Pro Football Network’s Senior NFL Analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson has already mentioned a Broncos player on his positional rankings lists of top safeties, running backs, and pass rushers. In his most recent position rankings, another member of the Broncos made the list within his rankings of the NFL’s top linebackers for 2020. Alexander Johnson burst onto the scene last season with 93 tackles and five tackles for loss and is now considered amongst the NFL’s best linebackers, and another Bronco could potentially join him in the near future.
Alexander Johnson lands in the top 10
Joining fellow teammates Justin Simmons and Von Miller as Broncos that are one of the 10 best players at their respective positions, Johnson represents the Broncos amidst the top inside linebackers for 2020.
“Even though Johnson is a big linebacker by today’s standards and superb playing the run, don’t get the misconception that he is just a heavy downhill thumper, although he certainly is that,” Williamson said. “Johnson is an athlete that can run. He has star qualities, was one of the best finds in the last few years by any NFL team, and the linebacker position is extremely important in Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme.”
Johnson did shine as one of the best run-defenders from the linebacker position in the NFL. Before entering the lineup, the Broncos were one of the league’s worst run defenses, allowing 167.3 yards on the ground per game. The addition of Johnson decreased that average by more than 55 yards per game throughout 2019. The Broncos also went from allowing 23.3 points per game through the first quarter of the season, to allowing 18.6 points per game down the stretch. A difference of nearly a touchdown per game minus the extra point.
If Johnson can continue to develop in his second season as a starter, which should be expected, the Broncos’ inside linebacking unit would be a true asset to the defense.
Justin Strnad has the potential to make this list soon
After putting Broncos rookie Justin Strnad under the microscope, it’s clear that he has the potential to one day join this list, even if he isn’t among the Broncos top LB’s for 2020.
While at Wake Forest, Strnad thrived because of his impressive instincts and his motor that never seemed to cool. Those instincts are what make Strnad an impressive prospect for the position. They help him in coverage and in the run game by allowing him to see where the ball is going well before it gets there.
He was excellent at matching up with running backs in coverage, which is important because he’ll often have to cover receivers and backs out of the backfield in Fangio’s defense. That should be music to the ears of Broncos Country, who have been frustrated with the team’s lack of coverage ability at the position since Danny Trevathan left in 2016.
Occasionally you will even see him shoot through a gap in the line scrimmage to sack the quarterback or wrap the running back down behind the line of scrimmage
How Strnad’s work ethic will put him in a position to success
Strnad also possesses the type of character and work ethic you desire from someone playing a key role in the center of the Broncos defensive unit. His defensive coordinator from Wake Forest, Lyle Hemphill praised him for not missing a single practice or team meeting following the ruptured bicep that cut his senior season short and was impressed by his film study.
“He is extremely, extremely smart, and if he doesn’t know it, he’s going to work at learning it,” Hemphill said. “As soon as I got to meet him, I just picked up on, this kid loves football, he loves to learn, he loves to get into the system and understand the inner workings of the system.”
The one thing that could hold Strnad back from becoming of the NFL’s better linebackers, is his average athleticism. Based on his combine results, he earned an overall Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 3.84, which is defined as ‘poor’. He scored ‘poor’ in almost every category other than size and his 40-yard dash.
In 2020, he should primarily be a special teams contributor, who sees work in sub-packages. With that said, as he continues to develop in Fangio’s defensive scheme, he projects to be a starter and has the potential to be one of the better starters in the NFL.