New Broncos LB Cody Barton is a Significant Josey Jewell Downgrade

The Denver Broncos are hoping to get a totally new and improved version of Cody Barton in 2024.
Nov 23, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) catches a pass for a first down over Washington Commanders linebacker Cody Barton (57) during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) catches a pass for a first down over Washington Commanders linebacker Cody Barton (57) during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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When the Denver Broncos allowed Josey Jewell to walk in free agency, they were tasked with trying to replace a solid linebacker. While Jewell isn't an elite player, he was solid and reliable, and the Broncos' defense was significantly worse without him over the past few seasons, which makes replacing him more complicated than it seems. 

Fortunately, the Broncos have other players under contract who could potentially fill Jewell's shoes. There's Jonas Griffith, who has shown promise with his performance, and there's Drew Sanders, who unfortunately suffered an Achilles injury this offseason, but has the potential to make a strong comeback.

Additionally, the Broncos welcomed back Justin Strnad, a player who has proven his worth on special teams since being drafted by the Broncos, even if he's failed to thrive as a linebacker on defense. 

One of the Broncos' potential Jewell replacements is Cody Barton, a journeyman linebacker who was signed on a one-year deal in March. Entering his sixth season in the NFL, Barton has played 78 games (29 starts), showing promise, but his performance, as seen in his tape and statistics, doesn't match Jewell's qualities. 

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This will be Barton’s sixth season in the NFL, with 78 games played and only 29 starts over his career. Over the past two seasons, Barton picked up 257 total tackles, seven for a loss, and two sacks. He's a solid tackler, with only 19 missed in his career, but he doesn’t bring much more. 

To highlight this, let’s examine Pro Football Focus' metrics, which include 38 linebackers with at least 800 snaps played. Among them, Barton ranks 36th in defensive grade, 37th in run defense grade, third in tackles, 26th in pass rush, 16th in coverage, 38th in stops, eighth in reception percentage allowed, and 11th in passer rating allowed, with three touchdowns relinquished. Barton didn’t allow many yards, suggesting he allowed many quick catches for a small gain. 

To dig even deeper, Barton’s average tackle depth against the run was 6.1 yards, meaning he made the tackle after the ball carrier picked up 6.1 yards on the play. That ranks 13th-lowest among all linebackers.

Only two linebackers had a higher depth of tackle with at least 100 snaps. But Barton played 357 snaps as a run defender, so he faced more exposure to repetitions. 

If this was a one-year outlier for Barton, there could be more faith in him, but this has been the story for his whole career. It's what's made him a journeyman linebacker that the NFL has deemed has an average value of $3 million/year over the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, Jewell signed a three-year deal worth $18.75 million with the Carolina Panthers. The Broncos are placing a lot of pressure on Barton to upgrade a predecessor who was better than him in every advanced statistical category.

While there are cases of players outperforming a cheaper contract, they typically have an area of strength that the new team manages to capitalize on. Barton doesn’t have that flash area. When you watch him, he looks like a much worse version of his new teammate, Alex Singleton, and having two such linebackers could create many issues for the Broncos. 

Bottom Line

Hopefully, Barton will show the development that has eluded him his entire career, or one of the other linebackers will step up. If the Broncos have to turn to Barton, and he's the same type of player he's been traditionally, that doesn’t bode well for the defense's success, even with its improvements on the defensive line.

After all, Barton played last season with the Washington Commanders behind one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and still played terribly, especially against the run, where the big boys up front help take the pressure off the linebackers. 

Jewell wasn’t great, but he was much better than the Broncos are poised to get out of Barton. Again, hopefully, Barton takes some serious steps forward and becomes something. The Broncos need that out of him.

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Erick Trickel


Erick Trickel is the Senior Draft Analyst for Mile High Huddle, has covered the Denver Broncos, NFL, and NFL Draft for the site since 2014.