Happy Friday, friends. This morning, we received a couple of good questions on Twitter from two longtime readers. Jared Still asked for our thoughts on simply relying on Robert Ayers to be the starting open-side DE, and drafting Margus Hunt from SMU. Kriss Bergethon asked what we thought about signing Richard Seymour and drafting Cornellius "Tank" Carradine from Florida State. This is obviously all about filling the hole left by the departure of Elvis Dumervil.
You've got questions, we've got opinions. The first thing I would say is that we should probably step back for a minute, and think about exactly what that hole is. Dumervil was a starter at open-side DE, which meant that he played on the side away from the tight end, and often lined up wide, with edge responsibilities in the run game, and edge rushing responsibilities in the passing game. Like Jared, I'm very confident that Ayers can handle base downs at that position. In fact, the Broncos will undoubtedly be better against the run with him out there, because he plays with a level of power that Dumervil doesn't have.
If we agree that we can count on Ayers in base defense, the question becomes whether he has to be replaced on pass rush downs. To me, the evidence mostly suggests that you'd rather have a quicker player on the edge than Ayers on third and long. That said, he did look better last season in the pass rush game than he ever had in the past, albeit in limited snaps.
So, the hole on the roster is edge pass rush specialist. In my opinion, at least four guys who could play that role well are still available in free agency - Dwight Freeney, John Abraham, James Harrison, and Shaun Phillips. They're each facing some downward market pressure on their price tags right now, and I think that the ideal thing to do is wait until after the draft, and let their prices fall even further.
(Note: don't get worried about the fact that Phillips and Harrison have been 3-4 guys, for two reasons:
- The role being filled is pass rush specialist.
- The Broncos nominally play a 4-3, but in practice, it works much more like a 3-4 up front.
As for Kriss's question about Seymour, I don't see him fitting the pass rush specialist role. If you want to consider bringing him in as a DT, we can talk, but I don't view him as a guy to fill Dumervil's spot.
Now, to the draftees. I do like Margus Hunt, who, as Jared said in his tweet, is an athletic freak. Hunt is 6-8, 280 pounds, and he ran a 4.6-second 40, and did 38 bench press reps of 225 pounds. He's also the only guy to be the world junior champion in both the discus and the shot put at the same time. The guy is a flat-out monster.
The downside with Hunt is that he's only been playing football since 2009, and he turns 26 in July. He also played at a mid-major level of competition in college and is a little taller than you'd like a defensive lineman to be, and he's challenged to play with good leverage sometimes.
My opinion of Hunt, vis-a-vis the Broncos, is that he's more of a closed-side DE than an open-side one. If you were to take him, it would probably be with the intent of moving Derek Wolfe inside to DT on a regular basis. But if Hunt lives up to his athletic ability, you'd have a chance to improve two positions with one acquisition, because Wolfe is pretty clearly going to be a better player than Kevin Vickerson or Terrance Knighton, wherever he lines up.
While I can get behind drafting him, I don't see Hunt as a sudden open-side pass rusher, though. I keep coming back to that being the need area we're talking about, so drafting Hunt doesn't seem to preclude the Broncos from wanting to sign a veteran pass rusher. I think you take him because you love his talent, see how he develops, and go from there, in getting your best football players on the field in some alignment.
I also don't really see Carradine as the kind of pass rusher the Broncos need. Actually, if I were going to compare Carradine to anybody in the NFL, it would be Ayers. I think he's best as a base DE in a 4-3, playing with power, and setting the edge.
My favorite edge guy from Florida State is actually Brandon Jenkins. Coming into his senior season, he was viewed as the premium draftable guy in that program, not Bjoern Werner or Carradine. His Lisfranc injury in 2012 has probably made him a second-round prospect, but I think he'll be the best NFL pass rusher of the three.
I think Freeney sounds like he wants to be ridiculous, and by inference, I gather that Abraham is looking for similar money, so if I were John Elway, the guy I'd be thinking about most in the veteran market is Phillips. He hasn't had many bites this offseason, and I think he could do a really god job as a rusher in limited snaps.
In any case, there's no need to panic at this point. Having Ayers in place really helps ease the loss of Dumervil, and the Broncos still do have lots of options in free agency and in the draft.