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Lammey: 3 defensive prospects for Broncos to watch at the combine

Feb 27, 2018, 10:28 AM | Updated: 8:13 pm
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Chad Thomas #9 of the Miami Hurricanes reacts during the first qua...
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Chad Thomas #9 of the Miami Hurricanes reacts during the first quarter of the 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine takes place this week in Indianapolis, and several players have much to gain (or lose) during this process. Fan Football Insider Cecil Lammey will be on the ground at Lucas Oil Stadium to share the latest from Indy.

The Denver Broncos don’t have a championship defense anymore.

The days of the “No Fly Zone” in the secondary are gone, and the team is set to perhaps lose more players on the defensive side of the ball in free agency this offseason.

Denver needs to find better talent through the draft on both sides of the ball, so here are three players the Broncos should be monitoring this week at the combine:

Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State

There is a new breed of linebacker coming into the NFL. Gone are the days of the “in the box” thumper who stuffs the run and plays close to the line of scrimmage. With offenses getting so spread out, teams need to find linebackers that can cover in addition to playing strong run defense.

Leighton Vander Esch is a part of this new generation, but his skill set is also a bit of a throwback.

Tony Brooks-James #20 of the Oregon Ducks fumbles the ball under pressure from Leighton Vander Esch #38 of the Boise State Broncos during the first half of the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State won 38-28. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Tony Brooks-James #20 of the Oregon Ducks fumbles the ball under pressure from Leighton Vander Esch #38 of the Boise State Broncos. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

His game is all about finding the ball carrier and destroying him. Vander Esch is smart and diagnoses plays quickly as they unfold in front of him. He can find the play quickly and arrives at the ball with natural violence.

Vander Esch’s throwback skill set most closely resembles that of Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher.

There is a small chance that Vander Esch could be available when the Broncos select near the top of the second round. However, he’s also the type of player in which it makes sense to move back into the end of the first round.

Chad Thomas, DE, Miami

The Broncos need to get larger up front on the defensive line. Enter Chad Thomas from the University of Miami, who measures in at 6-foot-5, 277 pounds and is a large presence at defensive end.

If using only one word to describe Thomas’ game it would be “relentless.”

Thomas has the length and strength to be disruptive to opposing passers. He plays with a constant energy that grinds down opponents tasked with blocking him. If Thomas can’t get around his blocker, his long arms help him disrupt passing lanes and potentially knock down passes at the line of scrimmage.

His college career was never quite what it could have been. A talented high school recruit, Thomas didn’t play up to his full potential for the Hurricanes.

As a fourth- or fifth-round pick, Thomas is easily worth taking a chance on. Perhaps with pro coaching, he could finally get the most out of his incredible natural ability.

Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech

Like the linebacker position, the cornerback position is changing in the NFL. And the Broncos want to be ahead of the curve. Positionless football is the name of the game, and rangy players in the secondary who can line up all over the field are becoming more of a premium.

Cornerback Brandon Facyson #31 of the Virginia Tech Hokies looks on prior to the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Lane Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Duke defeated Virginia Tech 45-43 in quadruple overtime. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

Brandon Facyson (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

Brandon Facyson from Viriginia Tech has the size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) to line up at either cornerback or free safety.

He’s a disciplined player who could thrive in a press-coverage defense. Facyson can knock a receiver off his route at the line of scrimmage, and his length makes passes difficult to squeeze in. His size also gives him an advantage when it comes to defending passes in the red zone.

Unlike smaller corners, Facyson can thrive near the line of scrimmage in run defense. He’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and will strike the ball carrier with force normally reserved for strong safeties.

Facyson is not a sudden player, but as a fifth- or sixth-round pick there’s plenty to work with here.

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Lammey: 3 defensive prospects for Broncos to watch at the combine