What must Justin Strnad do to earn a role on the Broncos’ 2021 defense?

Denver Broncos linebacker Justin Strnad (40) during training camp at Dove Valley.
Aug 17, 2020; Englewood, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Justin Strnad (40) during training camp at Dove Valley. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Denver’s 2020 draft class saw a lot of playing time as rookies, and that was with their enticing fifth-round pick, Justin Strnad, missing the entire season due to injury.

Before Strnad suffered his season-ending wrist injury, he was looking like a fifth-round steal. He was looking so promising in fact, that he would have at least been able to challenge Josey Jewell for the starting linebacker job alongside Alexander Johnson, following Denver’s release of Todd Davis.

“He’s looking clean,” Johnson said during last year’s training camp. “Obviously he’s running with the receivers, getting good drops, picking up the defense real fast. He’s looking really good. Obviously, it’s just [five] practices in, so nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. He’s not perfect, but so far he’s doing really well and looking really good.”

Strnad also earned a good deal of praise from linebacker-Czar and head coach, Vic Fangio.

“I’ve liked Justin so far,” Fangio said following Thursday’s practice session. “He’s shown some ability both in the pass defense area–the run game; we haven’t had a lot of shots of it yet.”

All Strnad needed was more time to finish carving out this role for himself, but then he suffered his wrist injury and the rest was history.

Strnad will once again have the opportunity to challenge Jewell for the starting job, and actually has a pretty good chance of winning. However, he’s somewhat behind after missing an entire season.

“Other than [Strnad] being in meetings last year, he really is a rookie,” Fangio said to the media on June 15th. “He got hurt last year in camp very, very early in practice five, six or seven. He’s really like a rookie on the field, but he’s doing well. We like the way he moves, and we like his attitude. He’s definitely a very conscientious player.”

That’s all great news, but to accomplish Strnad’s ultimate goal of starting on this defense and winning Jewell’s starting job, he’ll first have to prove to be an asset on special teams.

“He wants to carve out a role for himself with the defense,” Fangio said during the same media session. “It’ll be critical for him to be a mainstay on our special teams. Your backup linebackers have to do that. Overall, we’ve all been pleased with Justin and where he’s at. So far, he’s shown no ill side effects of the wrist injury he had. We’re going to try and be cautious with him in that regard. Eventually he’s going to have to use it and he has been. We think the future is bright for him.”

Considering the type of player and person that Justin Strnad is, he shouldn’t struggle to fit in on special teams.

He’s an intelligent, unselfish player with an excellent ability to wrap-up despite his slight frame, who was described as “a coach’s dream” by his Wake Forest defensive coordinator, Lyle Hemphill, during a 2020 interview with Cody Roark of Locked On Broncos.

“He is extremely, extremely smart, and if he doesn’t know it, he’s going to work at learning it,” Hemphill said. “As soon as I got to meet him, I just picked up on, this kid loves football, he loves to learn, he loves to get into the system and understand the inner workings of the system.”

Look for Strnad to make a big impact on special teams this year, but he should also be able to carve out a role on the defense as a sub-package coverage-specialist.