Going into the 2019 draft most around Broncos Country were dismayed to see John Elway pass on taking a pure off ball linebacker. Most around the league see it as one of the biggest holes on this year’s roster.
That may not be the case. Something I’ve noticed over my years following the NFL is how short the memory of the draft community seems to be. While this year’s Broncos don’t have a flashy first round backer like Devin Bush, it was merely one year ago Elway drafted two linebackers. Everyone who bleeds orange and blue knows about Josey Jewell, the 2018 4th round pick slated to start next to Todd Davis. Less have kept up with the 2018 6th round pick out of Washington: Keishawn Bierria.
After winning a roster spot out of camp a year ago, Bierria played in every game on the schedule in 2018. He finished with 5 tackles, but played over 65% of all special teams snaps, and 311 total.
- Reliable special teams contributor
- Plays beyond his athleticism. Reads quickly and hustle is apparent.
- Multiyear starter at Washington.
Working in Bierria’s favor is that the Broncos did not spend high draft picks on another rookie. Justin Hollins may play some inside backer in addition to his outside work, but the linebacker room has space for the 2nd year pro to make an impression. Additionally, given the importance of special teams contributions for players closer to the back half of the roster Bierria’s experience there his rookie season could give him an advantage over rookies such as Joe Dineen, Malik Reed, and Josh Watson.
- He only played 18 snaps on defense last year.
- Foot speed is a notable weakness of his. Ran a 4.79 40 coming out of Washington.
- Lateral mobility and quickness are also issues.
- Isn’t big for his position.
- Upside may be limited to special teams.
Coming out of the 2018 draft Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had this to say:
Keishawn Bierria is an ultimate competitor and wins with hustle and effort each and every down. Unfortunately, those are the minimum requirements in the NFL, and the other aspects of his play leave a bit to be desired. He’s an average athlete at best and will need time studying film to learn the ways he can position himself to be successful. Teams looking for a depth player and core special-teamer could find it in Bierria.
It really sums up what Bierria looks like a year into his NFL career. The snaps he played on defense were mostly clean ups at the end of the blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals and the final snaps of the season. One thing that really helps him make the team last year is that the Broncos carried so many linebackers. Vance Joseph prioritized players who could contribute on special teams, even if it meant holding onto players with limited value to the offense or defense.
Will Vic Fangio do the same?
Keishawn Bierria’s roster status with the Broncos
I suspect Bierria has to prove he’s a significantly better special teams player than his competitors to have a shot to stick to the roster in 2019. He’ll also need to prove he can serve as a valuable backup player behind Davis and Jewell to stick to the roster. One thing that helps his cause is that the new defense does not place near as much man coverage responsibility on the linebackers, so his limited athleticism won’t be such a liability. Even then, he has his work cut out for him with 4 new players competing for time at his position group.