With the Broncos returning two starters on the inside and getting a healthy Bradley Chubb to add to Von Miller on the outside, I think it’s safe to say that linebacker is probably one of the most stacked positions on team right now.
Alexander Johnson burst onto the scene last year and now finally has a full offseason to learn the defense, and Todd Davis was a steady leader in the middle all year last season.
Joe Rowles and I dove into the topic of linebacker on this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos and ran the whole gamut. We discussed how Von Miller actually had a really good year and is absolutely still elite, despite what the sack numbers say and some people will tell you (for more on that, check out the numbers here).
We also talked about the conversation that is bound to resurface once the season starts about outside linebackers dropping into coverage in Vic Fangio’s scheme. I talked at the beginning of 2019 how that wasn’t necessarily the death knell on defense that everyone seems to make it out to be, and after watching the tape from last year, I think that played out.
The last piece we touched on was really a deeper dive into the inside linebacker position and where we saw strengths and weaknesses from both Davis and Johnson.
The first piece we covered was how well Johnson and Davis worked together in the running game. Todd Davis has always been great at diagnosing run plays and filling gaps, and Alexander Johnson fit right in as well, bringing even more aggression and physicality into the running game.
I have no worries about these two in the run game heading into next year.
Coverage is always going to be the sticking point when we talk inside linebackers, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as some have made it out to be. There were up and down moments from both players in this area last season, and it definitely wasn’t all bad.
I actually think Todd Davis does a pretty good job patrolling the middle in situations like the one above.
The issues begin to pop up the further away from the hashes he’s asked to play, as his explosiveness and athletic limitations are just more exposed out in space.
I am more worried about situations like the one above, than I am about him potentially matching up over the middle with someone like Travis Kelce or something, just due to how Vic Fangio runs his coverages. Rarely are the linebackers one on one carrying anyone vertical, so they weren’t exploited like we have seen in the past under Vance Joseph.
The biggest issue is going to be the run and chase ability. Like the example above, this one below from Corey Nelson (who isn’t on the team for a reason) and Bradley Chubb show the importance of rallying to the ball, a key for any linebacker playing under Vic Fangio.
Contrast the above to a guy who was tailor made for Fangio’s defense, Roquan Smith, below.
We talked on the podcast that Denver doesn’t necessarily have an issue at middle linebacker, but it’s certainly not as optimal as it could be, when you see a guy like Smith pop off the 2018 tape.
It’s likely why Denver as reportedly interested in linebacker Patrick Queen from LSU in this year’s draft, and showed some interest in Joe Schobert in free agency.
However, while they likely will look to get younger at the position in 2021, I am excited about the current group’s potential, particularly Davis and Johnson, since they already have good chemistry from working with each other last season.
When Vic Fangio was asked last year about Todd Davis he said:
“He’s played well for us. He’s been consistently steady. He runs the huddle, runs a lot of the calls that we make out there and he generally does a very good job of that. He’s been playing his position well, too. I think Todd’s had a good season for us.”
I expect we’ll see a jump in play from both Davis and Johnson with another year in the system under their belt, and look forward to seeing what they can do in this defense.