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Broncos 2023 training camp preview: Linebackers

The Broncos made some significant additions to their linebacker group this offseason.

New York Jets v Denver Broncos Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos made some significant additions to their linebackers this offseason which has that unit looking good in the present and into the future. First, they re-signed linebacker and tackling machine Alex Singleton to a three-year deal. He burst onto the scene last season and led the team in tackles. Then, they drafted Arkansas linebacker, Drew Sanders in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Sanders was projected to go as early as the first round, or at least be a top-50 selection. However, the Broncos got the big, athletic, and versatile linebacker in the third round. On top of that, they have veteran starter Josey Jewell returning as well and giving the Broncos a lot of depth and talent at their linebacker positions.

Behind these three, we have Jonas Griffith who looked to be the breakout linebacker last year before being passed by Singleton on the depth chart, Justin Strnad, Ray Wilborn, and undrafted rookie Seth Benson.

With all that said, let us take an in-depth look at the Broncos linebackers ahead of the start of training camp.

Josey Jewell - Linebacker - 6-2, 236 pounds

Returning for his sixth season with the Broncos is starting linebacker, Josey Jewell. The player who general manager George Paton once called the “glue of this defense” will start alongside Alex Singelton this season and man the middle of the Broncos' defense.

Jewell is an above-average run defender who relies on his instincts to get after ball carriers and routinely brings them down without giving up much extra yardage. He also uses these instincts to be solid in coverage. While lacking elite athleticism, he reads and reacts quickly and can make plays on the ball when covering the middle of the field. This past season, he intercepted Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes twice in one game.

What is interesting, is that Josey Jewell is entering the final year of his deal and saw the Broncos give a long-term deal to Alex Singleton and draft Drew Sanders in the third round. So, this is most likely Jewell’s final season with the Broncos. It’ll be interesting to see what the team does if rookie Drew Sanders has a strong camp and preseason and is pushing for playing time. This is all hypothetical, but something to keep an eye on during the next month or so.

Alex Singleton - Linebacker - 6-2, 240 pounds

After signing for a cheap one-year deal worth slightly over $1 million dollars last year, Alex Singleton went on to total 163 tackles last season, which led the Broncos. That performance earned him a new three-year contract worth up to $18 million dollars from the Broncos this past offseason when they re-signed their tackling machine linebacker. Now, the team hopes he can repeat that success this season and help man the middle of the Broncos defense with Josey Jewell.

If you have the ball, Singleton is going to find you and tackle you. It is what he does, and does well and that should continue this season. I liked what he did in the run game last year and I suspect that is exactly what the Broncos want from him again this year. His game really isn’t pass coverage, so he could be a liability there, but overall, he is a very solid player for the Broncos' defense.

He is also a fan favorite and an energizer bunny on the field with constant energy and just excitement. I would not be surprised to see Singleton be named a captain this season and possibly even receive the green dot on his helmet. I have high hopes for Singleton this season and I cannot wait to see what he can do on the field this season.

Drew Sanders - Linebacker - 6-5, 233 pounds

After the draft, Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton was asked about Sanders’s fit on the roster. This a big question since he was transitioning from being an edge rusher while at Alabama to being an off-the-ball linebacker for Arkansas this past year. He told reporters that the team views him as an inside linebacker, a 4-core special teamer, and a player who can rush off the edge if needed.

With only one year of off-the-ball linebacker under his belt, I do not think we will see him rushed into action right away. You have veterans in Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton already established as starters so you have the luxury to allow Sanders to develop. However, his skill set will be hard to keep off the field if he begins flashing as he did at Arkansas.

He is likely the most athletic linebacker on the roster and his ability to rush the passer off the edge and as a blitzer make him an intriguing chess piece. He did have 9.5 sacks last season while playing primarily as an off-the-ball linebacker, so you could get creative with a player like Sanders.

As Payton noted, Sanders will contribute as a core special teamer early on, but his role on defense remains to be seen moving forward. He is one of the more intriguing players on the Broncos roster to watch as we progress through training camp and into the preseason.

Jonas Griffith - Linebacker - 6-4, 250 pounds

Last year at this time, Jonas Griffith was on track to start opposite of Josey Jewell and was viewed as a breakout candidate. However, an injury during the preseason cost him some valuable reps during the preseason, but he was back for the regular season. Then a foot injury suffered in the middle of the season during a practice ended his season on a sour note. He did finish the year with eight starts, 46 tackles, and 1 interception, but the emergence of Alex Singleton overshadowed anything he did well now and may impact his future with the Broncos.

NFL: OCT 23 Jets at Broncos Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Griffith is on the roster bubble after the Broncos re-signed Alex Singleton and drafted Drew Sanders, this moves him down to at least the fourth linebacker on the depth chart. They did this with him still on the roster so it shows a lack of confidence in him moving forward. With that said, he does provide solid depth behind these guys and gives them someone who can contribute to special teams. So, if they do keep four linebackers, he is likely safe, but it is hard to say with Sean Payton now running this team.

Justin Strnad - Linebacker - 6-3, 235 pounds

Linebacker Justin Strnad has been a reserve linebacker for the Broncos since being drafted back in 2020. He has appeared in 33 games for the Broncos and totaled five starts, all of which came in 2021. During that span, he has totaled 41 total tackles. Now, he enters his fourth season in the league, and his roster spot looks far from secure.

I say this because he is likely behind rookie Drew Sanders and linebacker Jonas Griffith on the depth chart. So, at best, he is likely your fifth linebacker on the depth chart, and most teams keep no more than three or four on the 53-man roster. So, currently, I have Strnad on the outside looking in.

His saving grace could be what he does on special teams. We all know the emphasis Sean Payton has put on that unit. So, if you can excel in that role, you may be able to secure one of the final spots on the roster.

Ray Wilborn - Linebacker - 6-4, 224 pounds

Linebacker Ray Wilborn went undrafted after the 2020 NFL Draft and has since bounced off and on a few rosters. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons but he was waived during their finals cuts. He eventually signed on to the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad but was released from that only after a few weeks. He then spent the entire 2021 season on the Packers practice squad and was brought back for 2022, but was eventually released after the final cuts. He later signed with the Broncos practice squad in 2022 and eventually earned his first NFL regular season action in week 17 vs. the Chiefs. He played on special teams for the Broncos in that game and would later sign a reserve/future contract with the team during the offseason. Now, despite the long odds, Wilborn is competing for a spot on the active roster or a spot on the practice squad.

In all reality, he is not making the 53-man roster and a practice squad spot even seems unlikely. The previous regime brought him in and now Sean Payton and his staff are going to pick their back end of the roster guys. Wilborn has a chance to prove himself during camp and the preseason so we shall see how it goes.

Seth Benson - Linebacker - 6-0, 231 pounds

After a productive career at Iowa, linebacker Seth Benson went undrafted during the 2023 NFL Draft. He would sign an undrafted free agent and take part in the team's rookie minicamp. He survived that, OTA’s and minicamp and now the undersized linebacker is on the verge of attending his first NFL training camp.

Benson lacks the ideal height and weight you want from a linebacker while also lacking the athleticism you want as well. He gets by with toughness and heart which makes you root for him, but ultimately, he will likely struggle against NFL competition.

He will not make the 53-man roster but could be a practice squad candidate. He seems like a player who could survive as an off-the-ball two-down linebacker who can roam if left clean and contribute on special teams. He will be an interesting player to watch during the preseason.