Denver Broncos inside linebacker Baron Browning had a lot of high grades entering draft season, with some analysts and scouts putting some top-50 grades and even higher on him. Then, he tested like an absolute freak, and the buzz only grew from there.
After some questions about his fit in the NFL due to his use (misuse) in the Ohio State defense, Baron Browning fell all the way to the end of the third round. Quite literally. He was pick 105, the last pick in the round.
The plan was to build him along slowly and let him develop behind linebackers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell. An injury caused him to miss a good chunk of time, which wrecked that timeline. Then, both Johnson and Jewell got hurt and were out for the season, pushing Baron Browning out onto the field rather quickly as a rookie.
These last few weeks, the light has started to click for Browning. Vic Fangio made the comment that Browning has been putting in extra work with him to try and get ready, and that’s been evident on film.
I tweeted about this a couple hours before writing this article, but it feels like Baron Browning is starting to become THAT dude for this Denver defense. He’s not afraid to do anything the staff asks him to do, and his athleticism lets him pull it off. This Denver defense in the middle of the season couldn’t trust their linebackers to do much, but Browning has been handled responsibility after responsibility. He’s their only linebacker on the field in dime looks, and he’s done a little bit of everything for Denver.
In run defense, he’s willing to come downhill and attack. Unlike a couple of other linebackers we’ve seen this season, Browning doesn’t get overwhelmed at the point of attack. He does a good job reading and following his instincts in the run game, and it’s put him in some good positions to blow up runs.
Baron Browning flowing with the pull and avoiding blockers to stuff in Ekeler is some exciting stuff for a LB group that got bullied by Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/v6f3cv4SHn— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 3, 2021
It’s refreshing seeing a linebacker read and react and flow with pullers instead of waiting and being out of position. Browning follows them, neatly avoiding the block in his way, and ends up in the perfect spot to stuff the run. Chefs kiss stuff, really.
In coverage is where Browning is starting to click, and what has me so excited about his potential long-term. Denver mainly asked him to cover Austin Ekeler and the Chargers’ tight ends, and I thought he held up great for such a tough ask (especially Ekeler). The tools and ability for a guy that was basically stuck playing out of position in college translating so quickly is eyebrow-raising-and in the good way.
Can't get over the adjustment from Baron Browning. I'm not quite sure if there was a miscommunication between him and Surtain that left the TE open, but the AA+length to cause the PBU saved a big play on 3rd down. pic.twitter.com/wQB4Q8XfAe— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 3, 2021
Browning’s full array was on display on this PBU on 3rd down early on in the game. Browning carries the TE on the crosser with his eyes reading Herbert the whole way. I believe that he passed the TE onto Surtain to drop down and take the RB but he and Surtain might have had some miscommunication on that one. Regardless, on his way down, he makes a ridiculous adjustment in the air to swat the ball down.
There’s another play in the game where he clicks and closes on Ekeler on a quick route out of the backfield. Ekeler’s got all the room in the world for this to be a big play up the sideline. Browning had other plans.
Baron Browning's closing speed to stop Ekeler for just a two-yard gain is..awesome.— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 3, 2021
Dude's got the goods. pic.twitter.com/yk7yHYEsGU
Fangio’s not afraid to bring him in as an extra rusher as well. He’s another guy offensive lines and quarterbacks have to account for as a blitzer, because he’s so effective with his length and athleticism.
Fangio's not been afraid to bring Browning down on blitzes with his length and AA. Creates some problems for OL to deal with because he's so quick. Had a sack called back on a penalty (different video here in a sec) pic.twitter.com/pRd3f9KIae— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 3, 2021
He timed the blitz up perfectly and Kelemete the left guard could barely get his hands on him. Rushed Herbert’s process on the pressure and forced an incomplete throw. He also had a sack called back on a penalty, but was just as good.
Browning's sack that got negated by penalty. Nothing fancy on a blitz around the edge but Kelemete got got on this one. pic.twitter.com/krGiIpfLTJ— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 3, 2021
He’s being asked to handle a ton of responsibilities and he’s serving as the MIKE of the defense. Baron Browning is earning Vic Fangio’s trust with his play on the field.
It’s hard to ignore how much of a turnaround in play the defense has had in recent weeks because of him. He played just 16 snaps against Philadelphia, and it was the team’s worst defensive performance since he took over in a larger role.
As he continues to grow, his potential to me seems sky-high. The signs and tools we’ve seen over the last few games are so encouraging moving forward. Paton might have found himself another star in his first draft class.