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Broncos Roster Review: Rookie linebacker Baron Browning

The Broncos third-round selection has a chance to contribute at inside linebacker and edge rusher.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Ohio State at Nebraska Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Name: Baron Browning
Position: Linebacker
Height: 6'3" Weight: 245
Age: 22 Experience: R
College: Ohio State

The Denver Broncos selected Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning with their 105th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s a 6’3”, 245lb linebacker who was one of the more explosive and athletic linebackers in the entire draft. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had a third-round grade on him and ranked him as his 7th best off-the-ball linebacker in the draft.

Browning played a total of four seasons at Ohio State and became a key member of their defense. During those four seasons, Browning totaled 109 tackles, 19.0 tackles for a loss, 7 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles. This past season for the Buckeyes, Browning totaled 29 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries in 7 games.

Baron Browning’s college accolades

(Via:ohiostatebuckeyes.com)

  • Graduated with his degree in communications
  • Very versatile and willing to play inside and outside linebacker as well as lining up at defensive end
  • Third-team All-Big Ten Conference in 2020
  • Played in 43 games with seven starts and did not red-shirt
  • Totalled 110 career tackles
  • Also had 18.0 TFLs and 7.0 quarterback sacks
  • Three PBUs along with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries
  • Played in 12 of 14 games as a junior in 2019
  • His performance vs. Penn State – seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks – earned him “champion” honors from the Ohio State coaching staff
  • Was selected as a champion four times during the 2019 season
  • Finished the season with 43 tackles (sixth highest on the team), 10 tackles for loss (fourth highest on the team), and five sacks
  • Recorded at least one tackle in all 12 games that he played in
  • Member of the 2020 Butkus Award Preseason Watch List
  • Made three starts during the 2018 season – vs. Oregon State, Rutgers and Purdue
  • Was in on 23 tackles in 2018, including 3.5 tackles for loss
  • Had 14 tackles as a true freshman in 2017, including six in a win over Maryland
  • Was one of 10 from the 2017 class of recruits to enroll in classes that January

Honors & Awards

  • 2020: Third-team All-Big Ten

Here’s what The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had to say about Broncos linebacker Baron Browning.

SUMMARY: A part-time starter at Ohio State, Browning split his time between strongside and middle linebacker in defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs’ scheme. A five-star recruit, he didn’t light up the stat sheet in Columbus, but his career was a slow burn as he steadily improved each year, especially when he played primarily on the outside as a senior. Browning’s next level role will be different from team to team because of his athletic versatility to play physical or hold up in space. The mental side of the position is still a work in progress as he shows inconsistent vision and block/fit recognition as an inside backer. Overall, Browning doesn’t consistently play with anticipation, but he is physically impressive with the size, length and athleticism to rush the passer or drop in coverage. He projects best as a SAM linebacker or designated pass rusher with down-the-road starting potential.

Here’s what Denver Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio Had to say about Baron Browning during the Broncos post-day two press conference.

“Good athlete, runs really well. He’s got versatility. Sometimes his versatility has hurt him a little bit in his development. We’ll figure out where we’re going to put him first and see how he does there then make a final decision at some point. We like his speed, like his athleticism. We think he will be a major contributor on special teams and compete for one of the linebacker spots.”

By the sounds of it, the Broncos plan on playing Browning at inside linebacker early on to see how well he translates but he could eventually move to edge rusher as well. Time will tell where he will end up, but either way, the Broncos got themselves a very athletic and disruptive linebacker.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Ohio State at Nebraska Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Good

Browning’s athleticism is off the charts. First, he’s a big guy at 6’3”, 245lbs but also ran a 4.56 40-time during the Ohio State Pro Day. His agility and athletic testing were also impressive which gave him the 5th best RAS from any linebacker from 1987 through 2021. Out of 2,155 linebacker prospects, all charted, Browning’s RAS was the 5th best from that group. That’s pretty damn impressive, especially at his size.

He’s a quick-twitch athlete who can go sideline to sideline, athletic enough to cover linebackers and tight ends, has the athleticism and strength to blitz, and be disruptive in the backfield while also having the athleticism to rush to passer off the edge.

Next would be his versatility. I touched on this already, but Browning offers versatility at off-the-ball linebacker and at edge rusher. If he can become good at one, that’s awesome! However, if he’s able to become good at both, he could be quite the matchup problem for opposing offenses.

He needs some work on his overall game, but if he can be developed, the Broncos have a good one. You give this type of player with this sort of athleticism to Vic Fangio and you have a good reason to be very excited about their potential.

The Bad

Likely his biggest weakness is his slow processing time. He’s slow to read, react and recognize what is going on in front of him and is sometimes in the wrong position or not covering his gap. He will need to get this part of his game cleaned up if he wants to become a starter with the Broncos.

He was only a part-time starter at Ohio State and enters the NFL without a true position. He’s getting tried out at inside linebacker and will shift back outside if he struggles there. He will need to master one of these positions if he wants to reach his full potential with the Broncos.

Final Thoughts

While Browning’s exact role needs to be carved out, I like adding this type of athlete to the defense and allow Vic Fangio to develop him into something more.

Ideally, he can develop at inside linebacker which appears to be the Broncos' vision moving forward since that is where they are playing him from the start. I do lean towards him being more of an edge rusher in the NFL, but that all depends on how the mental side of his game improves. If he can improve there, he has the athleticism and skill set to be a damn good off-the-ball linebacker who can also rush the passer.

I don’t think he’ll challenge for a starting job during Training Camp and will likely have a Special Teams role early on. However, if he develops as the season goes on, it will be hard to keep that sort of athleticism off the field. I’m excited and anxious to see him on the field this summer during training camp and the preseason.