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NFL Draft

3 Defensive Free Agents Broncos Should Target

  • The Draft Network
  • February 23, 2021
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It’s year three for the Vic Fangio experiment in Denver, and while the rumors about his hot seat seemed largely overstated, there is some urgency for his team—especially on defense. With a new general manager in George Paton tasked with finding a quarterback to lead the offense, which has seen substantial investment over the last two years, it’s Fangio’s job to put the finishing touches on an improving defense.

The Broncos have serious cap space to play with: almost $40M, without that many significant internal free agents to sign. Beyond Justin Simmons, the big-money free safety the Broncos are likely to make the highest-paid safety in the game, the Broncos mostly have depth players to re-sign: Shelby Harris, Jeremiah Attaochu, Elijah Wilkinson.

As such, I gave them some big-money targets, considering how close their defense is to hitting a top-flight status. With some prudent, but aggressive spending, they could get pushed over the edge. 

William Jackson III, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

Denver has to be in on the cornerback market. Despite having multiple good slot coverage options—Kareem Jackson, Bryce Callahan, Essang Bassey—they could not buy an outside corner last year, with a rotation of A.J. Bouye, Michael Ojemudia, and De’Vante Bausby failing to provide much resistance on the outside. They’re a candidate to draft a corner early in the draft, and they’re a candidate to spend big money on a free agent to boot.

Unfortunately, the cornerback market doesn’t much align with that willingness. There are no Byron Joneses or James Bradberrys available this year. The top of the cornerback market has Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman—more veterans on the wrong side of 30—as well as ex-George Paton corners in Xavier Rhodes and Mackenzie Alexander.

But I’d endorse William Jackson, who is probably the best cover man available, period. He’s not a clear CB1—he wouldn’t prevent the Broncos from attacking Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain II at the top of the draft—but he gives them a player with tons of NFL experience covering NFL WR1s. With a quality defensive coach like Fangio, Jackson III should have all the help he needs to keep a strong career going… even if he is the same age as Bouye was when they acquired him last season.

Roy Robertson-Harris, IDL, Chicago Bears

There are a few Bears free agents that could fit the bill for Denver, but for my money, Roy Robertson-Harris is the best—if he gets out of Chicago. They like him there and he strengthens their rotation, but with their cap limitations and needs elsewhere, he could be a casualty of the situation. 

If he is, Denver is the best spot for him. Fangio loves versatile defenders along his front four, of which Robertson-Harris—at 6-foot-7 and 292 pounds—most definitely is one. In Shelby Harris, the Broncos had the best PBU player in the league along the trenches—Robertson-Harris has elite height and has six career PBUs in limited playing time. With his physical profile, you’d also expect him to grow as a pass-rusher—he had situational usage under Fangio when they were together in Chicago.

If the Broncos keep their rotation intact this offseason, Robertson-Harris is still a quality add. But if Harris leaves in free agency in search of a bigger deal, Robertson-Harris should be their first port of call. 

Dalvin Tomlinson, IDL, New York Giants

While Robertson-Harris is more of a B-gap rusher that is sturdy against the run, Tomlinson is a true nose tackle. A hoss in the middle of the field with dominant line-of-scrimmage control as a two-gapper, Tomlinson is the sort of player that commands multiple bodies on the line of scrimmage and can push pocket integrity as a power rusher on late downs. We saw what value there was in such a player when Vita Vea returned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster.

Tomlinson isn’t Vea, but he sure is needed for a Denver roster that suffered with Sylvester Williams at the nose last season. He represents a bigger fish than Robertson-Harris—who may come at a familiarity discount with Fangio, especially in that he hasn’t started a full season in his career—but both are needed players on the defensive line, especially if Harris leaves in free agency. 

Fangio has always been good for defensive linemen, and Tomlinson has another level of his game that he can unlock as a primary member of the rotation instead of splitting time with Dexter Lawrence.

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