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2020 NFL Draft Preview Defensive end sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Broncos cannot have too many pass-rushers, no matter where they play on that side of the ball. They’ve made multiple moves on the defensive line this offseason, including keeping Shelby Harris at defensive end and trading for defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

If Casey plays defensive end in the Vic Fangio system, as he’s more than capable of doing so, then perhaps the Broncos won’t add anymore talent at the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. If Casey plays inside at defensive tackle, then adding a pass-rushing end would make sense at some point in the draft.

The best player in this draft, no matter the position, is a defensive end. In fact, the first round is going to have at least a few defensive ends go off the board.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the defensive end position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Market Watch

He may not be the first-overall pick in the draft, but Chase Young (Ohio State) is the best player in this class regardless of position. Young should be the No. 2 overall pick to Washington and they will be getting one great player. He’s almost perfect as a prospect and has All-Pro upside from the day he steps onto an NFL field.

Young turns power into speed effortlessly. He does a good job of swatting for the ball if the quarterback is just out of reach. Young has a nose for the spot a quarterback is going to take and he knows how to trick tackles into moving to a bad spot. His strength, quickness, high motor and high football intelligence are the best in this class. He has drawn comparisons to Von Miller, but I think Young plays more like Khalil Mack.

Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa may be the second defensive end who gets selected in the first round. Opinions vary on his pro potential, but I believe he can be a decade-long starter in the NFL. Epenesa has great strength on the edge. He does a good job of containing the outside as a run defender but also can get to the quarterback regularly.

Epenesa has incredible length, which allows him to make up ground quickly. He is adept at hand-fighting and does not let a blocker get into his chest that often. Epenesa will move sluggishly when he has to redirect, but working from the edge and pinching is his specialty.

Two defensive ends who should find themselves in the late first-round conversation are Julian Okwara (Notre Dame) and Marlon Davidson (Auburn). Okwara has great pursuit speed and burst to get to the quarterback. His final season ended with a broken leg, so teams are going to have to pass him medically. Davidson was on the same defensive line as Derrick Brown (likely a top-10 pick) and he has a good spin move to get around tackles. He uses leverage to win at the point of attack in run defense and he’s developing as a pass-rusher.

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Sleepers

Michigan has a pair of defensive ends who are intriguing prospects near the mid rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. Michael Danna and Josh Uche are good players with perhaps more upside than some think they have. Uche is likely to go off the board in the third round, while Danna is looking more like a fifth-round pick in my opinion.

What makes Uche a better option is his cat-like quickness and ability to create from the inside. He can line up as a linebacker in addition to playing defensive end. Uche gets off the line quickly and can beat a tackle around the edge or inside as a rusher. His long arms help keep blockers from getting into his body and controlling him. Uche generated pressure on almost 25 percent of his rushes, an output than ranked No. 2 in the entire FBS.

Danna has a lot to his game that scouts love. He transferred from Central Michigan to Michigan for the 2019 season and against Power-5 competition he did not produce as much. Danna compiled 17 sacks in his final two seasons with the Chippewas, but only managed 3.0 sacks in his one season with the Wolverines. He’s got multiple moves to get after the passer and his motor runs hot all game long. Danna is somewhat average athletically, and he needs to add more weight and strength at the pro level.

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Broncos Fits

Bradlee Anae from Utah should be on the Broncos radar. I have him graded as a third-round pick, and Anae would be a fine player to bring in and develop under defensive line coach Bill Kollar. During the last two years, Anae has 24 sacks as he’s one of the most productive players at his position during that time.

He’s a full-time player who doesn’t need to come off the field. Anae can play with his hand in the dirt or stand up to get after the passer. He has an array of pass-rushing moves and knows how to stack them on top of each other. Anae does not have the most athletic profile and he doesn’t have length to help him make up ground. That will cause him to fall to the mid rounds of the draft, but his production and work ethic are well worth the gamble at that point.

Boise State’s Curtis Weaver could be a nice fit for the Broncos. He had double-digit sacks each of the last three years for the Broncos and he wins with counter moves. Weaver recorded a 7.0 second three-cone drill at the Scouting Combine, a number that shows how quickly he can change direction at 265 pounds.

His production came against lesser competition and Weaver may not be the most athletic defensive end coming into the NFL this year. Weaver has incredible strength and he does a good job of timing his moves to get past tackles. He uses a two-hand swat mostly but Weaver does have other moves to get to the quarterback. Weaver is also known as a devastating tackler when attacking the ball-carrier.