Broncos already dealing with possibly catastrophic injury in 2024 offseason

What are the Broncos going to do now?
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

The Denver Broncos are already dealing with a pretty significant injury in the 2024 offseason, and it's still the month of May. It was reported by 9News Denver Broncos insider MIke Klis that second-year linebacker Drew Sanders suffered a torn Achilles earlier in the offseason, an injury that is catastrophic for a variety of reasons.

Sanders was the 67th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft out of Arkansas. It's not like the Broncos lost a first-round pick from last year, but given how limited NFL Draft capital has been in Denver in recent years, Sanders was a high enough pick that the Broncos were undoubtedly counting on him to play a bigger role in his second NFL season.

According to Klis, the injury Sanders suffered happened early in the offseason program, before the 2024 NFL Draft. At this stage, it's really unclear where the Broncos were planning on having Sanders actually play this coming season, which adds a complicated layer to this that makes the injury even more frustrating.

Sanders came into the NFL after having played only one year of a more "traditional" off-ball linebacker role at Arkansas. He played off the edge at Alabama before transferring to Arkansas, and he became an All-American in his final collegiate season. The sample size was rather small, but the Broncos identified Sanders as a "pressure player" who projected as an inside linebacker in the NFL.

By the end of his rookie season (in which he didn't play all that much defensively anyway), Sanders had moved to the edge where he was getting a little bit of playing time.

During the offseason, we've heard general manager George Paton hint that the Broncos may be "leaning" toward having Sanders stay at the EDGE position and also that the door was seemingly open for him to stay at off-ball linebacker.

The draft selection of Jonah Elliss seemed to cement the idea of Sanders staying at off-ball linebacker, which was ideal for his future projection with the team. Because frankly, where were snaps going to come from off the edge? The Broncos already have Jonathon Cooper, Nik Bonitto, and Baron Browning atop the depth chart there. Now they've added Elliss to the mix.

The catastrophic aspect to Sanders' injury starts with him being somewhat "positionless" during the pivotal developmental years of his NFL career. The disastrous nature is compounded by the fact that the inside linebacker position was a question mark even before the injury to Sanders. The Broncos signed Cody Barton in the offseason after Josey Jewell left for the Panthers. The Broncos also brought back Jonas Griffith and Justin Strnad, but the upside of Sanders was a huge potential plus of this team that is now off the board.

In some ways, the injury to Sanders does nothing to the 2024 projection of the Broncos. There was always going to be a chance that he didn't play a big role in 2024 so on the one hand, nobody really knew what to expect from Sanders this coming season. But again, the possibility of him becoming an impact starter at off-ball linebacker is now wiped off the board.

With the potential recovery timeline, it's not impossible to think that Sanders could return at some point in November for the Broncos. This injury is now typically given a 6-9 month timeframe for recovery whereas in the past, it might have been a possible career-ender.

On the optimistic side, Sanders could return this coming season and make an impact on special teams, at the very least. On the pessimistic side, the decision to draft Sanders is looking worse and worse by the day. You obviously feel horribly for him in this instance but now, Sanders is going to have to hope for a speedy recovery this year and to carve out a specific role in his third NFL season.

It's definitely not an ideal spot to be in for a guy whose role is very much undefined, at least from the outside looking in.