Depth Chart Dumpster Diving – Broncos Linebackers

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Under the Radar Broncos Linebackers with Potential to Breakthrough


Now that the draft is over and most of the free agency movement has ended, we can start to take a look closer at the depth charts around the league for open opportunity. Some depth charts have names penciled in lightly because of the lack of talent. Other depth charts may be almost completely blank after the top players. This series takes a closer look at these opportunities and spotlights a few players to watch closely. Some of these players may be worth a deep stash while others may be more appropriate watch list candidates.

Denver Broncos Linebackers

The Starters

Todd Davis

Todd Davis was a decent depth player in his first couple seasons for the Broncos. But he really stepped up his game in 2018. Davis showed much better recognition skills in the run game and improved a lot in coverage. Despite speculation that the Broncos would use their top draft selection on a linebacker, they instead stood pat and showed confidence in Davis and Jewell. Davis suffered a calf tear on the first day of camp and is expected to be out 3-4 weeks. This may not impact his availability for the regular season but it does give these depth guys a chance to compete early. If the injury does linger and impact his play in coverage it could be especially problematic for Denver.

Josey Jewell

Josey Jewell projects into a bigger role in 2019 but still appears to be a limited player. Jewell is a good run defender due to elite anticipation and profiles as a two down guy early on in Denver. His athleticism appears to be a limiting factor, especially in coverage. If Todd Davis struggles in coverage like he has in the past, it will be interesting to see how the Broncos hide their coverage deficiencies. This could open the door for a young guy like Hollins to see the field early in sub packages.

Depth Candidates – Alexander Johnson, Justin Hollins, Keishawn Bierria, Joe Dineen, Joe Jones, Josh Watson

Alexander (AJ) Johnson

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 242 lbs

Age: 27 years

Experience: 1 year

2018 PFF grade:

School: Tennessee

Draft Pick: Undrafted

40 time: N/A

Three-cone drill: N/A

Bench press: N/A

Vertical leap: N/A

Broad jump: N/A

Alexander (AJ) Johnson was a 26 year old rookie last year with unknown testing numbers. He had actually been out of football for almost four years when he signed with the Broncos.

AJ Johnson wrapped up his 2013 campaign as a third year starter for the Volunteers with 323 combined tackles.  Johnson would have likely been a mid-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, but he forewent the draft to return for his senior season. Going into the 2014 season, AJ Johnson was on preseason All-American lists and was pegged as an early second round pick by many draft analysts.

Johnson played well through the first 10 games of the Volunteers’ 2014 campaign. Then came the suspension, Johnson and a teammate were suspended amid rape allegations in November of 2014. He was indicted in February of 2015 and entered the NFL draft amid his legal battle. The NFL withdrew his combine invite because of the issue. Draft analyst, Mel Kiper Jr. stated before the draft “On ability, I think he probably would’ve been a third-round pick, maybe a second-round pick, and now gets pushed down from that because of the issue.” Johnson ended up falling completely out of the draft and did not receive a shot in the NFL. At least not until his three year legal battle concluded with his acquittal in July of 2018. Johnson remained in shape by training for mixed martial arts during this time.

On the football field, Alexander Johnson now projects as an early down run stopper at the inside linebacker position. Following Todd Davis’ calf injury the Broncos are divvying up reps fairly evenly among the backup linebackers, but for what it’s worth Johnson got the first shot.

Justin Hollins

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 248 lbs

Age: 23 years

Experience: Rookie

2018 PFF grade: 83.4 (college)

School: Oregon

Draft Pick: 5.18

40 time: 4.50 seconds

Three-cone drill: 7.06 seconds

Bench press: 25 reps

Vertical leap: 36.5 inches

Broad jump: 9’11”

Justin Hollins is naturally an edge defender, but he has shown versatility to move inside as well. Denver’s coaching staff has been extremely impressed by the rookies ability to pick up multiple positions so seamlessly at the next level. Hollins has the length and athleticism to cover in space and has already shown the ability to get to the quarterback. Several blurbs and notes coming out of training camp have supported his ability to cover tight ends and running backs. This skill set may be important to mask some of the deficiencies of linebackers at the top of the depth chart.

