Broncos Country has long clamored for the team’s inside linebacker room to receive an upgrade, and they got their wish last season with the emergence of Baron Browning.
However, linebacker remains a relatively serious position of need and an area of the roster the Denver Broncos are sure to try and upgrade at the NFL Draft.
Who should the team target in the middle rounds? We’ll sift through three potential candidates here.
Troy Andersen, Montana State
Considering the Broncos already have a stable of reliable players at the position, with Baron Browning, Josey Jewell, Alex Singleton and even Jonas Griffith — thanks to a promising audition down the stretch of 2021 — they can afford to bet on traits.
Traits are something Troy Andersen has in spades, though unfortunately, as of now he’s more of an athlete than a linebacker.
Andersen’s athleticism is remarkable, earning all-conference honors at quarterback, running back and, finally, linebacker during his time at Montana State. With that in mind, Andersen is very new to the linebacker position, and as a result, has a lot of major deficiencies remaining in his game.
Andersen is one of the most frustrating players in this class to study. He has almost every measurable a scout could covet in a linebacker, but his technique is so unrefined that it severely limits him.
For example, his excellent movement skills and frame allow him to match up with any tight end or running back from an athleticism standpoint, but his lack of feel and anticipation leads to him getting beat by inferior athletes far too often. Another example is that his impressive strength, length and motor should make him excellent at attacking the line of scrimmage and shedding blocks, but his hand technique is so poor he struggles to fight off opposing linemen. This problem is compounded by the fact that his slow processing ability and reactionary style of play lead to him having to take on more blocks and face more contact than he would have seen if he was a more instinctive player.
Andersen is a supreme athlete with a very, very limited ‘bag’, as they would say in the NBA. He has just about every trait you would want from the linebacker position, including an anything-for-the-team mindset and gritty demeanor, but he fails to check seemingly all the other boxes.
If the Broncos want to bet on their coaching staff being able to develop the underdeveloped ball of clay that Andersen is, into something extraordinary, it could be a very fun selection. However, that extraordinary version of Andersen is a long way away, as it stands.
Leo Chenal, Wisconsin
The Broncos re-signed Josey Jewell but they also chose to not make a long-term commitment to him, and could easily move on next offseason. If that was the path they wanted to take, Leo Chenal could be an excellent selection to have waiting in the wings, before taking over the starting job in year two.
Chenal is a sublime defender between the tackles and consistently wreaked havoc on opposing offensive fronts for the Badgers. He has an excellent feel for his run fits and responsibilities and instinctively sorts through the backfield action to make a big play.
When he squares up an opposing back, it’s game over.
Chenal delivers thunderous hits and has nice technique that means he barely misses his targets. His limited athletic ability can lead to more elusive players forcing a missed tackle, but those instances are few and far between.
He is also a talented blitzer. While he lacks pass-rushing technique, he’s so powerful and attacks with such violence he’s often able to shed blocks or create penetration. That said, to carry that level of effectiveness over to the NFL, he’ll have to polish his hand usage and develop some pass-rushing moves.
For as good as Chenal is at attacking the line of scrimmage, some other areas of his game are seriously lacking.
He struggles mightily in man coverage, as he doesn’t have the movement skills to beat running backs to the flat or to flip his hips and carry an athletic tight end up the seam and through breaks. He’s better in zone coverage, but his lack of coverage instincts lead to him and his zone getting consistently picked in. Fortunately, he’s able to mitigate some of those concerns by being able to impact the passing game as a blitzer.
Those subpar movement skills also make it difficult for him to beat running backs to the edge in the ground game.
Chenal is really good at the things he does well, but there are some serious hurdles he’ll have to overcome to find success as a starting linebacker in the NFL.
With the Broncos, it’s hard to ever see him having an established role on third down, and he’d probably be limited to being an excellent north-south run-stuffer, and it’s difficult to justify a mid-round investment on that.
Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s defense boasted a wide array of talented starters during their run to the College Football Playoff, and chief among those players might have been linebacker Darrian Beavers.
Beavers is another big-bodied linebacker with some edge versatility the Broncos could consider. Like Chenal, he could also be pitched as an eventual replacement for Jewell, but unlike Chenal, Beavers’ skillset fits that role much better. Chenal might always be limited to being a two-down player, as he’s a major liability in the passing game, whereas Beavers has very few serious limitations.
He’s an excellent, physically imposing run-defender, but he also has enough sideline-to-sideline range to make plays outside the numbers. When working downhill he routinely blows up plays and clogs gaps. His high football IQ is clearly evident as he naturally flows to the ball and rarely ever finds himself out of position. In that sense, he offers you most everything Chenal does well, though at a slightly lower level, outside of his range, where Beavers is a clear upgrade.
Another big advantage for Beavers is his ability in coverage. He has an excellent feel for offensive concepts thanks to his time as a receiver, and as a result, flashes exciting coverage instincts.
He thrives in zone coverage, where he’s able to anticipate and read the quarterback’s eyes, but he even has the ability to be effective in man coverage, though it certainly isn’t a strength of his.
Lastly, Beavers has outstanding character. He was a leader on the Bearcats’ defense throughout his time at Cincinnati and showed a constant willingness to help the team in any way necessary, leading to him changing positions multiple times. He also has a lot of special teams experience, making him even more appealing to the Broncos.
Of these three mid-round linebackers, Beavers is the one Broncos Country should want to see in orange and blue.