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Broncos Film Room: The Broncos Three Young Bucks

Jake Schwanitz Avatar
June 4, 2022

The 2022 Denver Broncos’ pass rush enters a new era, with a new coaching staff and the off-season departure of multiple-notable veterans. After trading Von Miller and Shelby Harris over the last calendar year, premium resources were used on Randy Gregory and Nik Bonitto.

Still, Denver’s front-seven depth will ultimately prove how successful and consistent their pass rush can be in 2022. Enter the three Ohio State Buckeyes on the roster: Dre’Mont Jones, Baron Browning and Jonathan Cooper. Each faces a big question approaching the 2022 season with a chance to make a great impact on the Broncos in a must-win year.

Can Dre’Mont Jones become Denver’s next Malik Jackson?

Let’s start with Dre’Mont Jones, as he enters the most important season of his young career, looking to earn an extension with Denver or a big deal in free agency after the 2022 season.

Through three seasons, Jones has recorded 15.5 sacks, 19 tackles for a loss and 28 QB hits with the bulk of his production coming in 2020 and 2021.

Jones has proved he is a reliable player in the Broncos’ defensive-line rotation but can he take that next step as a true impact player in 2022 and beyond?

In Week 9 visiting Dallas, Jones battled with one of the best guards in the league in Zack Martin and held his own in a Broncos victory. Here was one of Jones’ standout reps that generated pressure on Dak Prescott but if that’s nearly any other guard in the league this play has a much greater chance of ending in a sack or turnover. A great display of his ability to win with speed and generate pressure on the interior defensive line from Jones.

Jones also flashes some truly impressive explosion and strength at times, most notably in this rep against Wyatt Teller in Week 7 last year. Jones wrecks Teller and this wide zone run to the boundary by eliminating any chance of a backside cut from the running back.

One of the most consistent aspects of Jones’ game is his effort and motor. He is consistently chasing in pursuit and playing through the whistle. Granted, Tyreek Hill danced too much on this play, but Jones covers a lot of ground and delivers a reminder to the former Chief that he has to keep moving upfield.

There are many things to like about Jones’ game and the opportunity is there for him to take the next step after the Broncos traded away Shelby Harris. Expectations have been raised for everyone in Denver with Russell Wilson’s arrival.

Jones’ opportunity in 2022 is reminiscent of Malik Jackson’s in 2015. Both entered their contract year with an opportunity to start and prove their ability in a full-time role. Jackson’s ability to elevate his game was one of the greatest aspects of that legendary defense. Is it possible Dre’Mont can make that leap for the Broncos in 2022?

Can Browning rush the passer?

Through the Broncos’ first seven games in 2021, Baron Browning had four defensive snaps. He received his opportunity to start at off-ball linebacker in Week 8 and ended up starting nine of the Broncos’ last 10 games.

Browning proved that his versatility from his time playing in Columbus translated over to the NFL after he showed ability in coverage, when blitzing and great athleticism combined with range in space.

However, the Broncos addressed the off-ball linebacker positions with multiple free agents, and Nathaniel Hackett and his staff decided that Browning will be playing on the edge in 2022.

After going back and looking at a good chunk of Browning’s play from 2022, there’s reason to be optimistic about his position change.

Browning did not officially register a sack for the Broncos in 2021 but this play, which would later be nullified after a penalty, could be a preview of things to come in 2022. Browning is a tremendous athlete and posted a 9.98 RAS score with his pro-day performance during the 2021 draft process. That ability is very obviously on display here as he gets around the edge and flattens his line to Herbert like a rocket.

Not a pass rush rep, but another great representation of Browning’s athleticism and play-making ability. Browning will have plenty more opportunities to clog up passing lanes and get his hands on the ball like this in the near future.

Again in coverage, this time with the quick feet and ability to keep up with Austin Ekeler’s explosion in and out of breaks to get a pass break up. Browning’s athletic skillset would suggest that the Broncos still intend on using him in coverage and given Nik Bonitto’s ability in coverage, it’s possible the Broncos could use Bonitto and Browning interchangeably.

Not defining a young player’s role in a key stage of development can always be worrisome but it’s a worthwhile experiment given Browning’s skill set and potential third-down impact.

Not to mention the fact that the Broncos did not give out large amounts of guaranteed money to their free-agent off-ball linebacker signings and opted against drafting one in April. It’s entirely possible that Browning could still see some work playing off-ball moving forward but moving him down on the edge will be a storyline worth following through the summer. 

Can Cooper stay healthy?

There’s no doubt about it, of the three Buckeye Broncos, Jonathan Cooper’s film from the 2021 season was the most impressive.

The talented Cooper was drafted at 239 overall in 2021 and overcame off-season heart surgery that corrected a heart condition that contributed to his draft slide. A tremendous turnaround but the former Buckeye is facing off-season surgery again although, this time, for a much less worrying procedure on a finger tendon.

While the finger shouldn’t prove to be a long-term issue, Cooper will again miss out on valuable reps and time in the Broncos’ off-season workouts. Cooper also missed chunks of games in his five years at Ohio State.

If the second-year Buckeye is able to shake the injury bug and stay on the field, the Broncos’ pass rush rotation will have another guy giving offenses issues in 2022.

While Von Miller was going through the process of being traded in 2021, Cooper provided substantial snaps for the Broncos down the stretch with flashes of pure talent as seen above. It should be mentioned that the Cowboys had a backup left tackle in their game against the Broncos and Cooper failed to finish the play, but the speed, hands and tight rush speak for themselves.

Cooper also showed the ability to drop back and pick up receivers reliably in coverage. While this isn’t the “Feed Me” era Zeke he is covering, it’s still a great show of instincts and overall coverage ability to find the ball and cause an incompletion.

Another near miss, but this time against the Browns’ talented left tackle, Jedrick Wills. Cooper does a great job of attacking the tackle upfield before unleashing a devastating spin move that results in a big hit on Case Keenum.

Cooper managed to rack up 2.5 sacks in 2021 but also charted 7 QB hits and 4 TFLs proving that he has the natural ability to penetrate offensive lines and cause havoc in the backfield.

Who can step their game up?

It’s probably just a coincidence that the Broncos have been visiting the well-off front-seven players out of Columbus recently, but so far all three have shown great ability with upside to become impact players. 

Promising flashes as rookies in 2021 provoke the thought that either, or both of Browning and Cooper could make the leap and outplay their draft position greatly.

Meanwhile, Dre’Mont Jones has the potential to unlock the entire Broncos’ pass rush.

A big season approaches for the Broncos’ three young Bucks.

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