With contract negotiations sputtering between Denver Broncos outside linebacker, Von Miller, and the front office, there are plenty of questions of how the Denver defense will hold up this upcoming season. Earlier this year, he made it clear via ESPN that he would not play this season on the franchise tag worth $14.129 million dollars. With the deadline for long term extensions being just 24 hours away, what will this Broncos defense look like without Miller?
Are they still elite without Miller?
A season ago, the Broncos had the number one overall defense in the NFL. They had a secondary filled with players who blanketed opposing receivers. They had a core of middle linebackers who were as athletic and agile as the quickest runners in the league, and then they had Von Miller. While the Broncos were unable to retain players such as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, and defensive lineman Malik Jackson, the thought around the league was they still would have Miller.
Let’s get this straight, without Miller, the Broncos defense is very good, but not quite elite like they were a year ago. Start with the productivity of weak outside linebacker Demarcus Ware. The soon to be 34 year old had himself 7.5 sacks last season in just 11 games played in the regular season. He had himself another 3.5 sacks in the postseason, including two in the Super Bowl. But with Miller missing opposite of him, Ware will see an increase in the attention of offenses, including less one on one blocks and more chip blocks by fullbacks and running backs who normally were giving their focus to Miller. The play below is a perfect example of this, something the Broncos will miss with Miller absent.
A dominant speed edge rusher over the course of five seasons, Miller has 66.5 career sacks and 19 forced fumbles. Over the five year span he’s been in Denver, he’s responsible for 29% of their total sacks. While there are other good pass rushers on their current depth chart, there’s no one quite like #58. His four forced fumbles were tied for second in the entire NFL. While he’s known for his pass rushing ability, he’s also an intrusive run defender and can take away an opposing running back, or even tight end.
While they do have the versatility at linebacker, these types of athletic plays will be missed by the Broncos if #58 is out next season.
The good news is, the Broncos still have plenty of young talent on the roster. They’re deep at nearly every position on defense, and will have young, emerging players like Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett filling in for Miller. Both players are quality outside linebackers. Ray had no starts, but still recorded four sacks and 20 tackles. Barrett filled in for Ware while he was injured, starting six games and tallying up 35 tackles and 5.5 sacks. His five forced fumbles were tied for first in the NFL. Neither player is on the level that Miller is but it goes to show you how GM John Elway has stockpiled outside rushers.
Most importantly, the Broncos still have perhaps the best secondary in the league. They have a top ten cornerback duo between Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, and then the versatile number three corner Bradley Roby. Roby has played at essentially every secondary position in search of playing time. He’s been lined up outside, in the slot, and even at safety from time to time. He’s accounted for 105 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in just six starts over the past two years. Harris was ranked by Sports Illustrated as the number one slot corner in the NFL. Per Sports Illustrated, while in the slot, Harris allowed just 20 receptions on 35 targets, allowed zero touchdowns, and had an opposing passer rating against of 43.4. To show you just how good that is, of qualified quarterbacks, the worst passer rating last year was 67.9.
With a top ten trio of corners, the Broncos also have two of the games better safeties behind them. Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward make it extremely difficult for opposing quarterbacks to find open windows to throw through. The back end of their defense is lockdown central, in their 19 games last season they allowed just two 300+ passing yard games. Credit their secondary for a big reason why they allowed an average of just 221 yards passing per game. There’s little to worry here about Miller’s absence, their secondary will be just fine.
The Fantasy Impact
Obviously a Miller-less Denver defense isn’t as good as the one with him. But let’s not forget about all the other talent that is surrounded along this defense. Denver’s defense is still a D/ST 1 in my book. I can see the argument for Seattle also, but come next Fall don’t think just because Miller isn’t with the team that you should pass them over. They were number one in sacks ago, don’t expect them to retain that title this year but they likely will still be in the top 10. Their number one pass defense and yards allowed should once again be in the top three too. While Miller is a great asset for this defense, the defense doesn’t revolve around him. There’s a reason why there’s 11 guys out there, not one player can dictate the whole team’s fantasy impact.