On paper, the Denver Broncos defense looks lethal entering the 2021 season and could get deadlier as the unit's young core continues to develop. The Broncos are talented at all three levels of the defense.
Denver has a plethora of Pro Bowl-caliber defensive backs with smash-mouth inside linebackers, including a pair of young, gifted coverage linebackers in waiting. Not to mention a duo of premier edge rushers that can come screaming around the corner to demolish the quarterback.
Finally, the Broncos have a talented defensive line in Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell — and a player poised to burst onto the scene — Dre'Mont Jones. Jones' outlook for himself and the Broncos defense is bullish but on Wednesday, he conveyed that optimism with a note of caution.
“Optimism is huge given what’s on paper," Jones said following an OTA practice. "The only thing I can go by right now is on paper.”
Entering his third year, Jones has shown the ability to get to the quarterback. He uses his hands to win the battle at the line and has a high motor to continue to win well into the fourth quarter.
Jones has good quickness with sound athleticism, and even though he is known as a pass rusher, he has shown growth with each passing game as a run defender. He also possesses the versatility to play inside and outside but will start at defensive end in Vic Fangio's defense.
Last season, Jones' playing time increased after Jurrell Casey went down with a season-ending bicep injury in a Week 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, Jones also suffered a knee injury in that same game.
A silver lining: Jones' injury, though it cost him time, was not season-ending like Casey's. Jones took full advantage of his time on the field when he returned, finishing with 6.5 sacks, the third-most on the team behind Malik Reed and Bradley Chubb, along with 41 tackles and two tipped passes.
Jones impressed the Broncos enough to part ways with Casey earlier this offseason, paving the way for the former Ohio State stand-out to be the full-time starter opposite of Harris going into 2021. This year, Jones' aspirations have settled on double-digit sacks.
“I think 10 sacks is very attainable," Jones said on Wednesday. "Guys like [Chiefs DT] Chris Jones, [Falcons DT] Grady Jarrett, [Steelers DT] Cameron Heyward, and [Rams DT] Aaron Donald made it cool to be an inside guy and get 10 sacks. It’s very attainable and I don’t expect anything less from myself. I think that’s a goal of mine that I can reach. I’m going to try and reach it.”
Jones' only obstacle to thriving in the upcoming season is his ability to stay healthy. As a rookie, he dealt with a high ankle sprain, and last season he suffered a PCL strain that caused him to miss the aforementioned four games. Jones can be more than productive on this year's team but needs to improve on his most important ability: avail-ability.
Health-willing, Jones is poised to take his game to the next level, and join the group of the league's most talented inside pass rushers. Reaching double-digit sacks is indeed attainable especially if Jones finally gets to share the field with edge rushers like Von Miller, Chubb, and Harris.
“Because of their name and what they’ve done, they’ll make it really easy for me to get those opportunities to get one-on-one matchups on the guards and centers when my time comes to be able to win," Jones explained. "The focus is going to be on them. Them being out there together, [there’s] a lot of money to be made.”
The Broncos share in Jones' high hopes, and for a good reason. Together, this fully healthy defensive line looks to create havoc in the backfield, making it a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and drastically minimizing the time to get rid of the ball.
If the coverage comes together, those QB drop-backs can more often turn into sacks or rushed throws that Fangio's suddenly ball-hawking secondary is well equipped to exploit.
Follow Kenneth on Twitter @KennethMHH.
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