Denver Broncos: How Will the Team Replace Elvis Dumervil?
Perhaps it's best for all involved that Elvis Dumervil is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
With Dumervil out, the Broncos are losing one of the game's top pass-rushers. Dumervil registered 63.5 sacks in his Broncos career (ranking fourth in franchise history), including 11 last season.
So how do the Broncos plan to replace this production? It may be unrealistic to expect to duplicate that many sacks immediately.
The Broncos have some young defensive ends on the roster who will have their opportunity to step up, but the draft and free agency offer alternate options.
Here, we will take a look at the players who could have a chance to fill Dumervil's shoes starting in 2013.
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Robert Ayers was selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. To say he has been a disappointment would be a slight understatement.
In four seasons, Ayers has just 6.5 sacks. Still, he may get the first shot to be one of the starting defensive ends in 2013.
Ayers is probably best suited to be a situational pass-rusher, however, and the Denver coaching staff probably realizes that.
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A former seventh-round selection by the Broncos in 2011, Jeremy Beal is still looking to get a shot in the NFL.
Though he's never played in a regular season game, Beal has a lot of upside.
In four seasons at Oklahoma, Beal had 29 sacks.
Beal is a hard-working player who can get to the quarterback, but he is also effective at defending the run.
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Malik Jackson was Denver's fifth-round pick last season. He played sparingly, collecting just three tackles.
But at only 23 years old, the 6'5", 270-pound defensive end could be an outside candidate to earn a starting position.
Jackson showed relentless pursuit in his college career at Tennessee, where he tallied 22 sacks in two seasons.
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The Broncos would likely have to use their first-round choice in the upcoming draft (No. 28 overall), in order to get Alex Okafor. But it may not be a bad idea.
Okafor had 24 sacks in college at Texas, including 4.5 in one game in which he terrorized Oregon State in the 2012 Alamo Bowl.
Okafor shows a good combination of strength and speed, and he is equipped with multiple moves to get to the quarterback.
Okafor makes a lot of sense in the first round.
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Margus Hunt is one of the most intriguing players in this year's draft.
Hunt ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the combine and did quite well in the bench press with 38 reps.
A world class shot put and discus thrower from Estonia, Hunt has the speed, athleticism and strength that makes him a very hard player to pass over.
He probably won't be around when the Broncos select at the bottom of the second round, but if they trade out of the first or move up in the second, he would be a solid option.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio could turn this guy into a very dominant player.
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Free agency is still an option for the Broncos, and one of the prominent names still out there is John Abraham.
But after being released by Atlanta in March, teams have shown little interest in the veteran pass-rusher.
The market is not very deep for the 34-year-old Abraham.
The Broncos brought him in for a visit in March, but no contract was offered.
Abraham will be there if and when the Broncos want him. They'll probably choose to see what they have in their younger options first.
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After all, there is the connection between he and former Indy teammate Peyton Manning.
Freeney has 107.5 career sacks and possesses arguably the best spin move in NFL history.
Even though Freeney is 33 years old, there is still a good chance the Broncos will bring him in—that is if Freeney softens his contract demands (via NFL.com).
The Denver front office would probably sign Freeney, much like it would Abraham, only once training camp gets underway and after coaches have had a look at Ayers, Beal, Jackson and any pass-rushers selected in the draft.
Who Does Denver Go With?
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So which player do the Broncos go with? Do they select one of their young, unproven pass-rushers? Or do they turn to a proven veteran such as Freeney or Abraham?
With six picks at their disposal, perhaps they search for a sack artist in the NFL draft.
But when you consider Dumervil's production, it's unlikely that one player will be able to replicate the departed defensive end's numbers.
The coaching staff will be left with the task of finding a combination of players to help guys like Von Miller and Derek Wolfe get to the quarterback.