Since the end of the 2018 season, Broncos Country has identified linebacker as the biggest need on the Broncos roster outside of franchise quarterback. It wasn’t the best draft class for the position, but there were two who stood out above the rest. For this reason, my first prospect profile of the NFL Draft season focused on Devin White. I had this to say:
Long term, the defense is going to prioritize linebackers who 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.
It came as a bit of a surprise when Elway passed on Devin Bush at 10 instead using him as a trade chip to move down the board so the Pittsburgh Steelers could get up and grab the Michigan linebacker. Most fans were excited for Noah Fant, but still considered linebacker a gaping wound following the 2019 draft.
Todd Davis profile
Weight: 230 pounds
Experience: 6th season
Since I started writing about the Broncos, there isn’t a single player on the roster where the separation between perception and reality is more stark than with Todd Davis. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear how Todd Davis is incapable of covering tight ends and backs. You may even hear how Josey Jewell is the stronger run stopper.
Neither of these things were true during the Vance Joseph era. While it’s entirely plausible to hope Jewell makes a big jump this year, it’d be oversight to ignore how much the switch to Vic Fangio’s defense will benefit Davis.
Good at point of attack.
Good at stacking, then shedding blocks.
Good outside zone defender.
Solid ability to change of direction.
Solid ball skills.
Let’s start by dispelling the biggest myth about Todd Davis: he’s far more athletic than his most vocal detractors believe. The man ran a 6.93 3-cone and 4.23 short shuttle when he came out of Sacramento State, identical numbers to Devin Bush.
Davis combines his ability to change directions with above average play strength to provide the Broncos Front 7 with a good run stopper between the tackles. He’s quick to identify the ball and get to it. His ability to read the action in front of him leads to more plays than you’d expect in pursuit and he really stood out against zone running schemes.
However, where Davis will probably surprise Broncos fans most under Vic Fangio is against the pass. In zone coverage, he showed he’s very capable of dropping back, reading the QB, breaking forward, and disrupting the catch. In 2019, he’ll have a lot more opportunities to do just this:
4.87 40 shows up on the field.
Missed two games with high ankle sprain in 2017.
Short arms (31 1/4”) hurt his ability to separate from better blockers.
Now for the harsh truth: Todd Davis is as slow in a straight line as his detractors say he is. What’s surprising is how little the Vance Joseph defense adjusted the scheme to compensate for this. Far too often opposing coordinators manipulate the Broncos defense to get Davis matched up alone in space on legitimate receivers. This issue snowballed against teams that also ran play action as most linebackers are coached to key the run first and foremost.
One thing team's routinely did to expose the #Broncos linebackers in the passing game last year was to pull a guard. Davis keys it as if it will be a run play & can't recover.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) June 27, 2019
Darian Stewart didn't help matters. pic.twitter.com/7Z5Rju4Pyu
Still, this isn’t an insurmountable weakness. With better coaching, I fully expect Davis to be a serviceable three-down backer in 2019. More than once he showed real savvy sticking to his man despite the odds last season, such as this assignment against the Rams:
Davis’ other big issue is his short arms and how it impacts his ability to shed blocks against gap running schemes. In pursuit against zone teams, he routinely showed the ability to use a linemen’s momentum against him to free himself, but this will lead to giving ground to a down block.
The talk of the town was linebacker at 10, so I was definitely glued to my TV. They didn’t pick a linebacker at 10. I felt like, ‘OK, that shows a little trust in me and it shows I have to prove everybody right.’ That is the biggest thing for me. If somebody goes out on a limb and makes a decision on my behalf, it’s my decision to make sure they made the right one.”
Todd Davis’ roster status with the Broncos
Less than a month out of training camp, Davis looks like LB1 on the current roster. Barring a big jump from Josey Jewell, Davis looks like a safe bet to log the most snaps at the inside backer position in 2019. This isn’t a bad thing, as he’s a starter you can win with. He should look significantly better under the new regime, if only because Vic Fangio will do a much better job hiding his weaknesses and putting him in positions to showcase the strong parts of his game.
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