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No Bull Roster Review Part 2: Linebackers

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 12 Lions at Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/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. H/T to www.footballoutsiders.com for their information on snap percentages and overthecap.com for their information on current contracts for all players.

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 2021 as well as guys who are Unrestricted Free Agents. Enjoy the discussion, join the subjective debate, and share your thoughts good or bad in the comments.

Next up, we will take a look at the defensive line and find out what holes the Broncos should be looking to fill in the 2022 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

Inside Linebackers

Baron Browning - 3

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

Baron Browning had a pretty darn solid rookie year. He’s signed through 2024 and got to see approximately 48% of the snaps on the 2021 season.

We said when he was drafted that his processing time was a problem and his year of work with Fangio’s defense took at least a good step toward solving this. Once he earned some snaps toward the back half of the season he was able to rack up a couple of TFLs as well as a couple of really nice pass defenses.

I absolutely love the potential of Browning, but at this point, it becomes all about coaching. Can our coaches get him rounded into shape? Can they help him read/recognize what is going on on the field quicker so he can use his freakish athleticism to make plays? I love potential but need to see more from him before I rate him higher.

Jonas Griffith - 3

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

Griffith was the product of a savvy trade by George Paton to bolster our injury-laden LB group toward the end of the season. He’s a very productive LB who saw about 23% of the snaps for the Broncos racking up 4 TFLS and 2 QH.

I really like what I saw from Griffith from his days with the 49ers. He’s a sharp linebacker who is a sure tackler and is not a liability in coverage. I almost rated him as a 4, but couldn’t bring myself to do that with only getting to see one half of a season from him.

Justin Strnad - 2

Denver Broncos v Cleveland Browns Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Strnad has been the linebacker hopium for two years running in training camp. He saw 29% of the snaps last season after an injury wrecked his rookie campaign.

He was on the field. That’s what the stat sheet says. But I don’t remember significant plays of his being made. He had 1 QH on the season. For his career, it is really important that he takes a big step forward with the Broncos this season.

Unit Rating - 3

Technically we have guys ready to go, but we don’t have starters Alexander Johnson or Josey Jewell signed. The guys still here are a bit green and as we’ve pointed out for years, the Broncos defense has lacked play-making talent at ILB for years.

Outside Linebackers

Bradley Chubb - 2

Cincinnati Bengals v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Chubb has been largely an injury disappointment for the Broncos. There’s always the hope that he’s going to get right this offseason, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. Chub as a “premier” starter saw only ~25% of the snaps last season and even when he finally was able to see the field, he was largely ineffective in his role as an edge starter for the Broncos. He got 0 sacks, 1 TFL, 4 QHs, 1 INT, and 2PDs in 6 total starts.

I’ve been a Chubb fanboy since we drafted him, but after a while, the injuries piling up and missed games can’t be ignored. Of course, we want him to get right and get back to looking dominant like he did in his rookie season. That being said, hope is not a strategy. Chubb honestly needs to ball out if he wants to get a nice 2nd contract anywhere in the NFL. Thankfully for him, the Broncos already committed to him for the 5th year option.

Malik Reed - 3

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Malik Reed had some big shoes to fill with Von Miller leaving and Bradley Chubb coming off an injury. He saw the most snaps with ~68% on the season (by far the most of any OLB on the roster). He’s a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) and as such will be back for the Broncos in 2022. He produced 5 sacks, 3 TFLs, 8 QHs, 2 PDs, and 2 forced fumbles.

I like Reed quite a bit and think he’s a great backup pass rusher. He had plenty of opportunities to start last season but didn’t quite show the kind of consistent havok you want out of a starting edge player. We’ll always hope that he improves this season, but I honestly think he may top out as a rotational edge player in the NFL.

Jonathan Cooper - 2

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Jonathan Cooper really wowed in training camp, but outside of a game against Dallas, he didn’t really make the kind of edge impact you’d hope for when a young guy with pass rush talent gets opportunities early in his career. He did see ~42% of the snaps on the season which is good as those snaps are going to develop him more than any amount of offseason work he’ll do on his own.

Cooper shows really good speed off the edge and I see the potential in him when he plays. I honestly think he can continue development and learn some techniques to add to his pass rush moves that will help him establish himself. But we go off the eye test and that tells me he’s still a backup player for now.

Unit Rating - 2

I honestly think our team has really benefitted in the past few years from Von Miller’s presence. On the field, he opened up pass rush opportunities everywhere for others. With him traded away, we saw the Broncos look honestly pathetic in the pass rush department in 2021. Denver will need to bring in a real pass rush star free agent to get the ship back where it needs to be defensively in 2022.

Defensive roster status overall

Nose Tackles: 4

Defensive Ends: 2

Inside Linebackers: 3

Outside Linebackers: 2