Finding Broncos: 3 Late-Round Linebackers of Intrigue

Finding Broncos scouts the 2021 NFL draft class to find the best Mile High fits. What's the scoop on K.J. Britt, Jordan Fox, and Derrick Barnes, and how would each fit in Denver?
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Welcome to Finding Broncos, our annual prospect-by-prospect series deep-diving on the coming NFL draft class. The scouting continues with a late-round linebacker trio in Auburn's K.J. Britt, Stanford's Jordan Fox, and Purdue's Derrick Barnes, all three of whom fit a persisting need for the Denver Broncos.

Remember, each of the following linebackers projects as a late-round/college free-agent target for Denver. 

K.J. Britt | Auburn

Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) runs against Auburn Tigers linebacker K.J. Britt (33) during the first half at Sanford Stadium.

Pros

  • A solid tackler and run defender with lateral agility and decent sideline-to-sideline quickness
  • Great reactionary quickness to change his angle when attacking outside runs
  • Can work in shallow zone coverages that don’t ask him to move much
  • A leader on and off the field that can rally his teammates around him
  • His athleticism isn’t great, but not terrible either, and can function at the NFL level

Cons

  • His run defense isn’t elite to compensate for his issues elsewhere
  • Lacks awareness in zone coverage to be effective and doesn’t have the range for anything other than short and shallow zone coverages
  • Tackling is solid but he has a higher number of missed tackles than you’d want, especially when working in space
  • Lacks versatility and thus may be limited to being a part-time run defender and special teams player in the NFL

Fit with Broncos

The NFL maxim 'a jack of all trades, master of none' comes to mind for Britt, but it isn’t one that fits perfectly. He's just alright against the run and in very certain coverages and he doesn’t do anything exceptionally well.

Britt wouldn't offer an upgrade to any spot on the Broncos' roster. He could help on special teams but doesn’t seem to offer more than that for Denver.

Jordan Fox | Stanford

Stanford Cardinal linebacker Jordan Fox (10) celebrates after a fumble recovery against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium.

Pros

  • A good athlete that does his best work when in space
  • Offers up good awareness in zone coverage as well as the general movement skills needed to hold up
  • Takes good angles most of the time on outside runs and does a solid job of sorting through the trash to get to the ball-carrier
  • Can hold his own in man-coverages closer to the line of scrimmage and even kick out into the slot in certain situations
  • Can be used as a blitzer on passing downs

Cons

  • Not a guy you want constantly engaging blockers as he will get stuck and struggle to get off
  • His change-of-direction is problematic which has caused problems both as a run defender and in coverage
  • More reactionary than instinctive which will see him be late a decent amount
  • Has some injury concerns that plagued him throughout his playing career

Fit with Broncos

When watching Fox, he plays a lot like Justin Strnad. The similarities are there which could make for an interesting competition between the two. 

That similarity also hurts because the Broncos would need one of them to be more of a run defender that can take blocks and shed them to make plays and Fox doesn’t offer that and neither does Strnad. Fox would add athleticism and coverage potential, as well as competition for Strnad, who could use it.

Derrick Barnes | Purdue

Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes (55) celebrates a stop during the first quarter of a NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. Cfb Purdue Vs Northwestern

Pros

  • Can play multiple roles, multiple schemes, and brings versatility with his play
  • Has good enough athleticism to work in coverage and solid range
  • Has power in his hands to be a stack linebacker and play through blocks as a run defender
  • Was used mostly as an edge/hybrid type at Purdue, which speaks to his versatility
  • Never a question about his motor or effort
  • Has the conditioning to not get tired late in games or on long series

Cons

  • Lacks the length to be a full-time edge rusher, which is why a hybrid role works
  • Seems to have a lower ceiling but a higher floor, which is a concern to be more than a role player in the NFL
  • Will need a lot of development to be more effective in pass coverage
  • Though there's much to like, he projects as a part-time role player with special teams ability (for now)

Fit with Broncos

Vic Fangio likes to have his hybrids, but he likes to have them be a bit more athletic than Barnes is. Barnes isn’t devoid of athleticism, but he's not a great athlete, either. 

What may appeal the most to the Broncos is what he can bring on special teams, but it may not be enough to move the needle from what they already have. 


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