Denver Broncos linebacker Josie Jewell isn’t well known among the 2018 rookie linebackers. Despite this, he may have a significant impact for the Broncos and in IDP sooner rather than later. The Broncos struggled over the last couple of seasons covering running backs and tight ends. Jewell might be the answer they have been looking for.
The Denver Broncos have struggled in pass coverage against running backs and tight ends ever since winning the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. This has largely been due to letting linebacker Danny Trevathan sign with the Chicago Bears in the 2016 offseason. In the 2015 season, Trevathan was the third highest-graded inside linebacker in pass coverage by PFF. Trevathan’s replacement, Todd Davis, is not good in coverage. While excellent at stopping the run, PFF gave Davis a 47.3 grade in 2016 and a 45.5 grade in 2017 for his pass coverage. Both grades are well below average.
Safety T.J. Ward‘s decline also helps to explain this struggle in coverage. Grading out above average in coverage in 2015, Ward saw a decline in 2016, allowing the fifth most receptions per coverage snap out of 92 safeties. Ward was let go in the 2017 offseason and is currently a free agent. Ward’s replacement, Will Parks, didn’t fare any better. Parks gave up 4 of the 15 touchdowns the Broncos surrendered to running backs and tight ends in 2017. PFF gave Parks a 45.9 grade in pass coverage as well.
Results from the blame game:
Will Parks – 4 TDs
Darian Stewart – 3 TDs
Brandon Marshall – 2TDs
Todd Davis – 2TDs
Justin Simmons – 2TDs
Aqib Talib – 1TD
Von Miller – 1TD
Roby/Harris – 1TD
— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) March 28, 2018
The Broncos made moves in the 2018 offseason and draft to rectify the situations. They traded for former Washington Redskins safety Su’a Cravens. Cravens will presumably play the hybrid linebacker/safety role in nickel and dime sub packages. This puts him in charge of covering running backs and tight ends. In the same role with the Redskins in 2016, Cravens allowed a 73.1 passer rating when targeted.
As a sub package linebacker in 2016, Su'a Cravens stood out in coverage as a rookie. pic.twitter.com/ChmtNw6qcd
— PFF (@PFF) June 15, 2017
The other move the Broncos made to shore up their pass coverage was draft former Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker, Josey Jewell.
After walking on in 2014 and becoming a full-time starter in 2015, Jewell proceeded to post three straight seasons of 124 combined tackles or more. Among those tackles were a combined 27 tackles for loss, including 13.5 in his senior season. Also in those three seasons, he accumulated nine sacks, including 4.5 in his senior season, six interceptions, and 26 passes defended.
Though Jewell is well known as a run-stopper with a 12.4% run stop percentage, ranking 10th among 2018 draft-eligible linebackers. Jewell has also demonstrated good ability in pass coverage. In 2017, Despite facing the most targets by a linebacker in the draft class, Jewell did not allow a touchdown. He also had the highest percentage of pass coverage targets that were defended or intercepted between 2014-2017. Further demonstrating Jewell’s three down ability is his 61 defensive stops in 2017, which ranked sixth in the draft class.
The Broncos look to have found good value with their selection of Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell in the fourth round of the draft! pic.twitter.com/ZhJkcRkRoo
— PFF (@PFF) May 3, 2018
— PFF DEN Broncos (@PFF_Broncos) July 20, 2018
The Broncos drafted Jewell in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft. The reason Jewell fell so far in the draft despite his fantastic college production was due to his combine. Jewell posted a 15th percentile 40-yard dash, 13th percentile speed score, 36th percentile burst score, and 17th percentile bench press. However, he ranks in the 89th percentile in agilty score. That didn’t matter to the Broncos, who saw an instinctual playmaker on film.
— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) April 29, 2018
Josey Jewell is always around the football. pic.twitter.com/CInmYVmbY6
— ᶜᵃᵐᵉʳᵒⁿ ᴾᵃʳᵏᵉʳ ᴾᴼ (@CameronParkerPO) May 9, 2018
For a more in-depth look at how Jewell fits into the Broncos defensive scheme and why he could be starting sooner rather than later, check out Gary VanDyke’s article, the IDP Tipster (@Hbogart27), written back in June. Rave reviews of Jewell started early in the offseason. Jewell was mixing in with the first team defense as early as Broncos OTAs in June. Starting inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said “I like Josey. He’s a smart, smart kid… intense… a hard worker, a blue-collar worker. You see him out there going full-speed all the time. He knows what he’s doing already. Obviously, he’s still young, so he still has some learning to do.”
The praise continued into training camp. this time from all-pro outside linebacker Von Miller. “(Jewell) is one of my favorite rookies, man,” Miller said. “I just love the way he plays. He may be a rookie, but when you talk to him, it really doesn’t feel like he’s a rookie. When you see him play, it doesn’t look like he’s a rookie. He’s going to play in this league for a long time. I just like his intensity. I like having conversations with him. He’s going to be great for us.”
NFL Game Action
Jewell had an impressive NFL debut in the Broncos first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. While you can’t tell everything from a stat line, Jewell finished the game with 42 defensive snaps with five combined tackles. While there were some mistakes, Jewell also had several good plays that showed why the Broncos drafted him despite his relative lack of athleticism.
When #Broncos rookie LB Josey Jewell wins, it’s the intelligence and instincts that stand out most. This play is just like he was screen peaking off his buddy in Madden and knew the exact play. Leaning towards attacking that gap before the ball is even snapped. Blown up play. pic.twitter.com/WNqZy2ezG9
— Nick Kendell (@NickKendellMHH) August 13, 2018
Jewell’s second preseason game against the Chicago Bears did not have anything of real note on the defensive side of the ball. He did record three solo tackles. Jewell did, however, show a willingness and tenacity on special teams. On the opening kick off, Jewell brought down the Bears kick returner Knile Davis at the 15-yard line. This is just another way that Jewell will see the field and impress the coaches.
The Denver Broncos struggle in pass coverage against running backs and tight ends. In the 2018 offseason they made moves to rectify that weakness. Along with trading for safety Su’a Cravens, the Broncos drafted inside linebacker Josey Jewell. Jewell has demonstrated the ability to be to excel in both run and pass defense. While he has shown in offseason workouts and the preseason that he can be an answer for the Broncos, he still has a lot of work to do. Jewell should see more snaps sooner rather than later, but it is smart not to rely on rookies for your fantasy team. He is worth a late round flyer in deeper IDP leagues for the simple fact that starting linebacker Todd Davis is a liability in pass coverage and the Broncos will need Jewell’s skills eventually.