Posted Mon Feb 6th by Monty
Robert Ayers has had some big shoes to fill. A first round draft pick in 2009 — the second selection of the short-lived Josh McDaniels era — the defensive lineman added to expectations by choosing to wear jersey #56 in his first two seasons, just like another former Volunteer-alum with the Broncos, Al Wilson. Maybe that was why Ayers switched to jersey #91 in 2011 (or maybe it was simply because his number from college became available after Ronald Fieldswasn’t re-signed), but his career to date has nevertheless been up and down. There’s reason to feel good about Ayers’ future, though — he’s finding his footing, literally and figuratively, as a run stuffer on the edge and a much-needed pass rusher in the middle of the Broncos’ defensive line.
2011 Analysis: Ayers played in all 16 games for the Broncos, starting in 13 at left defensive end while also seeing time at defensive tackle in nickel and dime packages. He graded out as the 43rd best 4-3 defensive end by Pro Football Focus this season, and Football Outsiders had the Broncos Left End position graded at 22nd in the NFL (a stat that accounts for all players at the position for the Broncos, not just Ayers). But Ayers came on strong as the year went on — an observation that makes sense since he was getting infused into a new scheme at the professional level for the first time. He had a sack in the season finale and two more in the Broncos’ playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers — as many sacks as he had in his first 41 career games combined.
Contract Status: Signed through 2013
2012 Outlook: Ayers is on the payroll for an affordable $965,000 in 2012, so there’s no reason to believe the Broncos won’t keep him around for what will be a make-or-break fourth season. He’ll compete to keep his starting job at LDE into training camp, but he finished strongly enough in 2011 to believe he could fight off a high draft pick or marquee free agent pickup.
As always, we invite you, the readers, to participate. Is the Broncos’ patience with Ayers beginning to pay off, or will Ayers never live up to his first round expectations?
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