With Shaquil Barrett departing and Bradley Chubb going down with injury last year, the Broncos found themselves in need of edge/outside linebacker depth.
In addition to bringing in Jeremy Attaochu and Malik Reed, who received the majority of the snaps in Chubb’s stead, Denver also attacked the outside linebacker position pretty heavily starting last year and leading into this offseason, setting up an interesting battle at the position for this year.
One of those players Denver added was Malik Carney, and outside linebacker/edge prospect out of North Carolina. Carney was initially picked up as an undrafted free agent last year by the Detroit Lions. He was didn’t make their final 53 cut down, so bounce around a bit, until Denver signed him to their practice squad in November.
#53 Malik Carney, OLB
Age 24. 6’3”, 231 lbs.
College: North Carolina
The @seniorbowl is looking live at @WCU_FB vs. @TarHeelFootball. One player getting late buzz on the road is UNC DE #53 Malik Carney. Strong POA player that flashes as a rusher. Some label him a ‘tweener and all-star games help NFL teams figure out a role for them at next level. pic.twitter.com/cr1xxmRBAi— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) November 17, 2018
Carney was a three-year starter at North Carolina, racking up 91 tackles, 17 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles. His final year with the Tarheels in 2018, he forced five fumbles and had six sacks, so he certainly has a nose for the ball.
Here is what NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein had to say when Carney came out of the draft last year.
Undersized but athletic edge defender who leaves you wanting more as a pass-rusher. His ability to punch-and-separate as a run defender and generate push as a bull-rusher despite his lack of size is a credit to his creation of leverage through efficient hand work. Carney’s ability to play off blocks, slip them, chase in space and scrape with lateral quickness are indicators that a transition to a standard linebacker role might make sense. He has three-down backup ability with special teams traits as a Day 3 target.
Zierlein actually compared him to Shaquil Barrett coming out of North Carolina, and I can kind of see it. He isn’t going to blow anyone away with his athleticism, but he has pretty good hands, and a decent spin move for an undrafted player.
Size and athleticism is are going to be his primary challenges as a pass rusher, as he currently is undersized for a guy who isn’t going to win with speed. He’ll need to get stronger and put on more size in the NFL, in order to have a chance to stick.
Carney has been overlooked on underperforming Tarheels defensive units but he’s been a rare bright spot across the last few seasons in Chapel Hill. A versatile defender in college, Carney is likely to be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. His flashes of comfort in space are encouraging and his pass rushing skill set is sound but has room for growth which can happen at the next level. Carney will need to add play strength and process more effectively to be an asset on run downs. At a minimum, Carney has upside on special teams and as a situational pass rush option.
Carney enters an all of the sudden crowded linebacker room with the additions of Justin Strnad and Derrek Tuszka, along with Justin Hollins (even though he may end up playing more off-ball), Malik Reed, and Jeremy Attaochu. The good news for Denver is all of those guys are young and potentially could hit.
The bad news for Carney is that he’ll have a tough go of making the 53-man roster with Chubb coming back healthy and the duo of Reed/Attaochu with so many snaps already under their belts.
This will be one of the fun competitions to watch in camp. Ultimately, I think Carney ends up doing another year on the practice squad, unless something drastically changes in camp.