Broncos' 2022 Preview: Defense | An NFL Sleeper – Sports Illustrated

Every Denver Broncos fan has their eyes focused on the offense and understandably so. The team traded for a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, which naturally created a lot of excitement. 
However, the Broncos' defense is deserving of some fan excitement, too, because this unit is poised to have a great season. It could be one of the best units in the NFL, if the health of the players holds up.
There are some players with elite-caliber potential on this side of the ball, but the inability to stay healthy has derailed their respective progress into elite status. If these players finally make the leap, this defense will be loaded.
Furthermore, the Broncos' defense will not have to carry an inept offense as it has done the past few seasons. With that comes the freedom to play riskier which means there could be more opportunities to take the ball away from opponents. 
Takeaways have been this team’s Achilles heel in the past two seasons. The 2022 defense should rectify that imbalance.
Who starts at each position and what's the 10,000-foot view of the Broncos' defense? Let's dive in, while also examining Denver's special teams unit at the end. 
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This group could surprise and be one of the top units in the NFL. That is, if health permits. 
The Broncos have a solid group of starters on the defensive line and the rotation should be stronger than it has been in years. Dre’Mont Jones has been a solid player and is on the verge of moving into elite status. He provides a good interior pass rush, but needs to finish more often.
D.J. Jones was the best signing of this offseason. His combination of power and athleticism makes him a solid run stuffer with the ability to get after the passer in spurts. Expect this to be his best season. 
Mike Purcell has not lived up to the contract he signed with the Broncos, but that is due to injury. If he can stay healthy, he will team up with the two Joneses to form a dynamic D-line.
Landing the backup roles will be a dogfight between DeShawn Williams, McTelvin Agim, Jonathan Harris and rookie Eyioma Uwazurike. This battle will determine the rotation and whoever wins, it'll form a solid group that can give the starters a breather.
Starters
Backups
Not Making the Cut
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This is the first offseason in a decade without Von Miller. It will seem strange without him, but the Broncos are trying their best to make due. 
Denver spent money in free agency and used a draft pick to help ease the pain of Miller being elsewhere. If the potential those players carry is fully realized, the team will not suffer.
Bradley Chubb could be an elite player, but his career has been marred by injury. If he is fully healthy, the Broncos may get the player they saw when they drafted him No. 5 overall. In a contract year, he needs a productive season.
On the other side of Chubb is newcomer Randy Gregory. He has shown tremendous pass rush ability, but has not had the production to match. He has also missed more games than he has played due to suspensions and injuries. 
The Broncos gave a large sum of money this offseason to a risky free agent. Gregory has to have the best season of his career to reduce fears of being another big free-agent bust.
The edge depth has not yet decided, but one of those backups will be second-round selection Nik Bonitto. He has speed off the edge and if he can build more strength and work on his counters, he can be an elite edge rusher in the future. 
The curious move of Baron Browning to the edge puts him in a full-blown competition with Malik Reed for that final spot in the position group.
Starters
Backups
Not Making the Cut
Jonathan Kongbo: A former first-round CFL pick 
Christopher Allen: A productive in college, but draft stock was hurt due to injury, he is a practice squad candidate
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The return of Josey Jewell from injury is a boon for the Broncos' defense. He is a leader who can get the defense in the right position. 
Jewell's instincts and lateral movement are a huge asset in the middle of the field. Next to him is the big question mark after the move of Browning from inside linebacker this offseason.
Last season this position group was riddled with injuries in the middle. The defense saw seven starters rotate through the inside linebacking corps. Even with health holding up, this unit has question marks. 
The Broncos brought in Alex Singleton from the Philadelphia Eagles and he has been a solid tackler in the past two seasons. His work against the run has been solid, but there are still questions about his ability in coverage. 
A surprise could be Jonas Griffith, who put together four really good games to end the season in 2021 and it could be a preview of things to come. However, it is a small sample size, so there is concern that it cannot be replicated for an entire season. 
The Broncos have few proven options behind these three.
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Backups 
Not Making the Cut
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When the offseason began, this unit looked like it may be the weak link of the defense. However, the front office did a nice job of bringing in players and although there are questions remaining, it should be a solid unit that blends youth and experience.
Patrick Surtain II is a star in the making. His rookie campaign was incredible and with another season of NFL experience under his belt, he should be in the conversation for All-Pro awards. 
Across from Surtain is another holdover from last season in Ronald Darby. The performance of the secondary was a night-and-day difference when he was on the field versus when he was injured. He is a solid player to line up opposite Surtain.
The Broncos brought in K’Waun Williams to play the slot corner. He is physical, especially for his size, and breaks on the ball well. 
After these three, the players will be in a dogfight for the backup roles. Michael Ojemudia has the inside track, but the team invested in two draft picks this season at the position, so nothing is certain.
Playing free safety is All-Pro Justin Simmons, who should have a big season in this new more aggressive defense. The Broncos brought back Kareem Jackson to team up with him for one final season. Jackson lays the wood and is a solid leader on the team.
Behind these two stars is second-year player Caden Sterns. He was a rookie sensation last season and should only get better. He was also a surprise in the takeaway department, making the most of his limited snaps. 
The final spot on the roster is up for grabs. The two leading candidates are rookie Delarrin Turner-Yell and P.J. Locke. It will be a fight to the finish.
Starters
Backups
Not Making the Cut
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
We cannot lose sight of the third unit. Special teams should be vastly improved this season just for the sake of a change in coaching. The kicking game was solid last season, but the coverage units have to be improved.
Brandon McManus, the only player left on the team from Super Bowl 50, is an accurate kicker with long-range. He's one of the better kickers in the NFL. 
Sam Martin was a serviceable punter, but the Broncos brought in competition this offseason in Corliss Waitman. Jacob Bobenmoyer has been a solid long snapper.
The return game is up in the air, but the Broncos drafted Montrell Washington in the fifth round for those duties. If he can prove sure-handed, the job is his.
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Not Making the Cut
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
 RELATED: Broncos' 2022 Preview: Offense | A Unit that Will Carry the Water
Bottom Line
The Broncos'2022 defense will be a surprise top unit in the NFL if it can remain healthy. It will be more aggressive and will give the offense more opportunities with an increased takeaway total. 
The defense will be a good complement to the offense and the special teams will do its part this season after failing badly the past few years.
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Thomas Hall is an analyst at Mile High Huddle covering the Denver Broncos, NFL and NFL Draft. Thomas’ works have been featured on CBSSports.com, 247Sports.com and BleacherReport.com. 

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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