With 3 Starts, Broncos LB Alexander Johnson Receives Impressive Grade From PFF
Fans the league over curse the injury bug. And for good reason.
Sometimes, though, the vagaries of that most hated and virulent bug can uncover diamonds that had been previously hidden in the rough.
Linebacker Alexander Johnson is such a gem.
The Denver Broncos were between a rock and a hard place when just after the team had gotten Todd Davis back from injury, the other starting linebacker, Josey Jewell, pulled up lame with a hamstring. Fortunately, the Broncos got wise to the realization that Corey Nelson was not cutting the mustard as a band-aid starter.
Alexander Johnson received the first career start in Week 5 on the road in Los Angeles and the results were outstanding. He followed that up with another impact performance the next week at home vs. Tennesse.
With now three starts under his belt, there is nearly a quarter of a season's worth of a sample size with which to analyze and evaluate Johnson. Suffice to say, the leading advanced analytics site Pro Football Focus is head-over-heels about Johnson.
Johnson currently is the No. 2-ranked off-ball linebacker, per PFF, with an elite 90.8 cumulative grade. Pretty impressive for a linebacker who little more than a year ago entered the NFL as a college free agent with the Broncos.
What's really encouraging about Johnson's PFF grade is that he has earned almost equally excellent marks as both a run defender (86.5) and a coverage linebacker (88.6). Based on his college reputation playing in the SEC, few draftniks would have expected him to be as good as he has been in coverage, though he hasn't been perfect.
One thing to consider, though, is the fact that Johnson has only received 164 total snaps on defense. The sample size is smaller than many of the linebackers he's being graded against, many of whom have twice as many snaps under their belt in 2019.
More snaps can be a double-edged sword. If a player is truly elite, a larger sample size is simply more of an opportunity to shine, while it can also give a player more time on film by which opponents can scheme against their strengths and weaknesses, laying bear the truest measure of the player that eventually comes out in the wash. A really good player, though, is consistent, regardless of how large the sample size is.
While Alexander Johnson's first three starts as a Bronco are more than encouraging, fans shouldn't get too far out over their skis in regards to the implications. Head coach Vic Fangio has been the first to pump the brakes on enshrining Johnson in the Broncos' Ring of Fame.
Ultimately, we need that sample size to grow and grow it will, as Johnson's performance thus far has at the very least cemented his role as a starter on the Broncos defense. Some players are 'ballers' or 'gamers', who consistently rise to the occasion when the lights of competition go on.
Alexander Johnson appears to be such a 'gamer' and he's certainly won a few battles. But let's wait to see how he handles the war of attrition that is the NFL season before fully analyzing the implications of his play.
Bottom line, Johnson has been a massive boon to this Broncos defense and his future appears bright. And the team is 2-1 with him in the starting lineup.