Broncos Prospect Profile: Justin Strnad is the most underrated pick of Denver’s draft

North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) tries to avoid being sacked by Wake Forest Demon Deacons linebacker Justin Strnad (23) during the third quarter at BB&T Field.
Sep 13, 2019; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) tries to avoid being sacked by Wake Forest Demon Deacons linebacker Justin Strnad (23) during the third quarter at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Strnad could fill a need the Broncos have been looking to fill for over four years now.

Since Danny Trevathan left the Broncos for the Bears following Super Bowl 50, the Broncos haven’t had a linebacker who was adept in coverage. As a result, they’ve been battered up the seam and in the redzone by tight ends like Travis Kelce, and they’ve been burned out of the backfield by running backs like Austin Ekeler.

Is Strnad up to the task of solving that problem for the Broncos, or is he just a rotational sub-package player as his draft status would suggest?

Positives

The first thing you notice when you watch Justin Strnad are his instincts. He just has a nose for the football, and he always seems to be in the right position to make the play his team needs him to make.

He’s no freak athlete like Isaiah Simmons or Patrick Queen, but he still has better-than-average speed and athleticism for the position. That athletic prowess shows up in coverage, as he picks up running backs out of the backfield with ease.

He can even hold his own against tight ends, though the bigger, more physical ones do give him a hard time. That said, his instincts and ball skills are polished enough that even when he finds himself in a bad position against a more imposing player, he can make a play on the ball or lay down a hit that breaks up the pass.

That explosive ability to close shows up on his linebacker blitzes up the middle too. With his slight frame, he’s able to slice through the gap between two interior linemen like a scalpel, and before you know it, he’s in the quarterback’s lap.

Negatives

The big reason Justin Strnad fell to the fifth — and almost the sixth — round is because of a season-ending ruptured bicep he suffered seven games into his senior year. He should be ready to go for the season, but it’s a scary injury nonetheless.

On the field, Strnad’s biggest issue is that he struggles against the run, in part due to his slighter frame. Occasionally, he’ll knife his way into the backfield to blow a run up before it even has a chance to start, but filling gaps isn’t his specialty.

Also, Strnad isn’t a very impressive tackler. He’ll flash a hard hit fairly regularly but in terms of wrapping a ballcarrier up a bringing them to the ground, he has quite a bit of developing to do.

Verdict

This selection should be getting a ton more love than it is. Strnad is an athlete for the position, who’s refined in coverage and has great instincts, which the Broncos haven’t had in almost half a decade. Also, the injury isn’t all that concerning because it should be ready to go for the season and it isn’t a lower-body injury. He won’t be much of an asset against the run early on and his tackling needs to improve, but that should come in time with some development from Vic Fangio and the benefit of the Broncos’ strength and dietary trainers.

Draft pick grade: A

Player Comparison: Zach Cunningham, LB, Houston Texans

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