Danny Trevathan. Roquan Smith. Patrick Willis. Navarro Bowman. Sam Mills. The Dome Patrol. Seemingly everywhere Fangio has coached in his professional career, there’s been a superstar linebacker solidifying the middle of his defense. Because of this, it comes as no surprise that many have called for Elway to make LSU’s Devin White the next Broncos first round pick. The 21-year old Tiger has the kind of range and athletic tools that just can’t be coached.
White was originally recruited by LSU to play fullback, but if you told me he had previous experience at safety I’d believe you. He looks so comfortable in space and coverage, it’s one of the immediate strengths of his game. One big reason for this is that he has legit speed.
I suspect that is one big reason why he’s such a tantalizing prospect for Broncos Country. Josey Jewell came to Denver last year with a lot of hype, but looked like the limited athlete he was when pressed into duty. He was also susceptible to play action and didn’t bring the kind of quick twitch athleticism to make up for it, which led to problems down the middle of the field. White’s type consistently shows the kind of player that should be an asset against play action passes.
If you followed Fangio’s comments at the combine, he spoke with Mike Klis about the difference between his defense and the 2018 Broncos. The comment below stood out to me and should receive more attention than it has to date.
“The way we played the last couple of years in Chicago was a lot different than the way the Broncos have played the last couple years,’’ Fangio said. “The Broncos played a lot of man, and a lot of 5-man rush man. We didn’t play too much of that in Chicago the past couple years. Especially this past year. We were more zone-oriented on first and second down than they were in Denver.
When you look at games by last years Broncos and Bears, they look like completely different defenses. As I mentioned in last week’s article about Shelby Harris, Fangio uses a 2-4 nickel formation with four backers on the field. From there he likes to send four players after the quarterback and keep the rest of the defenders in zone.
Who those four are will change from play to play, but if White was drafted he’d have ample opportunity to get after the quarterback. Even when Fangio moves to a 3-3 nickel set, he likes to keep opposing blocking schemes guessing.
While Fangio doesn’t go to man nearly as often as Vance Joseph, or Wade Phillips did, White is fluid enough to be a weapon in man coverage too.
Devin White does a great job here in man coverage playing out of phase with the tight end. Plays through the receiver, doesn't get caught looking back at the ball. Big stop pic.twitter.com/cQOMC5sF77— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) March 5, 2018
This would provide a lot of flexibility to the Broncos defense. There are times when an offense does what it can to force linebackers onto islands. Fangio’s defense with the Bears had an answer. A player like White would go a long way towards providing the Broncos one.
White does have a few weaknesses that will have to improve for him to reach his considerable potential at the professional level. The big one is his run defense can leave a lot to be desired. Tackling was an issue in spots, but I suspect that’s coachable. What did trouble me on the tape is how often he struggles to separate from blockers. Against teams where LSU had vastly superior athletes it wasn’t as glaring, but White had trouble at times with Georgia, and really struggled with Auburn last year.
That said, Galina shared some insight on the issue that suggests it should improve at the next level.
The overagressiveness has been a component of Aranda’s linebackers for a long time. They really try to get downhill in a hurry and sometimes that means getting within the gravitational pull of offensive linemen. As linebackers get smaller and more athletic, I’m not sure you want them taking on offensive linemen head on but that’s less on White and more on Aranda’s philosphy.
The other issue that crops up on tape is far less troubling for the LSU Tiger, though you’ve probably read about it a lot more. White takes bad angles sometimes. Many have dismissed this as inexperience, which doesn’t pass the smell test. White played linebacker in high school, even if he was recruited on offense. I suspect he’ll improve in this area with a coach like Fangio, but it is notable.
Should Devin White be the Broncos target at 10? He’s on my short list, for sure. I still believe the best possible option is to trade back and pick up 2020 ammo, but if the Broncos grab a player at their current selection White would fit the new system like a hand in glove.
Long term the defense is going to prioritize linebackers that look a lot like White. They’re the key component of the Fangio system and elite athletes at the position make everything easier. He uses them as Swiss Army knives. Sometimes they’ll blitz, sometimes they’ll cover, but they need to be able to shred anything that makes it to them.
I don’t think it’s a death knell some have made it out to be if Todd Davis and Jewell remain the starters in 2019, though. As I’ve mentioned before, the Broncos head coach has made due with lesser players inside before. More often than not his backers are dropping into zone coverage against the pass, and while Davis got a bad rub for his coverage last year he’s more than capable of doing this.