in the regular season. He was regularly pushed aside in favor of his veteran peers.
I think this off-season is going to be key for Kilgo to make the next step and prove to the Broncos that he can play a bigger role in their defense in 2016. With Malik Jackson and Antonio Smith heading to Free Agency next week, Kilgo has the opportunity to capitalize on their potential departures and carve out a strong rotational role moving forward.
Either way, I like Kilgo’s prospects of sticking around in 2016 and having the opportunity to make name for himself on this dominant Broncos defense.
Player: Kenny Anunike
Explanation: A potential diamond in the rough, Anunike joined the Broncos as a college free agent shortly after the 2014 draft and immediately showed promise in the pass rushing department. Anunike
was looking like another player that would join the now defunct stretch of rookie free agents to make the Broncos 53 man roster until an elbow injury shelved Anunike for his entire rookie season.
In 2015, he seemed to pick up where he left off the previous pre-season and made the Broncos 53 man roster. Unfortunately, his time on the active roster didn’t last long. After being active for three games and registering only one tackle, Anunike was put on injured reserve for the 2nd consecutive year.
Like Kilgo, the current situation revolving around Jackson/Smith gives Anunike a great opportunity make a role for himself along the defensive line. At only 280 lbs, I don’t know if Anunike has the necessary weight and strength to hold his own as one of the starting Defensive Ends but I could definitely see him being an effective situational pass rusher.
In a league where great QB play and consequently, getting pressure on the QB is key to success, Anunike pass rushing ability could give the Broncos yet another dangerous player coming off of the edge next year. It’s up to Anunike to stay healthy and make the most of that opportunity.