The Denver Broncos has been searching high and low for long-term fits at inside linebacker since the Super Bowl 50 team. The team has yet to find solutions to the positions since the departure of Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall years ago.
Deficiencies at inside linebackers have been exaggerated with the emergence of dangerous tight ends in the division. Denver’s ILB room has been diced up with dynamic running backs and the likes of Travis Kelse, Darren Waller, and the array of tight ends deployed by the Chargers over the years. Denver’s inability to find and cultivate players with speed at the position has created a black hole within the defense season after season.
Starters heading into 2021 Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson were serviceable and consistent. Conversations about the long-term outlook for the position centered around the position seemed to focus on the two veterans. Rookie Baron Browning struggled to stay healthy and Justin Strnad had underwhelmed on the field.
Injuries derailed both Jewell and Johnson’s year as each is set to hit free agency in March. The absence of both players was visible as two weeks ago. The Cleveland Browns ran over Denver’s inside linebacker group, leaving it desperate for answers.
When all seemed lost, the Broncos stumbled on their long-term answers for the position just in time for a playoff run.
Young and Browning bring dynamic linebacker play to Denver
General manager George Paton swung a deal with the Los Angeles Rams, essentially stealing starter Kenny Young in an exchange of late-round picks. Browning got healthy and was implemented into the lineup with Young against the Washington Football Team.
Since that day, the Denver defense is simply, different.
Both Browning and Young have a plus athletic profile, thus bringing needed speed to this defense.
Sunday, both players’ full arsenal of skill sets was on display and their teammates notice.
“They did [phenomenally],” Deshawn Williams stated. Those two guys—him and Kenny—they stepped up for [ILB] Josey [Jewell]. Losing Josey was huge, and [ILB] ‘A.J.’ [Alexander Johnson], but to get those two guys—Kenny, we just got him here like a week and a half [ago]. He was stepping up like he never lost a step. Having him and Baron, it’s a big momentum boost. It’s very big for us.”
Sayre Bedinger highlighted two key plays from Sunday by each linebacker. In this clip, Young recognizes the run quickly and knifes through the A-Gap to make the play on Ezekial Elliot in the backfield. What makes this play special is who he beats. Young can beat All-Pro Zach Martin to the spot and blows up the play for a loss.
This play highlights Browning’s fluidity and speed in coverage. The youngster maintains upfield leverage against tight end Dalton Shultz. A fine player in his own right, Shultz is draped as he cuts to the middle of the field. Browning displays perfect technique as he keeps his upfield hand on Shultz waste and uses his left hand to knock the pass away.
The presence of Young and Browning allows the head coach and defensive play-caller Vic Fangio more flexibility. This past week, Denver used Cover-1 defense more often and found success against a dynamic offense with it.
Young making the case to return to Broncos
Denver will have plenty of tough decisions this offseason, who starts for them at inside linebacker should no longer be one of them. The Broncos’ options at ILB appeared sunk with the losses of their starters. However, Paton and Fangio finally have two players who could and should be long-term fixtures for this defense.
The Broncos’ plan to fix their ILB from the beginning of the season has changed dramatically. Young (26) and Browning (22) give Denver youth at ILB an upside at a position the team has tried to solve for years. To keep it together, Paton must act soon.
Young is scheduled to be a free agent after this season. With stellar play in his short time in Denver, Young is making a case to return. Valuations for Young conducted by Over The Cap is just over $4 million. That number is likely to increase but shows the market for Young is favorable for Denver to resign him. A move Paton should do in a heartbeat.
The two young ILBs have elevated the play of this entire defense and should give fans more excitement and hope for years to come.