Defensive unit grades
I figure Sam Ukwuachu would've given the D-line the 'plus'...but there's no use crying over spilled milk. The pre-summer D-line is worse off without Sam U, but still should be formidable and should be the class of the MWC even without incredible depth. Demarcus Lawrence and TBD (Beau Martin, Sam McCaskill, Tyler Horn?) will be good on the ends and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and TBD (Deuce Mataele, Armand Nance, Elliot Hoyte, Tyler Horn?) should be good in the middle. Not a wealth of experience here, but plenty of talent. I'm excited about this group as a whole.
Top-to-bottom, this might be the best linebacker unit the Broncos have had in some time. Notice, I said "might". Blake Renaud has shown flashes of brilliance and should be the best run-stopping LB we've fielded since Byron Hout. Tyler Gray played well last year as a true frosh and has a very Aaron Tevis-like build. The backups are big-time recruits however you slice it—Ben Weaver, Andrew Pint, Tanner Vallejo, etc. Like the D-line, there will be plenty of talent but not a whole lot of experience. If the corps can get up-to-speed in a hurry, this will be a formidable group, but make no mistake, the Broncos will miss J.C. Percy and Tommy Smith's leadership. Look for Renaud to emerge as the leader of the defense.
I like this group. Senior-to-be Jonathan Brown has shown he's a competent option at nickel and Corey Bell seems to get better each passing season. I excited to see if Chris Santini will contribute this year (i'm guessing he does), but the guy to really keep an eye on is true frosh Mat Boesen, who will arrive this summer. Boesen played tight end, defensive end and linebacker in high school and at 6'4" 220 lbs. is the new prototype the Broncos are looking for at nickel. The kid is definitely good enough to play right away if he can absorb the playbook. One of the few defensive positions on the team that looks solid with depth.
Jeremy Ioane and Darian Thompson collectively put up "A" quality performances last year, in my opinion. Thompson was thrust into the spotlight after Lee Hightower's suspension and managed to appear in all 13 games for the Broncos—pulling in 3 INTs and making 43 stops. Ioane finally lived up to his billing and put together a rather complete season as a ballhawk and punisher. If the depth chart wasn't so murky after these two, the grade would be higher...and likely will be once Fall ball hits. Chanceller James, Taylor Loffler, Ebo Makinde and Dillon Lukehart will battle it out in the coming months for the respective 2 spots, and I think once two more separate themselves, this will be a solid unit. Keeping Ioane and Thompson healthy, however, still needs to be priority 1.
The CB unit often ends up being a strength of the Bronco defense as they seemingly reload year after year after year. This season will likely be no different, but huge question marks remain after the losses of Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins to graduation and Bryan Douglas to a knee injury. We've heard that Douglas is well on the road to recovery, but until he's 100%, this group is fast, but seriously lacking in the experience department. Currently, our most-experienced DB not on the IR is Donte Deayon...a soon-to-be true sophomore that played sparingly (but well) in 2012. Chaz Anderson, Deontae Florence, Mercy Maston and Cleshawn Page will likely do battle in the Fall to fill in the gaps, but true frosh Cameron Hartsfield, Jonathan Moxey or Dionza Blue could make a push as well. We've got a boatload of 'em...just need to get some reps between 'em.