Denver Broncos: Josey Jewell is one of the team’s underrated players

Denver Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos may have one of the league’s more underrated duos of starting inside linebackers in Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell. Despite his athletic limitations, Jewell in particular is one of the team’s more underrated players.

Studying the Denver Broncos roster and the way new general manager George Paton has constructed it, it’s clear that the team believes more in the combination of Jewell and Johnson than perhaps some of the fans in Broncos Country do.

The fans want one specific thing from the linebackers these days — the ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield at a high level.

There’s no question that watching the Buccaneers’ linebacker duo of Devin White and Lavonte David and their great work in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs increased the fan base’s thirst for elite coverage ‘backers.

The issue is, what fans are asking for from Jewell and Johnson — or any combination of linebackers the Denver Broncos could really put out there — is borderline impossible.

Fans want to see someone wearing a number in the 50s (or in this case, 40s) that can shut down a future Hall of Fame tight end in Travis Kelce and one of the league’s biggest mismatches in Darren Waller, among others.

Jewell was credited with allowing one touchdown in coverage last season, a play that came late in the season against Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who fought for extra yards after the catch to get that score.

Not that you’re going to want Jewell playing in the slot, but when it comes to playing zone coverage and taking his drops there, he’s effective enough in coverage to be in the top half of the league at the position, or better according to Pro Football Focus.

You may be surprised to find out that Pro Football Focus has Jewell rated higher than some of his current peers many in Broncos Country would prefer to have at this point:

  • Benardrick McKinney
  • Jaylon Smith
  • Cory Littleton
  • Tremaine Edmonds
  • Devin White
  • Shaq Thompson
  • Isaiah Simmons

And there are others.

There is no doubt that Jewell was targeted a lot in coverage last season. According to Pro Football Reference, he was targeted a whopping 66 times but allowed just 6.2 yards per target, keeping most plays in front of him and obviously limiting yards after the catch to a minimum.

I put together a thread of some plays highlighting why Jewell is underrated, especially by Denver Broncos fans.

When you watch Jewell play, you can see his football IQ and intelligence come into play on a snap-by-snap basis. Jewell is not elite in coverage, but what he put on tape in 2020 — his first full year as a starter — was way better than most Broncos fans give him credit for, and he’s really effective in other ways.

For instance, Jewell had the second-best missed tackle rate among starting inside linebackers in the entire NFL (Rashaan Evans) at 3.4 percent. He had a career-high 113 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and four passes defended in addition to showing off some abilities as a pass rusher we haven’t seen much of in his career.

Jewell racked up five QB hits over the course of the season and had a pair of sacks. His seven QB pressures last season nearly doubled his previous two seasons prior in that category and his added value as a pass rusher is yet another reason why Jewell is an underrated player.

What also cannot be overstated is the fact that the Denver Broncos somewhat surprisingly made the choice to cut Todd Davis in camp last year in favor of Jewell playing next to Alexander Johnson. That move was slightly surprising because Jewell was replaced in the starting lineup in 2019 by Johnson, and it looked like after getting a year and change to show what he could do that Jewell was sort of just going to be a special teamer and top backup.

The 2020 season was a quiet breakout year for the former fourth-round pick out of Iowa, and the Denver Broncos obviously liked enough of what they saw on tape to once again pass on high draft picks (top 100) at the position.

Baron Browning was added in the third round out of Ohio State, but it would not be a shock if he’s given an essential redshirt year or if we only see him in spurts as a rookie.

Jewell and Johnson have a chance in year three with Vic Fangio to do something that hasn’t been done since Fangio coached the San Francisco 49ers and star players Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, and that’s have continuity at the starting linebacker positions in consecutive seasons.

This will be Jewell and Johnson’s third year in the Fangio system, and their second on the job as the starting duo.

Although everyone is rather quick to want Jewell replaced because he’s not a 4.4 speed guy out there, it’s clear that Jewell is able to play fast with his diagnosing skills, film study, instincts, sure tackling ability, and understanding of the Fangio scheme.

Jewell will always be limited athletically by comparison to his peers in the league, but that doesn’t mean he’s “just a guy” at the position. He may have a ceiling without elite traits, but Jewell is a very good linebacker and was one of the most improved players on the Denver Broncos in 2020.