The Denver Broncos have a few different areas to address this offseason but most of all they’re in need of adding more talent on the front lines. Offense and defense. After our offensive tackle preview – which is easily the Broncos biggest need after Russell Okung’s likely departure – it’s time to look at the defensive trenches, an area in which Denver needs more depth overall on top of potentially two new starters on the front three.
With Adam Gotsis still not a certainty to be the starting end opposite Derek Wolfe – same goes for Vance Walker whose status post injury is uncertain – and Sylvester Williams potentially on his way out in free agency, the Broncos could need a starter at nose tackle and defensive end.
As free agency approaches, here are the Broncos best options to upgrade on the line.
The big splash signings
Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals
The Denver metro area product is in the midst of his prime and at 30 years of age, but it’s natural to wonder how long he’ll keep up. At 6-foot-8 and 300 chiseled pounds, he’s an imposing figure as a 3-4 end with length for days.
In 2016, he was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest rated interior defensive lineman behind only Aaron Donald. His pass rushing score was also second behind Donald as he finished the year with eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
Money and durability will come into play with him at 30 but his play and utility on the field can’t be debated. With his skill added to this defense, the sky is the limit.
Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers
Short is PFF’s third-highest rated interior lineman and the second best in their run defense metric. Check one and two for the Broncos if they’re trying to get a big return on an even bigger investment. He’s also a top-ten pass rusher playing at an almost identical level to what Malik Jackson did last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Short has been a crucial thumper in Carolina’s strong front the past few seasons. He’d be entering his second contract as a professional and seeking big money, though at 28 years of age he might just be worth it.
Dontari Poe, NT, Kansas City Chiefs
On name and former draft pedigree alone, you’d think Poe would belong in the top category but his play hasn’t been as great in recent years. Last season he ranked 90th in the NFL per PFF while playing as many snaps against the run as Sly Williams did.
At 26, it’s easy to believe that there’s still gas in the tank but throwing big money at him might not be the best solution.
Poe arrived in the NFL as an athletic freak with mammoth size and off the chart athletic skill. At 26 and still entering his athletic prime he could be a gamble worth taking, but a gamble none the less.
Chris Baker, DE, Washington Redskins
Baker is known mostly for his personality and his big smile. But he played in 782 snaps last season, one of the highest totals for any interior lineman, let alone a 330-pound man.
Baker grades out as a top-20 run defender and a top-30 pass rusher. As a versatile player in the Broncos’ front who could play snaps at both end and nose guard, he could be a valuable depth piece and might be had at a cheaper salary than any of the guys listed above him.
Johnathan Hankins, NT, New York Giants
Hankins was also involved in a ton of snaps last season – 816 to be exact – and while he hasn’t graded out all that well off his tape in 2016, he’s still only 24 years old.
Hankins is a big man at 320 pounds whose bread and butter entering the league was run defense, but he’s also shown some nice pass-rushing skills, highlighted by a seven sack 2014 season. Like Baker, he brings versatility to the Broncos three-man front which is a huge asset. After having two lackluster seasons in New York, he might be had at a good value and there should still be a good amount left in the tank.
Other (cheaper) options
Alan Branch, NT, New England Patriots
At 350-pounds and 32 years of age, Branch is in a category of his own. At the right price, he’d be a valuable asset to the Broncos front. In 2016, Branch had a career renaissance with some very stout play that got him graded in the top 10 by PFF for his run defense.
He should be looking to cash in, but if the market is tepid, the Broncos offer to play on a great defense might be enough to get him on a worthwhile short term contract.
Nick Fairley, DT, New Orleans Saints
Remember when people had Fairley pegged as Denver’s top pick in the 2011 Draft and not Von Miller? A lot has changed since then, but Fairley isn’t a lost cause, he’s still 29 and coming off a six-sack season with the Saints.
The former Auburn Tiger grades out as a top-30 producer in PFF and shined in particular with his pass rushing skills. His run defense was poor but in a rotational role he’ll be just what Denver needs. Rotating him and Gotsis at end could be a very nice marriage.
Bennie Logan, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
Logan is still only 27 and has started double-digit games every season since his rookie year. His production has decreased some in 2016 but he’s a fit system wise for the Broncos at end and should still have the talent to be a valuable player on this front.