The Denver Broncos have a talented roster, and they have improved depth through the work of general manager George Paton and the scouting staff. Through free agency and the draft, the Broncos have more talent and improved depth on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos defense is much improved compared to last year. They’ve got one of the best defenses in the league – on paper. If the players come through for the coaches, then this defense could be special in 2021.
The Broncos are on a break right now, but they’ll return in late July to get to work. During the break, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio has some plans to get away – but not too far away from preparations for an incredibly important season.
“We want the coaches to get away, but in this day and age with iPads – that I’m sure they’ll take – you’ll spend some free time doing stuff. Me personally, I’m going to be on about six plane rides during the break, and I plan on doing work on the plane with the computer, plan on doing work wherever I’m at when I have down time. So, we want everybody to get recharged, get refreshed, but I’m sure they’ll all be thinking about it and doing some stuff along the way,” Fangio said.
Here are three under-the-radar defensive players who could play significant roles for the Broncos in 2021.
Derrek Tuszka, Edge
You can never have too many pass-rushers in the NFL. The Broncos have a great duo of pass-rushers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Behind them, they have Malik Reed who led the team in sacks last season. Behind those three, there is Derrek Tuszka, a player they added in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tuszka, an edge from North Dakota State, was a force against FCS offensive tackles and racked up 23.0 sacks during the final two years of his college career. He wins with multiple moves to get after the passer, great bend around the corner and a relentless motor.
Tuszka was a bit undersized out of college at 251 pounds, but his work in the NFL weight program has paid off and he’s gotten stronger. If Tuszka adds a bull rush to his speed/spin moves, then pro tackles need to watch out. He could make a great rotational pass-rusher for Denver if he starts playing up to his potential.
Fangio admits what we all know – teams want as many players who can rush the passer as possible. It’s something they’ll have to see shake out in training camp.
“Well, we’ve got Malik (Reed) and it’s definitely wide open after that. We need to find another two guys that we feel comfortable with, both from a special teams standpoint and from a playing defense standpoint to go in and spell those guys. It’s wide open and we’re looking,” Fangio said.
Tuszka will be in the mix for the pass-rushers behind Reed. If he performs well in training camp, he could see the field as a rotational player when Chubb and Miller need a breather. He was a standout player in college and has the type of motor that teams covet. It’s time for Tuszka to take that next step, and if he does, he will not be on any underrated list for 2022.
McTelvin Agim, NT
Teams must be strong in the middle of the defense. You need a strong interior defensive line in order to stand up to teams, so you don’t get pushed around by an opponent’s rushing attack. That’s why the Broncos have spent multiple draft picks on players up front.
McTelvin Agim was one of my favorite “sleeper” prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. I scouted him during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game and came away impressed. Agim was a standout at that game even though he was a bit under the radar in scouting circles. His talent could not hide from the Broncos, and they snared him in the third round of the draft.
Agim is the rare big man with multiple moves – I mean a ton of moves – to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable. He has at least six moves in his bag of tricks to get sacks from the middle of the line. Middle pressure can make any quarterback look mortal. Edge pressure is important, but quarterbacks can get rid of the ball quickly to avoid rushers from the outside. However, inside pressure is right in their face and it’s much tougher to make passes to get around a player coming up the middle.
Fangio admitted he wants a rotation of players on the defensive line.
“Yeah, we’d like to feel that way. I think Shamar (Stephen) has been a good pick up; we got Mike (Purcell), Shelby (Harris). We think Mike and Shelby will be full go once we get back to camp. ‘Sosa’ (McTelvin Agim) has looked better and hopefully he’ll continue that. Dre’Mont (Jones), Jonathan Harris is back after a year on the shelf; DeShawn (Williams) is back, and we’re looking for the other guys to show us something, to hopefully punch a ticket to join that group,” Fangio said.
The team wants to rotate defensive linemen so they can stay fresh as the game goes on. Doing that effectively means the team will be able to stand strong and perhaps even send extra defenders after the quarterback. Agim has the talent to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player due to his strength, quickness and pass-rushing skills. Broncos fans need to get to know his game and remember the name for Sundays coming up in 2021 and beyond.
Michael Ojemudia, CB
I’m not giving up on Michael Ojemudia. After just one season, some are suggesting that his best spot is at safety on the Broncos defense. A third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Ojemudia was a player who had a perfect skill set for the Fangio system. He’s a larger corner and has a more physical skill set and can work well in a zone defense. Ojemudia needed time to get used to the pro game, but the 2020 season had different plans for him.
Instead of working as a reserve during his rookie season, Ojemudia was thrust into a larger role and the starting lineup for 11 games. He played a whopping 882 snaps and did not secure a single interception while snaring 56 tackles. His four forced fumbles are a sign he can make plays, but he just needs to be more consistent in coverage.
Fangio likes what he’s seen from Ojemudia so far this offseason.
“He’s in a good frame of mind. He learned a lot last year. He got thrown to the fire probably earlier than we would have wanted to, but we had no choice. We’re teaching him some of the inside positions at the nickel and dime position. He has a lot on his plate, but I’ve liked his focus and his attitude. He’s not let the fact that we’ve brought in some new corners affect him. He’s out here competing and trying to earn a spot. I like where Michael is at. He’s still got a way to go, but overall, he’s in a good spot,” Fangio said.
Ojemudia was handpicked by the Broncos last year to develop as a potential starter in the NFL. Things didn’t go well for him as a rookie, but that doesn’t mean he should switch positions and trying something new. In fact, I’d like to see Ojemudia get more time – something injuries might cause – to continue to build on his natural skill set at the corner position.
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