The Denver Broncos should be active in their pursuit of free agent defensive linemen, and they have some key pieces to possibly lure DJ Reader from Houston.
Is it possible that we could see DJ Reader go from chasing around Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock in a blowout loss on his home field in Houston to chasing him around on the practice field in Denver?
You never know, but Reader is one of the top available free agent defensive linemen in 2020, and he should undoubtedly be on the short list of targets for the Denver Broncos and general manager John Elway.
I took a look at another free agent I really like for Denver — New York’s Leonard Williams — on Thursday.
Reader, who doesn’t turn 26 until July 1, is a 6-foot-3, 347 pound defensive line prospect who can play a variety of positions on the line, and play them well.
He has played in all but three games over the course of his first four years in the NFL, and he’s just continued to get better and better. He racked up 52 total tackles this season for Houston, but for a 347 pound man, the most impressive stat to me is this: 13 hits on the quarterback.
Nose tackles or guys with Reader’s measurables are not getting to the QB that often in the NFL today. They just aren’t. He has also piled up 11 tackles for loss over the last two years and is putting a ton of pressure on the quarterback in the passing game.
Playing 59 percent of the defensive snaps over the last two seasons, Reader is also right up there in terms of usage with what the Broncos would be replacing in Shelby Harris, who played just over 60 percent of the snaps for the Broncos in 2019.
The Texans initially acquired Reader in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Clemson. He’s developed quite well over his first four years in the league and could definitely give the Broncos a boost on the defensive line, where help is needed with Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, and Adam Gotsis all slated for free agency.
The Broncos, in my opinion, already have some of the best recruiting tools in the NFL when it comes to free agency. Not only do they have a bunch of cap space, a general manager in John Elway who is a Hall of Fame player and someone players still look up to, but they also have arguably the best defensive coach in football — Vic Fangio.
Fangio’s scheme has provided many players with some of the most prosperous years they have had in their professional careers.
In addition to Fangio, the Broncos employ Bill Kollar, one of the roughest, toughest, and best defensive line coaches/talent developers in football.
But even in saying all that, I think the Broncos have two key pieces that can lure Reader to Denver if he is, indeed, one of their top targets.
The first key piece is one of Reader’s former teammates — Kareem Jackson. Jackson was a defensive back with the Texans his entire career (2010-2018) before he ended up signing with the Denver Broncos last offseason as a free agent.
I don’t know for a fact that Jackson and Reader were close or anything, but they played a lot of football together for three years in Houston before Jackson came to the Broncos.
The other key piece for the Broncos is the recently hired John Pagano, who spent 2018-19 with the Houston Texans as a top assistant for the defense and coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Pagano will now work with the Broncos’ outside linebackers, but he could certainly be part of the recruiting process for someone like Reader if that is the direction the Broncos go.
I love the idea of adding a player like Reader because, even at what is likely to be a pretty high price tag, I think the Broncos could still wind up pursuing another starting caliber player in free agency, maybe even one of the top-tier or second-tier guys.
Keep your eyes peeled for more possible free agent options for the Broncos, but Reader is a strong candidate to be at or near the top of their list for his versatility, age, and productivity as a pass rusher.