Alexander Johnson was the first man up with the ones following Davis’ injuey, but Hollins has gotten a lot of looks in nickel and dime.

Joseph Jones

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 240 lbs

Age: 25 years

Experience: 2 years

2018 PFF grade: 83.2

School: Northwestern

Draft Pick: Undrafted

40 time: 4.49 seconds

Three-cone drill: 6.83 seconds

Bench press: 18 reps

Vertical leap: 35 inches

Broad jump: 10’3″

Joseph Jones is a phenomenal athlete and is already getting chances in Davis’ absence. Jones hasn’t played much on defense, but is still more experienced than most of his linebacker counterparts. Joseph has also been a big contributor on special teams. He did not see a lot of snaps at Northwestern but they did utilize his ability to cover and play in space. This included lining up in the slot frequently. Like Hollins, he has the coverage ability that could be needed to complement the top guys. If Hollins doesn’t pan out like the Broncos hope, Jones could be a threat to win earn some meaningful snaps at linebacker.

Josh Watson

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 230 lbs

Age: 23 years

Experience: rookie

2018 PFF grade: 60.0

School: Colorado State

Draft Pick: undrafted

40 time: 4.70 seconds

Three-cone drill: 7.09 seconds

Bench press:  20 reps

Vertical leap: 36.5 inches

Broad jump: 10’10”

Josh Watson had a very good career at Colorado State. His pre-draft athletic testing showed just okay speed and agility, however he showed great explosion in the vertical and broad jump results. One of his strengths in college was his reliability as a tackler. Watson has surprisingly gotten a lot of looks early and has been included in the rotation with first team defense. His profile doesn’t exactly jump out as anything special but just the fact that he has earned reps makes him worth monitoring.

Keishawn Bierria

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 230 lbs

Age: 23 years

Experience: 1 year

2018 PFF grade: 83.3

School: Washington

Draft Pick: 6.43

40 time: 4.79 seconds

Three-cone drill: 7.26 seconds

Bench press:  21 reps

Vertical leap: 30.5 inches

Broad jump: 9’9″

Bierria had some first round hype following his junior year, but his play dropped off as a senior. He had issues diagnosing and reacting to offenses and tested as a limited athlete. His skill set just doesn’t complement anything Davis, Jewell, and Johnson do well on defense. Bierria does contribute on special teams which will likely have to be his path onto the roster. Bierria did get a chance to run with the first team defense on Sunday, 7/21/19.

Joe Dineen

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 231 lbs

Age: 23 years

Experience: rookie

2018 PFF grade: 86.1 (college)

School: Kansas

Draft Pick: Undrafted

40 time: 4.61 seconds

Three-cone drill: N/A

Bench press:  20 reps

Vertical leap:  33 inches

Broad jump: N/A

Joe Dineen aka “The Mayor” was a tackle machine at Kansas. He was snubbed from the combine despite the massive college production. The Mayor was dominant against the run, but also graded out well in coverage for Kansas. We haven’t heard much about him in training camp as he has mostly played with the third team defense early on.

Conclusion

These guys are listed in the order of intrigue I see with them.

Alexander Johnson appears to have a leg up early, but would result in major coverage questions at the linebacker spot. It seems likely that Johnson would just be part of the answer and would be replaced in sub packages. The Broncos appear to want rookie Justin Hollins to step up into the sub package role. If he falters Joseph Jones has appeared adequate in that role as well. Hollins or Jones could be threats to take sub package snaps even if Davis and Jewell remain healthy. Josh Watson and Keishawn Bierria have also gotten looks already, but just don’t have the same athleticism and coverage ability as Hollins and Jones. Dineen earned some early praise from Broncos’ beat reporters, but there hasn’t been much more said about the undrafted rookie since then.

I would not currently recommend adding any of these guys to your IDP squads unless starters Davis or Jewell do miss time. If there is an opportunity, or if you have super deep rosters and want to get ahead of the curve, Alexander Johnson appears to be that super deep sleeper/stash.

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Former college football player, team leader in personal fouls for two straight seasons. Work as an engineer when I'm not engulfed in fantasy football. Follow me on twitter @ONUtyjo to talk anything fantasy football related: IDP, dynasty, contract leagues, superflex, devy, etc.