The Denver Broncos added a rookie linebacker as part of their 2023 NFL Draft class this past weekend. Could the Broncos athletic rookie play an immediate role defensively this upcoming season?

Denver Broncos rookie linebacker could be team’s steal from draft class

Perhaps one of the most intriguing draft picks the Denver Broncos made last week was former Arkansas inside linebacker Drew Sanders.

With some NFL Draft analysts previously tagging him as a first or second-round prospect, the fact that Denver was able to get him in the third round sets up well for them.

Currently at the position, Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton are the projected starters for Vance Joseph this upcoming season — and Jewell is also in the final year of his current contract.

Jonas Griffith returns as an exclusive-rights free agent and Justin Strnad also enters the final year of his current contract with the team.

The arrival of Sanders allows the Broncos to invest in the depth of the position not only for the defensive side of the ball but for Denver’s newly revamped special teams unit under Ben Kotwica and Mike Westhoff.

If Singleton and Jewell both start this upcoming season, Sanders, Griffith, and Strnad can solidify the Broncos special teams side of the ball while possibly finding themselves playing a rotation role in various sub-packages.

It’s unclear what that will look like just yet from Joseph and his defensive staff, but minicamp, training camp, and the preseason will play a significant role in helping determine what things may look like.

When it comes to Sanders, it will be very difficult to ignore his athletic ability given his 6’5 size. In terms of his RAS (Relative Athletic Score), he graded out at an 8.97 out of 10, which is a consistent mark in prospects general manager George Paton has looked at during his tenure.

As the Broncos sat in their draft room and were close to being on the clock, new Broncos head coach Sean Payton outlined how he and Paton’s vision for Sanders played out prior to selecting him.

“Honestly, [LB Drew] Sanders’ vision might be one in which varied around the league because he’s a transfer from Alabama,” Payton said. “He’s played some outside linebacker. He’s played some inside linebacker; he had a ton of pressure production last year. Our vision for him is at inside linebacker and four-core special teams player who can go and stem down to the outside. We saw so many good traits with him and such good production. That, too, was shared. George and I know exactly what the vision is, but it’s important to articulate it in the room so there’s no surprises.”

Even if Sanders doesn’t play much defensively in his rookie season, he is expected to play a significant role on special teams and will look to carve out a name for himself there in terms of immediate impact.

His height and wingspan are great tools to have as quarterbacks look to target the middle of the field — his discipline and high football IQ could allow him to spy opposing quarterbacks or excel in coverage against running backs out of the backfield.

Regardless of where the team sees him playing right away, Sanders is ready to contribute.

“Yeah, I’m extremely confident,” Sanders said about being able to play inside and rush the quarterback. “Whatever the position needs me to do, whether it’s getting after the quarterback or dropping back in coverage or stopping the run—I’m pretty confident in myself that it will translate well.”

One thing to consider about Sanders and the inside linebacker position, in general, is that the position has been impacted by injuries over the past couple of seasons.

Jewell missed four games last season due to injury while the Bronco only had Jonas Griffith for nine games before he suffered a season-ending foot injury. The drafting of Sanders is a smart insurance policy for the position room which encounters the most physical contact throughout the duration of a 17-game regular season.

The Denver Broncos have found several steals in the third round in years prior like Dre’Mont Jones, Baron Browning, and Quinn Meinerz — it’s possible that Sanders could be the next player to hold this possible designation.