When the third day of the NFL Draft rolls around, most general managers are looking to use their selections on prospects who can compete for back-up positions, fill a niche or become special teams stalwarts for their franchise. It is easily the wildest day of the draft, where position coaches often get thrown a bone for someone they covet — and it’s a time that signifies a huge shift in how teams value and evaluate prospects. Risks and proverbial rolls of the dice are common place, but it appears the Denver Broncos may have played it ‘safe’ with their fourth round picks in this year’s draft.
Name: Josey Jewell
Position: Inside Linebacker
While many folks (including myself) have been critical of the Broncos’ drafting in years past, credit deserves to be given where it is due. Without question, John Elway and his scouting department have done a tremendous job finding starters on the draft’s third day and beyond — a primary reason why the team has been so successful under his leadership. The Broncos had two selections in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft and I am very confident that they acquired two prospects whose immediate and long-term impact will far surpass where they were taken.
There was no “Who the heck is this guy?” talk when the franchise selected one of the nation’s most tenacious and productive linebackers from the University of Iowa with the 106th pick. That prospect — Josey Jewell, also known as The Outlaw has starting caliber talent, a prolific collegiate resume and the heart and desire to become a fixture in the Broncos’ defense for years to come.
Jewell grew up on a farm in rural Iowa and committed to the Hawkeyes in 2013, where he redshirted his first year. As a freshman in 2014, he primarily served as a back up linebacker, but earned four starts late in the season. In his final three years, he cemented himself as one of the team’s best players. Over the course of his career, Jewell accumulated 433 tackles, ten sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
He wasn’t just an impact defender against the run, he also showed the ability to cover backs and tight ends with precision in zone coverage, amassing 26 passes defended and six interceptions in his historic collegiate career. His gaudy production earned him second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015 and 2016, but his immaculate senior campaign merited first-team honors. He was also named the Big Ten Defensive Player and Linebacker of the Year, and was the recipient of the Lott Trophy and Jack Lambert Award in 2017.
One of Jewell’s greatest assets is his knowledge of the game. He is known for being a player who spends a lot of time analyzing film, which translates to rarely whiffing or being caught out of position on the gridiron. His ability to diagnose plays and flow to where the action is at is second to none, arguably making him the best linebacker against the run in the draft.
It’s that sort of high football IQ that has impressed his teammates early on, in particular Brandon Marshall who spoke highly of the rookie linebacker during OTA’s.
“I like Josey. He’s a smart, smart kid. He’s intense. He’s a hard worker, a blue-collar worker. You see him out there going full-speed all the time. He knows what he’s doing already.”
As far as production goes, Jewell didn’t just pile up stats against lower level teams, but routinely rose to the occasion and played some of his best football against ranked teams. I was also impressed with how well he did in pass coverage, particularly when dropping into zone. At the end of the day, Jewell is a throwback linebacker with top-notch intangibles and leadership qualities that make him ready to make an impact early on with the Broncos.
The Broncos look to have found good value with their selection of Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell in the fourth round of the draft! pic.twitter.com/ZhJkcRkRoo— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 3, 2018
Jewell checks almost every box imaginable in the scouting department, but his below-average combine performance and lack of top-tier athleticism caused him to drop to the third day of the draft. He didn’t run well at all and his change of direction skills and lateral agility pose some question marks. However, I’m not too worried about that inhibiting his ability to be a good player for the franchise. Give me a player with the leadership qualities and will to win like he has over flashy linebackers with athleticism who lack intangibles any day out of the week.
“Hopefully I can come into special teams and help the coaches, help the players as much as possible there. Then if my role extends, that’d be awesome. Whatever the coaches see fit.” — Jewell discussing his immediate role with the team during rookie orientation
Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis are the incumbent starters for the Broncos’ defense in 2018, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jewell earns a lot of significant playing time and takes snaps away from Davis as the season goes on. He will contribute immediately on special teams, but his ceiling is much higher than that. I truly believe Jewell has what it takes to become a long-term starter for the franchise. Considering his track record of proving his doubters wrong, I wouldn’t bet against The Outlaw becoming a household name in the league.