The Denver Broncos’ perceived need at the linebacker position may be getting a bit overrated. How will the team proceed in 2019?
With Vic Fangio coming aboard in 2019, many have considered the Broncos’ current personnel at linebacker — Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, and Josey Jewell being the top three players at the position — to be an area the team will do some remodeling this offseason.
But should they?
The Broncos’ perceived need at the linebacker position is due primarily to the fact that they have struggled in coverage, particularly against running backs and linebackers.
While that may be the case, the bigger issue may have been the secondary (in fact, I’m relatively positive it was) and the Broncos’ current group of linebackers is probably suited just fine to be part of Fangio’s new defense.
What everyone who believes there is a need at linebacker has pointed to is the fact that the Broncos’ top linebackers are not athletic enough to do what Fangio is going to ask of them in his defense, but the numbers in coverage say different.
Let’s compare the 2018 Chicago Bears inside linebackers’ efficiency in coverage to the Broncos’ linebackers (data via Pro Football Focus).
Danny Trevathan: 12.1 snaps per reception, 5 TD allowed, 114.9 QB rating allowed
Roquan Smith: 8.5 snaps per reception, 1 TD allowed, 96.7 QB rating allowed
Brandon Marshall: 12.7 snaps per reception, 0 TD allowed, 97.5 QB rating allowed
Todd Davis: 9.4 snaps per reception, 2 TD allowed, 102.4 QB rating allowed
Josey Jewell: 8.0 snaps per reception, 3 TD allowed, 120.8 QB rating allowed
All things considered, the Broncos’ linebacker group was — at the very least — as good as the Bears’ group from last year and actually allowed one fewer touchdown than the duo of Trevathan and Smith.
I would consider Trevathan to be one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, so five touchdowns in coverage seem like a staggering figure for a defense as good as Chicago’s last year.
The Broncos may not have to go out and spend $11-12 million per year on C.J. Mosley, especially if Brandon Marshall is willing to re-do his contract and stay with the team on a slightly cheaper annual basis.
The area the Broncos really need to focus on is the secondary, where they were abnormally weak in 2018. Lucky for them, this is one of the best free agent classes at cornerback and safety that I have seen in recent memory.