Say what you want about Denver Broncos' GM George Paton, but the man is patient. So much so, that Broncos Country's collective blood pressure building to upgrade the team's one glaring hole on defense was skyrocketing to uncomfortable levels.
But after three years of waiting until Day 3 to draft the position, the Broncos finally gave head coach Vic Fangio a premium linebacker prospect with pick 105 to conclude the second night of the draft.
Ohio State's Baron Browning is Denver-bound after becoming the second Buckeye behind Pete Werner (New Orleans) to be selected from ‘Linebacker U.’
So did Denver's defensive ‘evil genius’ finally obtain his ideal Frankenstein?
Missing Ingredient, No More
No disrespect to Alexander Johnson or Josey Jewell but by Denver drafting Browning, the linebacker corps has officially entered the modern NFL. Not because Johnson and Jewell are poor players, but because Browning is multidimensional in both the run and passing game. Simply put, he’s a three-down, athletic linebacker with the ability to run sideline-to-sideline.
Rather than playing college football in his home state of Texas, the five-star recruit opted to attend Ohio State with NFL aspirations like Buckeye alumni Randy Gradishar, Mike Vrabel, and A.J. Hawk. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Browning has exceptional size, speed, and strength that will springboard the Denver defense into the modern NFL.
Browning possesses what seems to be endless energy, and his game film reveals a high-intensity player that is constantly looking to make plays. As a senior in 2020, he played both inside and outside linebacker, totaling 29 tackles (20 solo), three tackles for a loss, one sack, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Browning also earned third-team All-Big 12 honors in addition to being a Butkus Award finalist. While Browning has plenty of room to develop into an NFL starter, he doesn’t discriminate when it comes to stuffing the run or covering tight ends and running backs on third down.
Versatile and Unselfish
Browning’s ability to play an exceptionally high level of defense as a MIKE or SAM ‘backer makes him one of the most unique prospects in the draft. Not only because he has the physical tools to do so, but because the 22-year-old is an unselfish and mature teammate.
After playing most of his career as an outside linebacker, Ohio State coaches requested Browning move inside despite him only playing one game at the position his junior year. Accepting the challenge as a senior in 2020, he not only thrived in the Buckeyes' defense but was a key contributor in leading the team to a conference championship and national title appearance.
Browning also shows the willingness to get after quarterbacks as a pass rusher, which is an underrated aspect of his game. On the edge, he has the potential to make plays using opportunistic timing pass rush moves. Not that piling up sacks is Browning’s bread and butter, but his yearning to win and compete at a high level that ultimately puts him on the field.
Browning has good range when tracking routes and his closing speed allows him to make up space very quickly. He has no problem fighting offensive linemen in the trenches, while still maintaining his gap assignments. However, he sometimes overcommits his body weight during the run defense, which can make him late while changing direction.
At times he can play out of position relying on his athleticism and closing to speed to make up for it. But I’d consider Browning's areas of improvement as extremely fixable with a combination of coaching and experience.
Whether or not he will be the long-awaited linebacker sensation that the Broncos have desperately needed remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure; he won’t be on the sideline or behind in the depth chart for very long.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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