DENVER -- Defensive coordinator Joe Woods refused to run from the problem. The Broncos' defense remains strong, but vulnerable. Opponents realized it made little sense to challenge the No Fly Zone secondary or put their quarterback in harm's way with Von Miller racing around the edge.
As such, opponents took to the ground, gashing the Broncos. Denver allowed 130.3 yards per game last season, a spike of 47 yards from the 2015 Super Bowl championship season. The departure of Malik Jackson stung, but the Broncos could not make him their second highest-paid defender on a unit with three All-Pro members. The replacement plan veered off track when Vance Walker (pictured) went down in mid August, tearing the ACL in his right knee during a 9-on-7 drill.
For the Broncos and Walker, the timing proved awful. Walker had emerged as the team's best run stuffer in training camp, moving into the starting lineup. In his absence, Jared Crick, signed as a situational pass rusher, became miscast as an every-down player. Second-round pick Adam Gotsis, slowed by his recovery from knee surgery, lacked the strength to plug holes in the middle.
Upgrading the rush defense is a priority. Free agent Earl Mitchell, cut by the Dolphins, will visit the Broncos midweek. He's not considered a starter necessarily, but rather a player capable of adding valuable depth. That means the draft could offer a solution for the Broncos. A look at some of the intriguing names available in the first two rounds:
Caleb Brantley, Florida, 6-2, 314 pounds
Brantley has a thick, muscular frame. He plays with energy and quickness that allows him to stop the run. He needs improvement on pass-rushing moves, but the Broncos have plenty of players racing to the quarterback. Brantley showed he can be disruptive, with 8.5 tackles for losses last season. He brings confidence.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State, 6-6, 276
McDowell is a physical freak. Long and lanky, but strong enough to push opponents around. When looking at the Broncos' issues, he doesn't profile as well. But the Broncos have long had success under general manager John Elway by drafting the best player, not for need. McDowell requires work on his technique, but has enticing upside. Both McDowell and Brantley project to go in the mid-to-late first round.
Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte, 6-3, 304
Ogunjobi began playing football as a sophomore in high school. He devoured everything about the sport, earning all-conference honors last year. He is strong and fast, capable of exerting his will at the point of attack. As crazy as it sounds, he's a bit undersized, and would need to add girth in the pros. Figures to be available in the late second or early third round.
Jaleel Johnson, Iowa, 6-3, 309
He improved every year at Iowa. As a senior, he paced the Hawkeyes with 10 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He plays with a good motor. Has quick feet, and pushes off blockers. Issue, at least as it relates to Broncos, is that he's not viewed as an anchor against the run.
Chris Wormley, Michigan, 6-5, 297
Time to trust the scouts on the Big Ten. The conference boasted active, disruptive tackles, Wormley among them. He boasts balance and power. He is considered a leader, an asset to the locker room. His versatility is also a plus. But if the Broncos go defensive tackle, they might look more for run stuffers.