Denver Broncos edge rusher room has several question marks going into 2023

Heading into the 2022 season, the Denver Broncos’ edge room as a whole was widely viewed as a group with enough talent to be one of the strongest positions on the team, while also being one of the positions where it showed the most is applicable. In hindsight, both points were true and still stand today.

Testing the outside linebackers of the Denver Broncos

Outside of the linebacker space, where do the Denver Broncos stand today after dealing with a handful of injuries and showing inconsistent play with various flashes of brilliance?

Randy Gregory and Baron Browning
Baron Browning and Randy Gregory, the two predicted starting edge rushers for defense next season, are the most talented players at that position — but that didn’t stop them from going through various ups and downs in 2022’s red-hot start, arguably the best defender of the team, which produced a total of 15 prints in three weeks.

Unfortunately for Gregory, his hot start came to an abrupt end after sustaining a knee injury in Week 4 against the Las Vegas Raiders. His injury put him on injured reserve, causing him to miss a large portion of the season before returning and only playing in weeks 15 and 16 towards the end of the season. While talent has never been Gregory’s problem, there are injuries and lost time to consider. In fact, Gregory has never started more than 11 games in a season in his career.

Looking ahead to next season, Gregory is a candidate for a starting role. He’s an ultra-talented pass rusher who can win in a variety of ways and, on the field, consistently demonstrates his ability to be one of the best in the league at that position. With that in mind, it would be prudent for the Broncos to probe the depth behind him — as it’s far from certain he’ll be available throughout the long and grueling NFL season.

Browning started alongside Gregory following the departure of Bradley Chubb and took on the role of a full-time edge rusher for the first time last season. Much like you’d expect from someone with very little experience there at the NFL level, Browning was inconsistent at times but showed brilliant flashes. Notably, in Week 5 against the Colts, Browning exploded for 10 pressings on just 20 pass rushing reps.

Browning’s high-end pass-rushing reps are wielded with visibly clear elite athleticism, with a ridiculous mix of speed, lateral agility, and bending around corners.

While his pass rushing technique is still a work in progress, it’s impressive considering how little he’s played the position, winning mostly with dips, spins and the ability to convert speed into power. There’s no doubt that Browning has the talent to develop into a very good NFL pass rusher, but where he really needs to improve is consistently gaining an advantage.

Too many times this past season, Browning has been either simply beaten by bigger and stronger NFL offensive tackles or fooled by game design — ultimately losing the advantage and possibly giving up a big play. The good news is that many of these issues can be improved and further development is to be expected with more time in the position.

At the end of the day, fans should be very excited about Browning’s potential as he has the tools needed to be a long-term fix at one of the league’s leading positions.

Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper
In second place, Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper couldn’t be more different in terms of playstyle and draft status, but now both are rotational edge players behind next season’s predicted starters. Bonitto, who was drafted 64th overall in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, came to the league with expectations that he could be a player Denver could throw into obvious passing situations to cause chaos.

At just about 6ft 3in and 240lbs, where Bonitto lacks in size and strength for the position, he makes up for with bursting and the ability to bend around corners.

During his rookie season, Bonitto struggled to make a massive impact, accounting for just two sacks and 14 rushes. Looking ahead to next season, uncertainty is the best word to describe him. While fans shouldn’t write him off just yet, he needs to prove that his smaller physique can keep up in the running game, ultimately making him a positive addition as an every-down player.

Considering he was drafted in the second round, the Denver Broncos would do well to give Bonitto the time he needs to develop his game. As for Cooper, quite unlike Bonitto, he was picked in the last round of the NFL draft but has shown the consistency it takes to be a very solid player to get off the bench and one when needed to play a prominent role.

While Cooper’s cap might not be as high as the other players listed before him, he’s now one of the best options on the team, able to both go after the passer and defend well against the run that uses him as a situational down- option excludes . The soon-to-be third-year pass-rusher’s key winning methods are an extremely hot engine, explosiveness, and a signature Hesi step-to-hand swipe motion that has resulted in various offensive tackles in his short career so far.

That being said, Cooper is better suited to be a rotary piece. He’s a solid player across the board, but not elite enough in any category to warrant a starting role. Cooper is a player the Broncos should keep in position because of the need for quality depth in order to be successful. His ability to enter the field and not break defenses in any category is valuable and especially helpful in a room full of unknowns.

Jacob Martin
After the Denver Broncos dealt Chubb to the Miami Dolphins, they acquired Martin and a 2024 fifth-round pick from the New York Jets in exchange for the Broncos’ 2024 fourth-round pick. Unfortunately, Martin’s season was cut short with a knee injury in Week 14, putting him on injured reserve — he only played in five games for Denver.

Judging by Martin’s game, he’s a fluid player who’s ideal for passing downs and beating down opposing offensive tackles with his patented cross/chop move. This move has been his go-to choice since he’s been in the league and has been a problem for his opponents on defense.

Similar to other players at this position, Martin is a situation player but ranks below Cooper and Bonitto after being almost unimpacted as a bronco due to his injury.

Still expected to be signed with the Broncos for next season, Martin has shown enough on special teams throughout his previous career making him a valuable piece going forward – cutting him could save the Broncos nearly $5 million in cap space.

At this point it’s likely a coin toss if he returns, with other options offering defensive advantages in different ways.

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