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Broncos No Bull Roster Review Part 3: Linebackers

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A No Bull look at the current Denver Broncos roster, its strengths, weaknesses, and what we can expect to target in free agency and the draft.

NFL: DEC 08 Broncos at Texans Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the free agency season about to kick off for the Denver Broncos, it is a great time to step back, take a look at the roster, and play a little armchair GM leading up to all of the excitement of possible free agent signings, trades, and of course the NFL Draft.

All of this is my own personal opinion based on the tried and true eye test of what I’ve seen from these players on the field. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be leaving out guys that didn’t see the field in any significant way in 2019. Enjoy the discussion, join the subjective debate, and share your thoughts good or bad in the comments.

In case you missed my earlier posts:

Broncos No Bull Roster Review Part 1: Defensive Line

Broncos No Bull Roster Review Part 2: Secondary

Next up, we’ll take a look at the Defensive Secondary and find out what holes the Broncos should be looking to fill in the 2020 NFL offseason.

Player Rating Key:

1 - Project / developmental - lacking necessary skills to contribute as it stands today

2 - Backup quality - Can play, but isn’t a guy you want out there every snap

3 - Mediocre starter - Doesn’t bring anything special to the table, but is able to do the job

4 - Good starter - An above-average talent

5 - Blue chip player - Top 10 talent in the NFL at what he does

Unit Rating Key:

1 - Critical Need - lack of talent at starter and depth

2 - Lacking at least one starter

3 - Mediocre need

4 - Solid talent and depth

5 - Elite talent level

Outside Linebackers:

Von Miller - 5

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Von Miller is a beast of an outside linebacker. Contrary to the whispers of age creeping up on him, I saw no evidence last season that he’d lost a step. He was still getting premium pressure on the quarterback even with a mediocre team and missing his partner in crime across the formation.

Miller’s best attribute is his raw speed and athleticism. His ability to curl low around the tackle is 2nd to none in this league and it was still evident in 2019. That’s not all he has at his disposal though as he’s superb coming off a stunt to the inside.

There is no weakness in his game as far as run defense or even defending passes. He’s a guy you want to see rushing the QB the vast majority of the time, but he can be used as a real chess piece on defense for a creative coach like Vic Fangio.

Bradley Chubb - 4

Jacksonville Jaguars v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Chubb’s injury last season was a true shame. In training camp and the preseason action I saw him in, he looked like a better pass rusher than Von if I’m being honest.

Chubb is another player that has no hole to his game. He can play the run or the pass and is a terror at pass rushing.

I’d mark him as a 5 honestly if not for his injury last season. ACLs are something that are very treatable in today’s world of modern medicine, but it was a significant injury worth noting.

Malik Reed - 3

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Reed had a superb rookie season coming onto the Broncos as an Undrafted Free Agent. He showed growth through the season and some serious speed in getting the QB. He’s going to benefit a great deal from this offseason as his frame needs a little size added to it.

He’s likely going to shape up to be the primary backup at OLB and should hopefully be able to rotate in for 30%+ of next year’s snaps as an effective substitute for our premier pass rushers.

Justin Hollins - 2

NFL: DEC 15 Broncos at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming into the season, I had Hollins tapped as the primary backup at OLB, but if you look at the raw numbers, he was outshined in play time by Malik Reed. That isn’t to say that Hollins can shape into a really solid NFL OLB, but last season he didn’t really shine quite like Reed.

He’s in the exact same boat as Reed, though. With this offseason to get some size and power on his frame, he could be a surprise in 2020.

Unit Rating - 5

This is one of the groups on the Broncos that I’m least worried about. The team will probably need to find another solid developmental prospect and will surely bring in a couple extra guys for training camp, but I honestly am pretty bullish on both Reed and Hollins as backups to Von and Chubb.

The two guys rotating out into free agency this year were Corey Nelson and Jeremy Attaochu. Both have been in the league a good number of years and were here mainly as depth while the Broncos were whipping Reed and Hollins into shape in their rookie years. I’m not a fan of bringing either veteran back and would like to see this group get an injection of youth.

Inside Linebackers:

Alexander Johnson - 4

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Johnson was the big surprise of last year on defense. He spent his first year as a practice squad player for the Broncos mostly and came out of nowhere in 2019. He rumbled onto the scene in week 4 and was a mainstay after that at ILB as a big upgrade over Josey Jewel.

The big thing Johnson brings to the table is lateral speed. He’s able to get where he needs to be in a hurry, stay with TEs and backs breaking over the middle, and still is a powerful tackler. He’s honestly the kind of guy you want at ILB in today’s NFL.

The other thing I love about Johnson is that he oozes effort and buy-in. He’s got the energy and dedication you see in starting NFL players and that kind of intangible is the thing that can turn a guy from good to great in this league.

Todd Davis - 3

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

I feel like with Todd Davis I’m in some sort of weird ping-pong table. Early on with this team I was pretty down on him as he was to limited as a linebacker who could only play the run. Then in 2018 he looked like one of our best pass defending linebackers in years. Last year he was still good, but he didn’t look nearly as great as he did the year prior.

Davis isn’t quite as quick laterally as Alexander, but the guy makes up for it in his ability to diagnose plays and get himself to the right spots. He’s a superb run defender, but can get beat by tight ends and backs if he’s asked to trail or stay on their hip.

Josey Jewell - 2

NFL: SEP 22 Broncos at Packers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jewel was a guy I never really understood the hype about. Yes, he’s a guy that is able to diagnose plays and get to the gaps quickly to stop the run. But that’s it. He’s probably the biggest liability on the field when teams get him moving laterally and that’s just a killer problem to have at ILB in today’s NFL.

I was hoping Jewel would develop more ability as he grew in his first couple of years in the league, but I’m just not seeing it to date. I’m honestly pretty sure he’s not a great fit for this defense, but he has a favorable contract and is a solid back-up linebacker to have on your team.

Unit Rating - 3

I could see this rating being a bit lower depending on how good you feel about Todd Davis. We’ve been clamoring for years for the Broncos to bring in a stud ILB, but I’m still not sure they do it even though there’s going to be ample opportunity in this draft for them. That being said, finding ILBs to stock up on for backup and special teams isn’t a difficult thing to do, which is the bigger reason I’m leaving this at a 3. I like Davis enough to roll this season with him and think that depth won’t be a big problem here.

Defensive roster status overall:

Defensive Ends 2

Nose Tackles 3

Cornerbacks 2

Safeties 5

Outside Linebackers 5

Inside Linebackers 3