It would be hard to argue Alexander Johnson wasn’t the biggest surprise on the Broncos last season.
Johnson came out of nowhere in Week 5 and quickly became one of Denver’s indispensable defenders. In that first NFL game, Johnson was instrumental in the Broncos win over the rival Los Angeles Chargers. He racked up eight tackles, defended two passes and even picked off Philip Rivers in the end zone as the Chargers were two yards away from a score.
The next week, the linebacker racked up 1.5 sacks against the Titans, proving to everyone he can do it all on the football field. At the end of his first season in the NFL, Johnson finished with 93 combined tackles, five of them for a loss, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and that key interception.
Denver desperately needed to find a middle linebacker, and Vic Fangio’s first season will be remembered for discovering unknown talent on the roster. That list is headed by Johnson but also includes defensive tackle Mike Purcell and safety Trey Marshall.
Johnson played so well, Pro Football Focus is recognizing him as one of the Top 101 players of 2019 as he came in at No. 46 overall.
“A former undrafted free agent with a complicated backstory, Alexander Johnson made the most of his first opportunity for playing time this season with the Broncos, earning one of the best grades in the NFL among linebackers,” PFF writes. “He didn’t start until Week 5, but from that point onward, his grade ranked among the All-Pro players at his position, and he was the best-graded linebacker of them all against the run. For a first season starting, this was spectacular play from the young linebacker, and only playing time held him back from a spot much higher on the list.”
As explained above, Broncos’ young linebacker was the best run defender among any player at his position. His 91.4 grade is considered “elite” by the analysts, enjoying 33 run “stops” which constitute a failure for the offense. His two forced fumbles definitely help that run grade, and consistency throughout the season also boosts grades according to Denver’s PFF grader, Lucas.
That spectacular run grade also helped elevate Johnson to the fifth-best overall grade (88.7) for qualified linebackers. His biggest area of opportunity moving into 2020 is his pass rush, which was graded at 69.7. He had 15 pressures, 11 of them were hurries, with 1.5 sacks and two QB hits.
If Johnson can improve in that area, he’ll only become an even better all-around linebacker for the Broncos.