Depleted Broncos Trade for Linebacker Depth

Getty Denver Broncos' head coach Vic Fangio has had to patch together a linebacking corps that has been decimated by injury. Thankfully, help is on the way, via trades.

The Denver Broncos are at their wits’ end dealing with injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, so it makes sense that general manger George Paton has been doing everything possible to restock the roster.

That 3-0 start — and relative overall team health — seems so long ago for the reeling Broncos (3-4), as the current four-game slide has taken a toll on the roster.

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Injuries have started to mount for the 2021 Broncos, making this season look quite similar to the ravaged 2020 campaign.

As Zack Kelberman of Mile High Huddle noted, the list of key Broncos who have been banged up is staggering.

There are some pretty important Broncos who have fallen victim to serious injuries, thinning out the depth, which is why Paton has been active in recent days.

Added Front-Seven Depth

Paton hit up his former employer, the Minnesota Vikings, and struck up a deal for seventh-year veteran defensive end Stephen Weatherly. The Broncos’ front seven has been decimated by injuries, so with 10 days of ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline, Paton made a deal on October 23 for the former Vanderbilt star.

The full deal is Weatherly and a 2023 seventh-round pick to the Broncos for a 2022 seventh-round selection going back to the Vikings. Weatherly played defensive end for the Vikings, but projects as an outside linebacker for the Broncos. He registered just six tackles on the 2021 season, so he may be little more than veteran experience and special teams help.

Weatherly was originally a seventh-round pick by the Vikings in 2016, a time when Paton was working in their front office as general manager Rick Spielman’s right-hand man. Spielman and Paton have an 14-year working relationship, so it was only a matter of time the two worked something out on the trade front. This is Paton’s first trade with his former boss, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman.

The Vikings use a 4-3 front, but the 6-foot-5, 263-pound Weatherly should fit in with the Broncos’ 3-4 scheme. He’ll be needed wherever embattled head coach Vic Fangio places him since injuries in the Broncos’ linebacker room have been debilitating. Outside linebacker has seen losses of Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb (ankle), who has played only one half so far in 2021, as well as Aaron Patrick (ankle), and Andre Mintze (hamstring). All three are on injured reserve, but the Broncos are cautiously optimistic that Chubb can make his return before the season ends.

Chubb was injured midway through the team’s Week 2 win at the Jacksonville Jaguars, September 21, and soon after underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle, and placed on short-term IR right after the procedure. The timetable for his return was 6-8 weeks.

The bookend to Chubb is Von Miller, who is also dealing with a sprained ankle that occurred in the first half of the Broncos’ October 21 loss at the Cleveland Browns. Sans Chubb and Miller, that leaves Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper as the only remaining healthy edge players.

Weatherby has played in 64 career games (16 starts), and has tallied 93 tackles and six sacks. He also played 114 special teams snaps in 2021, so there’s value there. And while Weatherby obviously won’t make the kind of impact that a healthy Chubb or Miller could make, Paton is doing his best to patch up holes on the fly.

True Linebacker Help is Coming

Paton made a corresponding roster move after signing Weatherby, when the team placed inside linebacker Micah Kiser on short-term IR. He’ll miss at least three games. Kiser was making his first start for the Broncos in the Browns game, but sustained a groin injury in the first half. The inside linebacker room is as thin as outside linebacker room, as Kiser joined  inside linebackers Josey Jewell (pectoral), Alexander Johnson (pectoral), and Jonas Griffith (hamstring), who are all on season-ending IR.

The next move to help build depth on the inside was for Paton to trade for traditional linebacker help when he added Kenny Young from the Los Angeles Rams. Young figures to step in almost immediately at one of the starting inside linebacker spots.

Young, who is a free agent after the 2021 season, comes to Denver, along with a 2024 seventh-round pick, while the Broncos gave up a 2024 sixth-round selection. The fifth-year veteran out of UCLA was a nice acquisition for Paton, who swung two deals within 48 hours to help shore up the linebacking corps.

Young, 26, started all seven games for the Rams in 2021, and tallied 46 tackles and two sacks on 384 defensive snaps. Overall, Young started 32 games for the Rams, including 13 starts. The 6-foot-1, 234-pounder was originally a fourth-round draft choice by Baltimore in 2018, where he registered 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Ravens in his rookie season. He started three of his five games the following season, before being traded to the Rams. Young was coming off an October 24, 2021 performance against the Detroit Lions where he had seven tackles and one sack in 38 snaps in the Rams’ win.

His familiarity is what likely enticed Paton, as Young played in a system that Fangio uses. The Rams’ 2020 defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley, was formerly an assistant for Fangio for both the Chicago Bears and the Broncos, meaning Young’s transition in Denver should be rather seamless.

Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8

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