Former Eagle Bunkley is elite in Broncos' 3-4 'D'
On Saturday we looked at Derek Landri, Pro Football Focus
’ fourth-ranked defensive/nose tackle out of 87 NFL qualifiers at his position (see story)
. Landri had a plus-22.0 grade in just one-third of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. A familiar face occupied the spot ahead of Landri. Brodrick Bunkley (plus-24.1) was ranked third.
The Eagles traded Bunkley to the Cleveland Browns
last July 30 several hours after signing free agent defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. Bunkley refused to go to Cleveland
, however, and the trade was rescinded two days after crossing the league’s official trading wire.
The Eagles at the time had 10 defensive linemen they felt comfortable moving forward with, in Mike Patterson, Trevor Laws, Antonio Dixon, Cedric Thornton, Jenkins, Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt.
Bunkley was expendable, so the Birds dumped him for whatever they could get. That would be an undisclosed 2013 draft pick from the Broncos
rather than the previously agreed upon 2012 fifth-rounder from GM Tom Heckert’s Browns.
The Broncos made Bunkley their 3-4 nose tackle at the beginning of the season and he instantly thrived.
The Florida State product had three stops – plays he ended alone -- in Denver’s season-opener against the Raiders and never quit stuffing the run. Bunkley for the year had 32 stops in 485 snaps. No other defensive tackle with fewer than 500 snaps had as many as 23.
Bunkley's penchant for ending plays by himself earned him a plus-28.4 grade in the ground game and the No. 1 overall ranking among defensive tackles against the run.
Pro Football Focus called Bunkley a “player to watch for” in Sunday’s wild card playoff matchup with the Steelers, won 29-23 on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.
Pittsburgh was to be without starting center Maurkice Pouncey (re-sprained ankle), leaving Doug Legursky the assignment of blocking the 6-foot-2, 306-pound Bunkley. The drop-off from Pouncey to Legursky is steep. In 2011 Pouncey allowed only four more QB pressures than Legursky ... in 664 more snaps
Sure enough, Bunkley made an impact for the Broncos late in the game. With Denver up 23-16 and 7:35 to play, Bunkley sacked Ben Roethlisberger on first down at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line. The Steelers would eventually score, but stopping Roethlisberger six yards behind the line of scrimmage ran off precious seconds the team wouldn’t get back in a potential game-winning drive at the end of the quarter.
Next week Bunkley will draw Patriots center Dan Connolly, who ranked 51st out of 64 centers by PFF in 2011. The Pats had a pass-run ratio of exactly 60-40, so one would think Bunkley’s run-stuffing ability wouldn’t be as meaningful. But against New England in Week 15, Bunkley made four stops on just 21 plays, generating his sixth-best grade of the year.
A developing nose tackle who has made the most of his opportunities on the field in Denver, Bunkley appears to have found his NFL calling. It only took six years, a change of scenery and a new defensive system. Some players are simply better built for the 3-4.E-mail Corey Seidman at firstname.lastname@example.org