Are The Denver Broncos Considering An Inside Linebacker In The First Round Of The NFL Draft?

The Broncos are in the market to draft an inside linebacker, but was does the buzz from the NFL Combine tell us about their interest? Nick Kendell reports.

Indianapolis — Today at the NFL Combine, the prospective defensive linemen and linebackers met with the media. While the Denver Broncos do not have an immediate need at edge rusher, they absolutely need to address the depth — and starters — for the defensive line and the linebackers.

The Broncos have met with a number of defensive line prospects so far, but when the upper tier linebacker prospects were asked whether they had had an official or unofficial meeting with the Broncos, they said they had not had an interview scheduled. This is surprising and not surprising at the same time, given GM John Elway’s draft process through the years. The Broncos currently have four inside linebackers of consequence on the roster —  Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, and Zaire Anderson. Its a solid core of players heading into next season at the position.

While Marshall is a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker, his consistent appearance on the injury report week after week needs to be monitored when pondering the position. Furthermore, although Davis, Anderson, and Nelson are solid depth linebackers, none of them have shown enough to have them penciled in as day one starters going into camp next year. If a talented player falls to pick 20 and plays inside linebacker, Denver absolutely has a need for the position.

The consensus best inside linebacker at in the NFL Draft this year is Alabama’s Reuben Foster. Mile High Huddle Analysts Erick Trickel and Luc Polglaze both rave consistently about the level of talent, skill, and leadership that Foster brings to Alabama’s Championship Caliber front seven.

Foster diagnoses plays quickly, plants his foot, and shows off incredible speed and athleticism as he tracks the ball-carrier. When arriving to ball, he delivers punishing blows with clean technique and incredible power.

Going into the Combine, Foster was considered a surefire top-10 selection, but this week hasn’t been kindly to him. First, Foster weighed in at a very small 6-foot-0, 229 pounds, as compared to the nearly 240 pounds Alabama listed him at this past season.

Foster said he felt better in his joints playing lighter. He doesn’t play small on tape, but he did play behind a phenomenal defensive line that were able to keep blockers off of him.

Foster’s week spiraled further out of control when, during medicals, it has was reported he grew impatient waiting for his evaluation, spouting the non-popular “Do you know who I am?” card that makes many celebrities off-putting to fans.

After this incident, about which more information will be released as the draft gets closer, Foster left Indianapolis and was not available for the media session. He likely will still be selected before the Broncos pick in the first round, but Foster’s stock definitely was damaged in Indianapolis.

Another linebacker that has a slough of injury concerns is Florida’s Jarrad Davis. Davis’ stock currently fluctuates from end of the first round to middle of the second round, so it was very surprising that the NFL Combine had him at a table for media interviews, rather than a podium — where they normally have the higher profile draft prospects for media interviews.

Davis might have been one of the more impressive interviews during the defensive line and linebacker sessions, as he spoke intelligently and passionately about his time at Florida and the draft process. He was rumored to be a very strong leader in the Gator locker room, and after talking with him, I was ready to run through a hurricane with the linebacker.

Davis is smaller at 6-foot-1, 238 pounds, and stated he had been interviewed almost exclusively by 4-3 teams. When asked about the possibility of transitioning to a 3-4, Davis said he would be excited to work on it and prove he can perform there.

Davis also fully admitted to having a checked medical history, given how violent he plays and tackles. He stated he is doing better on his ankle, and will be excited to perform field drills at the Florida Pro Day. When asked if the Broncos had talked with him yet, Davis stated they had not but still might in the future.

A third linebacker who the Broncos may be available round one for the Broncos is Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds, Cunningham is a tall and lanky prospect who looks more like a tight end or edge rusher than a linebacker.

Cunningham spoke as well about being interviewed mostly by 4-3 teams and starting in the NFL as a 'Will' linebacker, but was intrigued by the possibility of putting on weight and playing inside linebacker in the 3-4. Cunningham is a great player on tape in his ability to sift through garbage and find the ball-carrier, which he is quite good at, totaling 125 tackles this seasons for the Commodores defense.

Cunningham will need to put on weight and work on his tackling technique to be successful in the NFL, but he has the raw athleticism that is needed to be a strong starting linebacker in today’s game. He stated the Broncos also have not yet interviewed him as well.

The final off-ball linebacker who could be in play with the Broncos, a player written about in a piece discussing four players the Broncos should be considering round one, is Temple's Haason Reddick. Reddick arrived at Temple as a walk on cornerback with the help of some family.

After putting on weight and showing to the coaching staff what he was about, Temple transitioned him to edge rusher where he had a very productive few years, leading the Temple defense in sacks and tackles for loss this past season. At 6-foot-2 and 237 pounds, Reddick was told by advisers and coaches that if he was going to play in the NFL, he would need to transition again to a different position — off-ball linebacker.

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At the Senior Bowl, Reddick shined in the linebacker coverage drills, reminding everyone that he once did play cornerback. He is plenty athletic and is not too small to be an off-ball linebacker in the NFL, but will need to answer questions about his technique and ability to shed blockers at the second level if he will be effective there on Sundays.

Reddick stated that although he had not yet had a formal meeting with the Broncos, he had been in contact with coaches in the organization. He is supposed to blow up his testing numbers in field drills on Sunday and could see his stock rise like it did after he shined at the Senior Bowl. Reddick is a defensive chess piece that very well may be the best player available for the Broncos at 20.

The Denver Broncos have a number of needs, including tight end, slot receiver, multiple offensive linemen, and defensive linemen, but it is surprising that they have not been in contact with some of the better inside linebacker prospects in this draft class.

It is also not surprising at the same time, given Elway’s draft history, as the highest non-edge linebacker Elway has ever selected was Nate Irving back in the third round of the 2011 Draft. Still, if one of these linebackers is the best player available for the Broncos at 20, don’t be shocked if Elway pulls the trigger, even if they have not formally interviewed the team.

Nick Kendell is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.

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