Last season was definitely an odd one for many reasons. This especially true for the Denver Broncos’ defense, who was a shadow of its former self. They allowed the 8th most points per game (27.8 PPG), and ranked in the bottom 10 in both run and pass defense.
This was in large part to several key injuries. Von Miller was lost for the season due to a serious ankle injury in a pre-season practice. Other starters like Jurrell Casey, AJ Bouye, and Mike Purcell all missed significant time in last season, as well as several depth players. Mark Barron was added before the season started to add much-needed depth to their inside linebackers corps but he too was unable to suit up all year due to injuries. Von Miller appears to have made a full recovery, but the others mentioned are no longer on the team.
The Broncos made some significant off-season additions to help shore up weaknesses in their defense. Hopefully, this will translate to increased IDP Fantasy values at several key positions.
Denver’s linebacking corps is their weakest spot on the defense. They didn’t do much to address this in the draft, or in free agency. Alexander “AJ” Johnson and Josey Jewell head up the linebacking corps for the Broncos. While neither of them will explode for 30+ points, you could do worse for your LB2/3 on your IDP roster.
Alexander “AJ” Johnson
AJ Johnson is a former undrafted player out of Tennessee who burst onto the NFL scene in early 2019. He didn’t see the field until week 5, but was still able to rack up almost 100 total tackles (93 total, 51 solo, 42 assist).
That performance was followed up in 2020 with 124 combined tackles (72 solo, 52 assist, 4 TFL), as well as 1 sack and 2 forced fumbles. Throughout the season, he averaged 7.8 tackles per game, which is nothing to sneeze at, and was solid against the run, but struggled to make plays behind the LOS. He’s also considered a bit of a liability in pass coverage.
Johnson’s fantasy outlook is middling to bleak. Despite only having 2 full NFL seasons under his belt, he’s getting up there in age, and isn’t valuable enough to hold onto long-term. I would consider him a low-end LB2/Flex option due to a lack of impact plays.
Josey Jewell was drafted in 2018 (4.106) by the Broncos, but was irrelevant as a fantasy asset until 2020 when Todd Davis left the team. Jewell stepped into the starting ILB role quite nicely. He racked up 113 combined tackles (67 solo, 46 assist, 5 TFL), as well as 2 sacks.
Like with AJ Johnson, Jewell lacks the added scoring that comes with impact plays. He also struggles in pass coverage. I have him on par with AJ Johnson as a low-end LB2/Flex option.
Barron Browning was drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2021 NFL draft (3.105) out of Ohio State. He is the only potentially significant addition to the Broncos linebackers that might be relevant on fantasy rosters in 2021. However, he did not post stellar numbers in college (109 combined tackles over 4 seasons), but showed promise as a playmaker (17 TFLs, and 9 sacks) enough for the Broncos to take a flier on him. He’s worth a late round flier/taxi stash on your team as well.
|*2017||Ohio State||Big Ten||FR||LB||5||7||7||14||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*2018||Ohio State||Big Ten||SO||LB||9||12||11||23||3.5||1.0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*2019||Ohio State||Big Ten||JR||LB||11||26||17||43||11.0||5.0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*2020||Ohio State||Big Ten||SR||LB||7||20||9||29||3.0||1.0||0||0||2||2||2|
Defensive Line/Edge Rushers
The Broncos’ pass rush has been historically one of the best in the NFL. However, with Von Miller’s season-ending injury and other injuries to the interior of the line, their pass rush was a bit anemic last season. With both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb healthy in 2021, they could return to their former glory.
If I were writing this 3 years ago, Von Miller, if given the DL designation, would be ranked up there with the likes of TJ Watt or Myles Garrett. That being said, this is 2021, and “The Vonster” is coming off of a serious ankle injury that sidelined him for all of 2020. He also posted rather pedestrian, for him, numbers in 2019. He had less than 10 sacks for the second time in his career (the other being the season he was suspended for multiple games).
He’s entering his 11th season, and his age is definitely catching up to him. If he’s fully recovered from his injury, you can expect him to still have an impact on your team, but I wouldn’t count on him returning to his former self. I expect him to be a low-end DL2 on platforms that designate him as a DL/EDGE, or a streaming option that is match-up dependent.
While not the “household name” like Von Miller, Bradley Chubb is a pass rusher capable of wreaking havoc on opposing QBs. In 2018, his rookie year, Chubb tallied 60 combined tackles and 12 sacks. A torn ACL ended his 2019 season early in the year. Last year, with Von Miller missing, he posted less than stellar numbers (42 combines tackles, 7.5 sacks). He was still disruptive in the backfield (19 QB hits), but couldn’t get the complete sack. If both Miller and Chubb remain healthy this year, it could bolster both of their fantasy values.
The Broncos picked up his 5th-year option, so he’s under contract for at least 2 more years. He could be looking to prove he’s worth more this year to get a massive extension. On platforms that list him as a DL, you can expect high-end DL2/low-end DL1 production.
With the departure of Derek Wolfe to the Ravens, it left an opening on the defensive line for Dre’Mont Jones to step into the starting role. Much like other defensive ends in a 3-4 defense, he was used to create opportunities for his edge-rushing teammates like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. That didn’t stop Jones from posting impressive numbers of his own (41 combined tackles, 6.5 sacks).
While not worth much in shallow leagues, Jones could prove valuable as streaming DE in deeper leagues.
The Broncos’ secondary, known as the “No Fly Zone”, is the remaining strong unit on their defense, anchored by their safeties young stud Justin Simmons and veteran Kareem Jackson. Additionally, they picked up Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby during free agency. They also drafted Patrick Surtain with their 1st round draft pick, despite the desires of their fanbase to draft a potential future franchise QB.
Free Safety Justin Simmons posted his best performance yet in 2020 (96 combined tackles, 5 INTs). This was good enough for a DB7 finish in IDP123 scoring, just behind rookie stud Jeremy Chinn, and just ahead of Jamal Adams. His ADP is low enough to allow you to snag him after the elite DBs have already been snagged up.
I see no reason for Simmons to lose fantasy value as he enters his 6th season. Simmons is a viable DB1 who you can get a few rounds after the top tier DBs.
Kareem Jackson is entering his 12th year in the NFL. He played is first 8 seasons in Houston as a cornerback/safety, but has been playing strong safety in Denver for the past two seasons. Unlike other strong safeties, Jackson doesn’t spend much time in the box. He is purely an open-field tackler. Last season more than 2/3 of his tackles were solo (89 combined, 67 solo).
Like many of his fellow Broncos, he does not put up a lot of points with impact plays, but could be a serviceable DB3 in a pinch. I expect Jackson to possibly cede some of his playing time to incoming rookie Caden Sterns.
|9 yr||9 yr||HOU||132||124||16||336||3||65||88||6||3||34||0||2.0||559||468||91||22||4|
|2 yr||2 yr||DEN||29||29||3||41||0||24||14||1||2||72||1||0.0||160||115||45||5||0|
Unless something changes with the QB situation in Denver, the Broncos’ defense is going to be called upon to once again return to a top-tier defense if they are to improve upon their record from last year. The front office made a lot of moves in the offseason to shore up their cornerbacks, which doesn’t do much for most IDP leagues. Hopefully, better coverage on the outside will translate into more opportunities for their pass rushers to get home. Furthermore, I’m hoping we also see rookies like Baron Browning and Caden Sterns show flashes of fantasy value for those with them on your taxi squads.
The only two players on the Broncos’ defense I have as a must-own are Justin Simmons and Bradley Chubb. Everyone else mentioned is worth a roster spot, but don’t fret if they get picked up by others in your league.