The Denver Broncos wanted Bradley Chubb and Von Miller to get after the quarterback together in 2021, but that fell through when the former got hurt. Chubb dealt with bone spurs in his ankles that saw him miss most of the season.
By the time Chubb was back out there on the field, the Broncos had traded Miller away to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, the Broncos never got the pass rush production they hoped for, especially after Miller was traded. They'll always have 2018.
After the season, Miller was still third (28) in total pressures for Denver behind Dre'Mont Jones (40) and Shelby Harris (32), the last of whom also is no longer with the team. Malik Reed (27) and Jonathon Cooper (23) were third in total pressures.
It's obvious how badly the Broncos needed help getting after the quarterback, which led to two significant offseason additions to the unit, as well as switching up one player's position (purportedly). With that said, let's get into how the Broncos' new-look edge room looks heading into the 2022 campaign.
Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory.
There should be no question about the two starters with Chubb — brought back on a fifth-year option — and the newcomer Gregory — signed to a five-year, $70 million deal. However, both players have a lengthy injury history, and Gregory is currently recovering from shoulder surgery.
Despite those concerns, the duo is poised to start on the edge for Denver. The only scenario where Chubb and Gregory aren't the starters would be due to the injury bug. Knock on wood that both stay healthy and stay available throughout the season.
Nik Bonitto, Baron Browning, Malik Reed, and Jonathon Cooper.
Of the two primary backups, only one is obvious. That will be Bonitto, the rookie pass-rusher the Broncos drafted with the 64th overall pick. Due to his playstyle, Bonitto is more likely to be the primary backup to Gregory, but pass-rushers are often asked to flip sides.
The other primary backup job behind Chubb could have some competition. However, it would largely depend on the role of Baron Browning.
Having been an off-ball linebacker last season, Browning is purportedly moving to a hybrid role. He is expected to see time as an off-ball linebacker — a stack linebacker as GM George Paton calls it — and as an edge rusher.
Browning taking that role would depend on what his base position is. If it isn't at edge, there will be a competition between the second-year Cooper and Reed. Reed has plenty of experience, but he was a favorite of the old coaching staff, and the Broncos seemed hesitant to give him the original-round restricted free-agent tender.
The team's hesitancy suggests that the Broncos, at least the new coaching staff, are not sold on Reed. When you turn on his tape and see his issues as a run defender and inconsistency as a pass rusher, you can see why the coaches may be wanting a change there.
Meanwhile, Cooper exceeded expectations as a rookie and stepped up multiple times when asked to do so. He put out two games of great tape against the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys.
Cooper displayed issues as a run defender, but he outperformed Reed as a pass rusher. Since he was a rookie, the Broncos could bet on Cooper's growth as the fifth pass rusher.
There is a question about how many edge rushers the Broncos could keep. Five is pretty standard, but with how much the depth chart can be rotated and depending on Browning's ultimate role, Denver could keep six edges — counting Browning.
If Browning's base position is behind Chubb, then Reed and Cooper would be battling it out for the depth positions. Both of them could make it as the fifth and sixth pass rusher, but another name is in contention for that sixth spot.
Patrick only played 52 snaps on defense last year, but Denver's new special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes called him a core third-phase player in a press conference. When you look at the bottom of the depth chart, especially in what would be the sixth edge rusher, special teams would play a part in who makes the squad.
That's something Patrick and Cooper both have over Reed, as they both were among the seven players to see over 200 snaps on special teams. Both of them also played well on special teams.
So for the fifth and sixth pass rushers, special teams will be the deciding factor as Chubb, Gregory, Browning, and Bonitto would be the primary edge defenders.
The Broncos made multiple big moves to address their issues with getting after the quarterback. Gregory and Bonitto should both be a shot in the arm for the pass rush. However, there are still concerns about the health of the edge room and its run-defense prowess.
The top-four edge rushers will likely be Chubb and Gregory as the starters, with Bonitto and Browning as the primary backups. While Browning is likely to have a hybrid role and see time as an off-ball linebacker, he is counted as an edge for his primary position for now based on the Broncos' public remarks.
That leads to the depth battle, mainly between Reed, Cooper, and Patrick. At this point, special teams play an essential factor, and Reed hasn't had a significant role there since his rookie year. Unfortunately, it hasn't been a good showing when he has been on special teams.
Based on special teams ability, cost, developmental progress, and potential, I project the final two spots go to Cooper and Patrick at this time. Reed has been productive during his career in Denver, but he seems maxed out as a player, and the team has to factor in the cost.
After spending on Gregory, Chubb being on the final year of his deal, and the Russell Wilson factor, the Broncos have to look to cut costs where they can. Reed has a cap hit of just over $2.4M this year that can be saved if the Broncos let him go.
That leads to the Broncos' projected edge room being Chubb, Gregory, Bonitto, Browning, Cooper, and Patrick.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.
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