With the injury to Trevathan at the beginning of the year, Brandon Marshall was called into action and has played at a Pro Bowl level, according to Jack Del Rio. He suffered a foot injury against the Chargers and will miss 1-2 weeks.
Where does that leave Denver? Their starting SLB is Von Miller, who has his spot locked down. Lerentee McCray looks to be his backup, with a skill-set best suited for the position. Steven Johnson is the de facto starting MLB. That leaves three players making their case to be the starting weakside linebacker.
Fifth-round pick, Lamin Barrow, has played just 49 defensive snaps, and none since a Week 12 start against the Miami Dolphins (20 snaps). Seventh-round pick, Corey Nelson, saw 2 snaps in that same game, but major action in contests against the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, for a total of 82 on the season.
Both have negative ProFootballFocus grades, ending up at -0.8 and -1.2, respectively. Earlier this season, I detailed my perspective on Nelson as a starter moving forward (spoiler: I wasn’t impressed).
It’s safe to say that these two rookies have failed to make any real impact on defense, despite playing the most on special teams of the whole roster. When Marshall and Trevathan went down, the player who saw increased action was neither Barrow, nor Nelson…but relative newcomer, Todd Davis.
Davis went undrafted out of Sacramento State, even ranked at 941 overall on CBS Sports’ draft big board. Davis joined the Broncos in Week 9, acquired off waivers from the New Orleans Saints, when Irving was placed on IR. Although inactive his first week against the St. Louis Rams, Davis saw a single snap on defense against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Yet, the coaches turned to him to be the man at WLB in the second half of the Chargers game. All in all, he saw 24 snaps, mostly in passing situations. Steven Johnson remained the nickel LB/run game specialist.
Here’s my breakdown on Todd Davis and what you can expect from #51 moving forward.
Play 1: Davis saw his first play with 0:50 on the clock in the second quarter and San Diego in the red zone. He’s aligned at the 12-yard-line between the hashes.
It’s simple Tampa 2 zone, which means Davis (as the MLB) has responsibility for the deep middle. He opens his hips and as WR Eddie Royal cuts out into the deep safety’s zone, he just lets him go. This is a typical drop from Davis. Hips are good, flexible, and he does a good job of recognizing routes.
Play 2: Davis begins this play standing at the 41-yard-line in between the hashes. However, as TE John Phillips moves across the formation, he comes down to a weakside rush LB position. Miller inside him appears to retain contain responsibilities and stays home on the back side, so Davis is free to attack.
He does a good job pursuing the play across the field and ends up making a tackle assist on RB Branden Oliver for a 1 yard loss. Very high motor play.
Play 3: Davis is located just outside the 40. On this, he loses his zone integrity a little bit by overpursuing Royal inside, when that’s Bradley Roby’s zone responsibility. It isn’t a make-or-break play by any means, but it is something to keep an eye on: Davis has a tendency to slide out of his zone. This could be attributable to rookie mistakes, or simply an unfamiliarity with the defensive system.
Play 4: Davis is at the 24-yard-line, strong side of the offense. Watch his reaction time as he diagnoses run and attacks. He makes the tackle well, standing Oliver up in the hole.
Play 5: Davis is inside the hashmarks at the 29-yard-line. This is an interesting play because he slides to his right in the zone before recovering back to the middle of the field, reading the QB and moving on the ball before it’s thrown. CB Aqib Talib makes the interception.
Play 6: Davis (41-yard-line, right hash) just gets backpedal-happy here with a player still underneath. The RB Oliver sneaking out of the backfield is wide open for a big gain. Again, this could be a rookie mistake, miscommunication or just unfamiliarity.
All in all, Davis played very well for a rookie in his first real NFL action with a new team. He was patient in zone and got good depth in his drops. He read the quarterback’s eyes very effectively, but was still prone to the occasional mishap. He comes off the edge well, and plays fast and aggressive against the run. He is disciplined against the run, and holds his gap well.
Moving forward, he will likely have a large role in the rotation. Coach John Fox said of Davis, “I think he’s adapted quickly. He does have good football awareness and football character. I think he’s done a very good job in this short time.” He will be expected to do as good a job moving forward.
Expect to see Davis with Steven Johnson as the base/run stuffing LBs. Against passing situations with the Chargers, the Broncos tended to go heavy dime and use David Bruton and Rahim Moore as their safeties, with T.J. Ward dropping into the box and playing as an extra LB.
It may only be a temporary fix, with Marshall returning to the lineup before long. But like with Marshall himself, the Broncos have a good young unknown LB player.