The Denver Broncos are facing a veritable exodus of homegrown talent this year, and arguably the unit poised to be hit the hardest is the defensive line. Denver has four D-line starters from last season hitting free agency, one of whom we know for sure won't be back.
The NFL Scouting Combine might be a major stop on the pre-draft trail, but it's also a summit of sorts for GMs and player agents the league over. Since the Combine comes a few weeks before NFL free agency opens, buzz on which teams are interested in which players begins to matriculate out of Indianapolis.
Such was the setting for the latest rumor concerning the Broncos. According to 9NEWS' Mike Klis, the Broncos could be planning to pursue soon-to-be free-agent nose tackle D.J. Reader.
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Even if the Broncos tender restricted free-agent Mike Purcell, considering how much cap space the team is projected to have ($70-plus million), it wouldn't preclude going after Reader. There's a lot to like about Reader.
At 25 years old, the former Clemson Tiger is just entering his prime and coming off an impressive contract year with the Houston Texans. In 2019, Reader notched 52 tackles (28 solo) to go along with six tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and 13 QB hits.
He's a big fella best deployed as a block-eater but don't let his 6-foot-3, 347-pound girth fool you. Reader can penetrate. He finished 2019 as the No. 7 highest-graded interior defender according to Pro Football Focus, finishing with very high marks as both a run defender and a pass rusher.
His forte, though, is stuffing the run. Reader has been a starter for three-straight years now and could step onto any defensive line and make an impact.
Spotract projects Reader's value as $11.9 million per season, right up there with defensive tackles like Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. That might be a high price to pay but if the Broncos value a top-shelf nose tackle, it'd be difficult to find a better option on this free-agent market, especially considering his age and injury history.
It'll be interesting to see just how the Broncos end up allocating their cap space in free agency this year. Denver views this as a very deep D-line free-agent class, which could portend a less-aggressive approach by the team.
Signing Reader would come at a pretty penny. But he would plug one hole on the defensive line for at least the next 3-4 years. The Broncos would still need to address the two open defensive end spots, though.