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Broncos Draft Prospects: Defensive Line

Posted Apr 16, 2014

Independent analyst Andrew Mason takes a look at the ideal draft range for defensive linemen in 2014 and the Broncos' history drafting those positions.

IDEAL DRAFT RANGE: It depends on what you want.

If the goal is to find a fast defensive end who is also big enough to stand up against the run and play every down, you'd better pounce as early as the first round. More one-dimensional defensive ends -- sub package pass rushers or first- and second-down run stoppers -- can be found elsewhere, often between Rounds 3 and 6.

Defensive tackles also have a split. A player like Sylvester Williams, who has a pass-rush background but can also defend the run, will go in the first round. One-technique types who are more likely to play between 20 and 30 snaps and aren't as versatile can be found on the second or third days of the draft.

RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: Since John Elway became executive vice president of football operations in 2011, he has emphasized this area of the defense. That was apparent from the selection of Miller with the No. 2 overall pick that year, and continued with defensive end Derek Wolfe and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams leading off the 2012 and 2013 draft classes.

Miller is listed as a linebacker, but his continued work as a pass-rushing defensive end in sub packages defines him.

If you count Miller among the linebackers, the Broncos have still invested in five defensive linemen in Elway's drafts, with the most recent being fifth-round pick Quanterus Smith last year, who missed the season as he continued recovery from a torn ACL suffered at Western Kentucky that was the only reason why he slipped to the third day of the draft.

Williams was also the first defensive tackle selected by the Broncos in Round 1 since Trevor Pryce in 1997.

BRONCOS OUTLOOK: In spite of losing Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips to free agency, the Broncos have a full stable of pass rushers and interior defensive linemen and don't have a pressing need. But the lack of obvious needs elsewhere on much of the roster could lead to a pick as early as the first round if a player with a high grade falls. This is especially true of pass rushers, considering that Von Miller is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament and DeMarcus Ware, while elite if healthy, is going into his 11th season.

The progress of Smith and Lerentee McCray will bear close monitoring this summer, and will impact how the Broncos construct their depth. Both spent last year on injured reserve. Smith is a defensive end who could find a role in pass-rush sub packages, while McCray might find his home as a pure strong-side backup to Miller who can also line up with his hand in the dirt if needed.

At defensive tackle, the Broncos must consider the contract situations and future plans regarding Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton; both have deals that expire after this season. The presence of Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe helps the team's cause and its overall interior depth, since both are big defensive ends that can bounce inside in pass-rush situations. Mitch Unrein provides depth, but the future of this area of the team could rest in Williams' grasp.