If you’ve read my work, you know that I consider Danny Trevathan one of the key players on the Denver Broncos defense. His ability to lead the team in tackles and having an innate instinct for where the play’s going will be very hard to replace.
Because Trevathan plays the ‘Mo’ — the defensive right ILB — he’s not as visible as the equally talented Brandon Marshall.
A careful observation of Trevathan's performance in game film shows that if the tackle is within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, he’ll be in the pile. Trevathan has consistently shown his ability to shed blockers well enough to use video of it as a teaching aid.
One of the keys is his balance. Trevathan's not a ‘drag’ tackler, who lets the ball carrier’s momentum get extra yards. Whenever possible, he stands the ball carrier up or drives his shoulder into the carrier’s numerals and plants him.
It’s no surprise that Danny tackles so well. He led the SEC in tackles for two years running. If you can lead the SEC in tackles two years in a row, you can tackle in the NFL.
It was due to running that Danny dropped to the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He had a knee problem at the Combine that slowed all of his running and leaping tests and drills.
Inexplicably, there was a consensus among the scouts that he was ‘too small’ for the NFL. At 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds, that’s about the size of Lawrence Taylor. LT seemed to manage alright.
John Fox and I agree on one thing. Linebackers should be fast, disruptive and efficient. I look around at the most productive linebackers, most of them are in the 6-foot-to-6-foot-1 in height and 230-245 pounds in weight.
Generally, the heavier LBs are OLBs who have to deal with offensive tackles. Every pound helps when you’re dealing with 300-pound monsters. Speed and technique mean every bit as much.
But this year, Trevathan is almost certainly gone. The problem is that there isn’t enough money. With Brock Osweiler and Malik Jackson to deal with immediately (neither of whom are guaranteed) and a line down the hall from them, Denver is unlikely to match the $5-6 million that I would expect for Danny’s multi-positional tackling machine. It hurts, but it’s football.
Todd Davis is the obvious choice to replace Danny. He came in and played well there in 2014. Corey Nelson got more reps as the season progressed last year. I like Nelson better in coverage, but he can tackle. Both players are still developing.
Ironically, two of the top-5 free agents at inside linebacker are Trevathan and Marshall. Marshall’s a restricted free agent and Denver will put a high tender on him. He’s very likely to come back.
Derrick Johnson still had it last season at age 33. Will he at age 34? Would he take a one-year contract that pays him a certain base, with all the incentives providing the salary he wants? He may have to.
Some team will take a chance on him — he came back early and strong from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. A one or two-year contract, languaged to deal with the unfortunate possibility of injury ending his season or career, might be a short-term solution if Davis struggles.
Rolando McClain came next. He seems to have turned his life around. I’m glad for him — he came from a difficult situation and it has haunted him at times. He had a single very good year in Dallas.
Does Denver join in the bidding? Possible, but I doubt it. I saw 3-to-4 quality ILBs at the Combine and/or the college All-Star games. Trevathan is four years into his career, so he’s going to be ahead of anyone drafted, but these players looked good.
On McClain’s good side, he has low miles and was highly productive in Dallas last season. Whether he keeps his life turned around is a legitimate question. Additionally, McClain has Crohn’s disease.
That gives him a much higher chance (25%) of developing problems with arthritis, among other things. Being an athlete doesn’t change that. Anyway you look at it, he’s a risk. Is he worth it?
I’m going to start with two names that I think are the best bets to replace Danny quickly.
Pro Football Focus analyst Gordon McGuinness noted that Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers
"would make a lot of sense [for the Broncos], particularly as a second- or third-round pick if he fell that far."
Given Denver’s position each round, he’d have to be a second round pick to be sure of his presence, unless Denver wants to package a move up. Matakevich will probably go first of the two.
"[Brothers] might not be the perfect prospect, but he was incredible against the run, finishing the year with the second-highest grade in that regard.”
Danny Trevathan guarded the LOS like a hungry pit bull. Denver needs someone similar.
Additionally, Brothers totaled 78 defensive stops — the most of any linebacker in college last year. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Mizzou player totaled 152 total tackles (12 for loss), 2.5 sacks, a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble.
He might not supply the most eye-popping measurables, but he makes up for that with his football intelligence (he scored a 28 on the Wonderlic).
If Matakevich is still there, he could be the better of the two. I’ve had a fondness for Brothers’ game that I can’t quite elucidate. The draw to Matakevich is easy — if you win both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award and are available at the end of the second round, you should be wearing orange.
Mike Mayock made the point that you can find talented, good value LBs well into the fourth round or later. Given the quality of Denver’s player analysis, I expect to find at least one or more ‘keeper’ players in the deeper rounds.
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