Broncos admitting defeat on 2023 third-round pick?

Drew Sanders transitioning to EDGE full time might not be great news.

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Perry Knotts/GettyImages
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The Denver Broncos had very little capital to play with going into the 2023 NFL Draft to begin with, and their approach to that particular draft was not unanimously beloved, to say the least. Although the Broncos were wise to add a playmaker in Marvin Mims with their top selection, their next pick was a total head-scratcher. The Broncos selected Arkansas All-American linebacker Drew Sanders, a player whose projection to the NFL was a bit of a tough one in the first place.

Head coach Sean Payton spoke at the time of last year's draft about having a "vision" for every player the Broncos drafted, but there was minimal year-one impact from Sanders or really anyone in this class, aside from Marvin Mims in the return game (which was valuable, certainly). But even the biggest Drew Sanders fans in last year's draft could have seen in Denver's situation that playing time would have to wait until at least 2024 with the Broncos having Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton in the starting lineup at off-ball linebacker.

Now, it looks like the Broncos may be admitting defeat on any potential plan of having Sanders take over in Jewell's spot, should Jewell leave in free agency.

General manager George Paton stated that the Broncos were pleased with what they saw from Sanders off the edge, but the fact that he's being moved there is undoubtedly concerning. Sanders was drafted as an off-ball linebacker, and it seemed like there was a clear succession plan in place. Sanders made the move to off-ball linebacker at Arkansas after failing to beat out Will Anderson for a depth chart spot at Alabama.

An understandable situation where Sanders decided to transfer and actually play somewhere, but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by this. Even though many assumed Sanders would play off-ball linebacker for the Broncos, he was labeled a "pressure player" by head coach Sean Payton right at the time of the NFL Draft.

"We see our schemes very similar to a year ago. Inside linebacker—if you want to be more specific, the Mike Linebacker plays, generally speaking, to the tight end. We see him as an inside linebacker in the same scheme that we’ve been in and prototyping that role.

Interestingly enough, when he was at Alabama, he’s had experience at both inside and out. It’s up to us to start doing some things. We have a tag called pressure player, and to check it, you’ve got to be unique in regard to rushing the passer. Sometimes, linebackers are pressure players. In New Orleans, [LB] Demario Davis—we felt he was a pressure player because when we blitzed him, a percentage of the time, he could affect the quarterback.

We’ve had a lot of linebackers that were really good players that weren’t pressure players. That’s not their first job description. I think this guy fits into that position where he’s a pressure player. His production on the quarterback this year would suggest that. We see the 3-4 fit. We see the 3-4 inside. I said earlier—I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if a team who plays an under defense might have projected him as the same. We have him inside relative to our vision."

Sean Payton, 2023

These comments from the NFL Draft last year by Sean Payton certainly seem to indicate that the Broncos are pivoting off of their initial vision with Sanders, which isn't necessarily a bad thing...but it does sort of feel like a bad thing.

The Broncos already have players like Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto off the edge right now. They don't really have a clear need for someone like Sanders to come into the rotation unless he's going to be wildly productive for them there. Sanders feels more redundant than anything with guys like Browning and Bonitto.

Not to mention, the Broncos were already not great off the edge last season. Even with steps forward from Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto, the Broncos' pass rush was inconsistent and lacking a presence week to week. Is Drew Sanders going to be that? Who is going to be sacrificing snaps so Sanders can play off the edge?

According to Pro Football Reference, Sanders played 258 defensive snaps last season, was only sent on 12 blitzes, and had 2 pressures, 1 QB knockdown, and 0 sacks.

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At the time the Broncos selected Sanders, the pick itself made very little sense. The Broncos needed immediate contributors from the rookie class and Sanders was not an immediate contributor pick. It's now looking like an even worse pick, although to be fair to Sanders, the jury is out and we'll see what happens on the field.

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