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ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 24: Jeremiah Attaochu #97 of the Denver Broncos dives to try and tackle Devin Singletary #26 of the Buffalo Bills as he runs the ball during the second half at New Era Field on November 24, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo beats Denver 20 to 3. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
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Should the Broncos Pay or Pass in 2020 – Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu?

(Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

The Broncos have a lot of interesting decisions to make this offseason in regards to free agency. Before they decide on which ones to target from other teams, Denver must first look at its own players who are set to hit the open market.

Heading into the offseason, the Broncos have 14 players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2020. At the end-of-season press conference, Broncos general manager John Elway said the Broncos are going to wait a month before they start evaluating their own players.

“That gives us more time to do it the right way. Rather than doing it on a personal side, because the coaches get connected with (players). I think you get a better objective view when you get away and you’re able to go back and look at it individually,” Elway said.

In the meantime, let’s take a tour through the list of players the Broncos need to make a decision about. During the next few weeks, I’ll take an in-depth look at Denver’s pending free agents, answering a simple question: Should the Broncos pay to keep them or take a pass, letting them head into free agency.

Next up…

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JEREMIAH ATTAOCHU
Outside Linebacker/Edge

The Chargers selected outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu out of Georgia Tech in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Yellow Jackets pass-rusher was seen as a player who could sneak into the end of the first round that year, but the Chargers ended up getting him as somewhat of a value pick with the No.
50 overall selection.

He finished his college career as the all-time sack leader (31.5) at Georgia Tech and those in the scouting community were excited to see what he could do at the pro level. He started all 13 games of his final season in college at defensive end and was known to get sacks in bunches – including a four-sack game against Georgia.

Leading up to the draft, NFL teams were interested to see how Attaochu could make the transition to standing up and playing outside linebacker instead of having his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. In addition to standing up as a linebacker, Attaochu had to get more tricks in his bag as a pass-rusher in order to play up to his enormous potential as a pro.

With the Chargers, Attaochu played four seasons and saw his career get off track due to injuries and inconsistencies. He never played a full 16-game season with the Chargers and never had more than 6.0 sacks during his time in San Diego/Los Angeles. After his rookie contract was up in 2017, the Chargers made the decision to move on from Attaochu.

During the 2018 season, Attaochu signed with the 49ers and played with them all the way until final cuts at the end of August. Only a few days later, Attaochu signed with the Jets and played with them in 11 games until he was put on Injured Reserve to end his season.

In 2019, Attaochu signed with the Chiefs and spent most of the offseason with them until he was released at final cuts once again. About a month later, the Broncos signed him and he appeared in 12 games for them, compiling 15 tackles and 4.0 sacks.

Now, the veteran pass-rusher is set to be an unrestricted free agent.

Should the Broncos pay or pass? Let’s take a look.

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Positives

Attaochu is an incredibly smart player. That football intelligence helps him set up opponents as he attempts to rush around them play after play. Attaochu also recognizes plays from formation and has a good feel for what’s coming next due to intense film study and heady play.

Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, Attaochu has long arms and a large wingspan that benefits him greatly on the field. He can get off the line quickly and does a good job of anticipating the snap count. Attaochu finds the ball-carrier or quarterback quickly and does a good job of wrapping up his man and getting him to the ground quickly.

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Negatives

Injuries are the biggest negative for Attaochu. In six years as a pro, Attaochu has appeared in only 61 games. Several different injuries have caused him to miss time and that robs him of consistency at the pro level.

In addition to injuries, Attaochu is not the most powerful player. When he came into the league, stand up rushers at 250 pounds were the norm. Now, several years later, we see that rushers on the edge are more around the range of 275 to 280 pounds. The game is always getting bigger, stronger, faster and guys the size of Attaochu (unless they’re incredibly gifted like Von Miller) just don’t make much of an impact.

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The Market

Everyone knows that Attaochu is not going to break the bank. That affordability factor should play a large role in the Broncos decision as to whether or not to keep the veteran. The top outside linebackers in the league like Khalil Mack ($23.5 million) and Von Miller ($19 millioin) make around $20 million per year and of course the Broncos won’t have to pay that to keep Attaochu.

In fact, Denver won’t even have to pay Attaochu what veteran Clay Matthews ($4.6 million) is set to make from the Rams in 2020. Older players like Attaochu or Matthews don’t make that much money in the grand scheme of things. Deciding whether or not to pay Attaochu is a decision that has little to do with what he makes. Instead, this decision is about fit and function within the defensive system.

If the Broncos were to keep Attaochu in 2020, the price tag could be somewhere in the $2-3 million range.

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The Verdict

I believe the Broncos can never have too many quality edge players. Attaochu just fits what Vic Fangio does on the defensive side of the ball. His length helps him get to the quarterback earlier and his burst also helps him make up ground quickly when rushing around offensive tackles.

With that being said, the Broncos need to pay Attaochu.

As we’ve seen in years past, it’s important for this Broncos defense to have a plethora of pass-rushers they can send in waves after an opponent. Having that depth to rush the passer means they can pressure quarterbacks early and often while also keeping their players fresh with a rotation of talent. Attaochu certainly showed his value to Fangio and company in 2019. That’s worth taking a chance on – for an affordable price – in 2020.