I'm breaking down our team to look at what we have in the cupboard for this offseason. In doing so, I've gathered a bunch of data from www.nflgsis.com and www.profootballfocus.com to give us some stats to look at as we evaluate what our players did in the 2015 regular season. Also, www.overthecap.com contract info will be embedded when available. I'll add to that a synopsis of each player including their contract situation. Hopefully this helps Broncos Country here at MHR be better educated on the state of the team.
On to the inside of the middle level of the defense. We're going to take a look at the Inside Linebacker situation for the Denver Broncos here. These guys fill the gaps not covered by the line and the OLB. Keep in mind that in a scheme like we run, this is not usually a "read and react" situation. Wade Phillips will have players do that if they are good at it, but mostly each ILB has an assignment on any given play and it is very direct on what they are supposed to to. Attack the gap, blitz the QB, drop into coverage with an eye on the gap, or man up in coverage on someone.
We've really been blessed the past few years with our starting situation here and while injury questions were out there to start the 2015 season, I mostly felt confident about what we were bringing to the table when the preseason started. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are both excellent linebackers in every way. They cover well, run defend, and have superb lateral quickness.
One interesting note about this unit: Brandon Marshall flat out doesn't come off the field. The dude saw a whopping ~83% (Danny T clocked ~67% by comparison) of the snaps in the regular season and is the guy that Phillips leaned on to handle the middle in dime situations a lot of the time.
Brandon Marshall's forte is run defense by far. He's such a superb player at reading the play at the snap, then attacking the play with big time burst and no hesitation. His tackling form is always superb.
He's not as strong as a coverage back as Danny Trevathan, but he always looks good in coverage from where I sit. I feel our scheme more than anything asks him to not be in as much man coverage.
Marshall is a big time linebacker in his prime right now. He's a guy you are happy to have as a restricted free agent for 2016. There's not much else to say here: he's not going anywhere this year and it isn't likely the team will work on extending him since they have so many other unrestricted guys to try to take care of.
Danny Trevathan has been a play maker since he stepped onto the field for us. He's one of the best coverage linebackers I've seen recently in the NFL.
Trevathan really has no weaknesses in his game at all to speak of. He's very good against the run. He's great in man coverage. He's got the speed and quickness to make plays on the ball in the air (ask Tony Romo). He's a great player in every way and if the team loses him he is going to be missed in both the locker room and on the field.
This is a guy that has shown he can play multiple positions at linebacker. He can handle whatever your scheme asks of him. This is the kind of linebacker that other teams will covet. He's a starter on the vast majority of NFL teams heading into 2016.
Couple that with the team's choice making about how they build their defense and you will find it hard to see how we will resign Danny Trevathan for 2016 and beyond. This just isn't a position that the team highly values when it comes time to pay contracts. We hire aging vets and poach practice squads. So far that method has been very successful for the team.
Todd Davis has done nothing but impress me since he joined the Broncos. He joined the team late in the 2014 season and within a week or two was getting significant playing time and looked really good on the field. He stands out in the preseason action he gets. He does his job when he's in spelling one of the starters (~12% of the regular season snaps).
His play is similar to Brandon Marshall's in that he's really good at attacking the run. He's a backer who you love seeing get in on a play because he lays the wood on some poor fool and makes a statement. I'll be looking closely this year at his coverage ability because that is the key to him taking a starting role with the team.
Again, the Broncos can kick this can down the road a bit as far as 2016 goes. Todd Davis is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent and as such is going to be in orange and blue without question.
Cory Nelson is a guy that I sadly don't notice very often. That's not always a bad thing, though. The one thing I spot going over my old notes is he's got that lateral quickness that this defense loves in ILBs. He's strong against the run. There is no time like the present for a young guy like this to come into the preseason and make a statement.
The big question just like with Davis is going to be his pass coverage ability. In today's NFL you can't afford linebackers who can't cover in either man or zone at a decent level. If you try to do that, the better QBs in the league will pick on you in coverage until the game is lost.
Nelson is going into the 3rd year of his 4 year contract with us. He's a guy that you hope can take a step forward and either be a solid backup or a significant starter. The competition for him and Davis in training camp should be very interesting to keep an eye on.
Much like our DE position, our ILBs are probably going to take a slight step back in 2016 due to losing a very talented player in Danny Trevathan. The hope here is that we can get another player already on the team ready to make an impact and fill in at that level. I'm a pretty big Todd Davis fan and predict he'll be starting next to Marshall to kick off the 2016 season.
I don't expect us to look for anything in free agency here unless it is a veteran who still has gas left in the tank that want to play for cheap with a champ. In the draft, we'll probably not be targeting one early, but you know if a good one falls to us, Elway will probably snap them up.
The way our defense works, this position isn't a central priority to its success. We thrive off of pass rush and coverage. The ILBs in this scheme are part of the glue that keeps it all working. That being said, they aren't normally the super stars and the thinking here form the front office perspective is that we can afford to lose Trevathan as we target higher priority free agents and let the young guys here step up and fill the void.