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NFL Free Agent profile: Inside linebacker Joe Schobert

The tackling machine could be a nice addition to the Denver Broncos defense.

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The inside linebacker position is an important one in Vic Fangio’s defense. In the past, teams he coached the defense for all were at their best when they had two talented linebackers in the middle of their defense. With the 49ers, he had Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman during their Super Bowl run. In 2018 with the Chicago Bears, his number one ranked defense had former Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith in the middle of his defense. His 2018 showing ultimately helped him get the Denver Broncos Head Coaching job. Now, will he and General Manager John Elway look to upgrade this position this offseason?

I think Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert could be high on the Broncos wish-list this offseason.

Schobert played his college ball at Wisconsin and had himself a productive career during his three seasons with them. During his three seasons at Wisconsin, Schobert totaled 154 tackles, 33.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, 1 interception, 10 pass deflections, and 6 forced fumbles. This production helped him get selected in the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Since then, he has become a consistent tackling machine in the middle of the Browns defense.

In his four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Schobert has totaled 408 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 6 interceptions, and 8.5 sacks. This past season for the Browns, he totaled 133 tackles, 2 sacks, 9 pass deflections, and 4 interceptions.

Schobert is ranked as the 41st best free agent by Pro Football Focus.

There’s been a distinct line between Schobert’s play in the run game (where he’s graded at 55.0 or below over the last two years) and in coverage (where he graded at an excellent 87.7 in 2018 and a solid 67.6 last year). He finished 2019 with four interceptions and four pass breakups, and he’s transitioned nicely from college pass-rusher to valuable coverage linebacker. In a new system, that pass-rushing ability could come in handy, as he only rushed the passer 62 times last season after rushing over 100 times in his previous two years as a starter.

The Broncos have to face and attempt to beat the now reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs twice a year, so any upgrade on defense should be welcomed. Is Joe Schobert that guy? I think he could be.

Why it makes sense

Again, the inside linebacker position is an important one in Vic Fangio’s defense. Alexander Johnson emerged this past year and Todd Davis has been adequate, but an improvement can be made here.

One thing that factors into this decision is Todd Davis’s option. If the Broncos decide not to pick up his option, they will most certainly be in the market for an inside linebacker. However, if they decide to exercise it, there is no chance that they will be spending big on a free agent inside linebacker. Davis would only carry a $6 million dollar cap hit in 2020, so it will likely come down to how Fangio and the Broncos feel about Davis moving forward and if they feel they can find an upgrade.

Now back to Schobert. As the PFF quote noted above, he is excellent in coverage. That is something Fangio’s linebackers are needed to do and an area that Davis isn’t great at. He is a better run defender than Schobert, while Schobert is a better pass defender. Without factoring in the price just yet, I would rather have Schobert over Davis because of his coverage skills.

Schobert is a tackling machine too. He has been over 100 tackles the past three seasons and tackle totals of 133 and 144 when he has played all 16 games. His durability isn’t a concern either. He has only missed three games the past four seasons and they all were in 2018.

Why it doesn’t make sense

Well, it’s pretty simple. If the Broncos exercise Todd Davis’s option, this doesn’t make sense. However, if they do, I do not see why the Broncos wouldn’t pursue Schobert on the free-agent market.

The only other would be his potential price tag. I do not think he would get elite inside linebacker money, but it still won’t be cheap and should be well over Davis’s $6 million cap hit. Will the potential upgrade be worth the extra few million?

Comparable contracts

Final Thoughts

I’ve always been a fan of Joe Schobert. He is a bit of a tackling machine who is productive in coverage. This is something the Broncos have lacked recently and I think he could help improve this weakness significantly.

I personally believe he would be a better fit than Todd Davis is Fangio’s defense as well. Alexander Johnson took over as the Broncos main inside linebacker throughout the season and in the end, could have made Davis expendable. While Davis is a better run defender, Schobert would be an instant improvement in the coverage game and could stay on the field during all three downs. Something Fangio’s inside linebackers have needed to do in the past.

Again, Davis’s option will ultimately decide all of this, but the debate should be had in my opinion. His price tag could also become a bit of an issue as well. As I said, I do not think he will break the bank, but he will not come cheap either. If I had to guess, anywhere in the $8 to $10 million range seems likely. Maybe even as high as $12 million if his market gets hot. Will the price tag be worth it? That’s the question.

The Broncos need to build their roster with the thought of defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. You need someone who can attempt to cover tight end Travis Kelce and their backs in the passing game. Schobert would give the Broncos a better chance in this area.

What do you think Broncos Country?


Do you think the Broncos should sign inside linebacker Joe Schobert?

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