Denver Broncos can plan on dynamic role for Baron Browning

Denver Broncos linebacker Baron Browning. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos linebacker Baron Browning. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

For one more season, at least, the Denver Broncos‘ top inside linebacker duo will more likely than not be the same as it was in the 2020 season — Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell. The Broncos had planned on 2020 draft pick Justin Strnad getting some looks in their nickel package prior to his season-ending wrist injury, so Johnson and Jewell played almost all of the snaps in 2020.

The question heading into 2021 will be whether Johnson and Jewell play the majority of snaps again, but this time out of necessity despite having other available players. Assuming all of the Denver Broncos’ current off-ball linebackers stay healthy, what kinds of roles could we see players like Strnad and even rookie Baron Browning play in 2021?

Browning, in particular, is going to be a fascinating player to watch.

The Denver Broncos used a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft on Oregon Ducks pass rusher Justin Hollins. Hollins was a big athletic freak who had every tool in the toolbox to potentially be a hybrid defender.

He didn’t make it out of camp with the Broncos last year and wound up playing a pretty substantial role on Brandon Staley’s number one defense in Los Angeles with the Rams.

It’s not as though the Denver Broncos couldn’t live without Hollins, but they might envision somewhat of a similar role for Baron Browning in 2021 and moving forward.

Baron Browning can be a weapon for the Denver Broncos

Since Vic Fangio became the Denver Broncos’ head coach, it’s been tough for the key players on defense to stay on the field.

Specifically, Fangio has dealt with losing both Bradley Chubb and Von Miller to injury in consecutive years. Not having your top pass rushers makes the strategy of getting home with just four or maybe five guys at a time a little more difficult.

In 2019, the Denver Broncos blitzed 253 times, an average of about 16 times per game.

In 2020, that number soared to 364 blitzes, an average of 23 blitzes per game.

That substantial increase in blitzing from 2019 to 2020 was atypical of what made Vic Fangio’s defense great in Chicago, at least in the 2018 season before he became a top head coaching candidate in the 2019 offseason.

In 2018, the Chicago Bears blitzed just 187 times total, an average of 12 per game.

That means that from 2018 to 2020, Fangio’s blitzing tendencies have nearly doubled. Whether that is out of necessity or just strategy based on personnel would be interesting to hear Fangio expound upon, but if it’s more the latter than the former, Baron Browning becomes an even more interesting pick.

Browning is arguably the best athlete to come into the NFL at the linebacker position in the last 34 years. That’s not hyperbole, it’s a flat-out fact.

Browning’s freakish athleticism was on display for Ohio State this past season as he proved to be a versatile threat, especially as a blitzer.

Ohio State lined him up as a middle linebacker, outside linebacker, and even lined up out in the slot before sending him on a blitz.

Although many players through the years have noted how complicated Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme is to adapt to, including veterans on the Denver Broncos who are leaning on players with experience in it like Bryce Callahan, there is undoubtedly an immediate role for Browning.

This guy’s speed, explosiveness, and athleticism should put him on the map as a multi-positional defender early on who can come out and be a blitzing specialist as well as bait quarterbacks into thinking he’s blitzing and cause havoc that way.