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Denver Broncos 2023 outlook: Josey, Alex, the rookie and the inside linebackers

The Broncos are second-line deep in inside linebacker talent after drafting Drew Sanders in the third round.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It’s been a while since the Denver Broncos were stacked four-deep at the inside linebacker position.

Josey Jewell is the anchor as he’s been a starter three of his first five seasons. Injuries cost him starts in the other two seasons.

Alex Singleton is the new star. His sensational play last season, in which he had not one but two games with 20 tackles, earned him a three-year contract worth $18 million.

Drew Sanders was drafted early in the third round with what appears to be plans to develop behind Jewell and Singleton this year and become a starter next year.

Griffith was the up-and-comer at inside linebacker last year but two significant injuries – a dislocated elbow in the preseason and a foot injury that required surgery and missing the final eight games of the season – plus Singleton’s impressive play knocked him down the depth chart.

For all the innovative defensive systems over the years – the Forty-six, the 3-4, cover Zero to cover 3s – the inside linebackers have almost always been the Broncos’ leading tacklers. Last year, it was Singleton with 163 despite only playing 68 percent of the snaps and Jewell with 128 despite missing four games. Third-place was safety Justin Simmons with 94 tackles.

Here’s a look at the Broncos’ inside linebackers heading into the 2023 season:


Josey Jewell, Alex Singleton

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell (47) celebrates against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Jewell is making $5 million in the final year of the two-year, $11 million contract he received last year just before hitting free agency. Singleton, 29, is making $6 million in the first year of a three-year, $18 million deal. What makes these similar deals interesting is how the defense divvies up the snaps. Jewell, who doesn’t turn 29 until Christmas Day, was the 100 percent play backer last year as the defensive quarterback who wore the green dot as the on-field, play-call communicator. Singleton played about 75 to 80 percent of the snaps when he and Jewell played in the same game.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Alex Singleton (49) celebrates a defensive stop against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Drew Sanders, Jonathon Griffith

Credit: AP
Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders (42) celebrates after making a big play against Cincinnati during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Broncos coach Sean Payton said he envisioned the rookie Sanders playing inside backer with the capability to move down to outside. But after the team released veteran Jake Martin for salary cap reasons this week, Sanders is now also the No. 5 outside linebacker behind Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper.

Griffith, 26, was such a surprise force at the end of the 2021 season for Vic Fangio that he was given the starting inside linebacker position next to Jewell last season by first-year defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Griffith wound up limited to eight starts in 9 games because of injuries. Griffith has the speed and athleticism to cover tight ends while also reverting to his former role as a core special teamer.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Jonas Griffith (50) celebrates a defensive stop against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Justin Strnad, Ray Wilborn, Seth Benson

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Justin Strnad (40) pursues against the Baltimore Ravens during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Both Strnad and Wilborn are special teams linebackers. Strnad, who turns 27 in August, played in 17 games last season and while he had 405 special teams snaps, he didn’t get one defensive play. Wilborn, 26, is big safety-sized at 6-3, 225 pounds but who converted to linebacker a couple years ago. He was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad midway through last season and was elevated for the final two games against the Chiefs and Chargers, playing special teams in both.

Benson is an undrafted rookie from Iowa who has a good shot of at least making the practice squad after he received a decent $15,000 signing bonus.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Ray Wilborn on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Gone but not forgotten 

Credit: AP
New England Patriots linebacker Harvey Langi (52) during a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

All inside linebackers from 2022 with the possible exception of Harvey Langi return. He played for three teams last year – New England, the Broncos and the Raiders, where he is still employed. Langi appeared in three games for the Broncos as a special teams linebacker last season.

On the way up 


Credit: AP
Arkansas defenders Bumper Pool (10) and Drew Sanders (42) stop Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The rookie will have to work on his tackling technique but this is an elite athlete who doesn’t have an off switch – a characteristic that makes him well-suited for the inside. At 22, Sanders is the type who gets after it to the point the coaches may have to occasionally slow down.

Key to 2023 

Jewell’s health

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell (47) celebrates an interception against the Kansas City Chiefs of an NFL football game Sunday, December 11, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

He missed four of the first seven games last year with a calf, then a knee injury. He did fight through the injuries to only miss two games for each ailment when many players might have missed double that amount. But group those injuries with the torn pectoral muscle that caused him to miss the final 15 games of 2021 and Jewell will have to show durability as he plays on the final year of his contract.

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