Broncos $5.7 Million OLB Could Miss Most of 2024 NFL Season Due to Torn Achilles

Getty Denver Broncos outside linebacker Drew Sanders

As the Denver Broncos gear up for the 2024 NFL season, they’ve suffered a setback with one of their 2023 draft picks.

9News’ Mike Klis first reported that linebacker Drew Sanders will spend most of the upcoming season recovering from a torn Achilles. Klis wrote on May 20, “The injury occurred early in the Broncos’ offseason program – before the NFL Draft in late April — and subsequent surgery was deemed successful.”

Sanders’ age (23) could help him recover sooner rather than later. As ESPN Senior NFL writer Jeff Legwold wrote on May 20, “Sanders has had surgery to repair the torn tendon, and his recovery time is expected to be between six and nine months.”

At the minimum, Sanders could be ready for action by October. The Broncos have no choice but to place him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to keep him on the roster. Under this designation, Sanders will still receive his 2024 base salary ($1,010,669), part of his four-year, $5.7 million rookie scale contract.

However, the lengthy absence is a massive setback for a player who may have found his niche during the latter part of his rookie season.

Pro Football Focus reveals that the Broncos used Sanders as a middle linebacker or weakside linebacker from Weeks 2 to 11 last year. During that stretch, he earned a defensive grade of 65 or more only once.

But when he switched to outside linebacker starting in Week 12, he had three games with overall grades of 66.2 (Week 12 versus Cleveland Browns), 69.6 (Week 16 against New England Patriots), and 77.3 (Week 17 versus Los Angeles Chargers).

Broncos Drafting Jonah Elliss Makes More Sense

GettyThe Broncos selected edge rusher Jonah Elliss in the third round of the 2024 NFL draft.

The Broncos had the edge rusher position covered with Sanders, Jonathon Cooper, Baron Browning, and Nik Bonitto. That’s why selecting the former Utah standout in the third round (No. 76 overall) of the 2024 NFL draft was surprising.

But with Sanders sidelined for a long time, Elliss can take over and possibly surpass the injured linebacker. While the Broncos haven’t revealed Sanders’ condition, head coach Sean Payton said Elliss was their best choice at that draft spot.

As Legwold wrote in the same article, Payton said after selecting the 2023 Consensus All-American, “You’re never afraid to draft at the top on your strength. We’ll sort that out. It’s always a harder position to find in the offseason and in free agency, and so we felt like he definitely checked the pressure player box, and then we’ll sort through that depth as we get to it.”

Coincidentally, Sanders and Elliss have the same story arcs in college. They both had one fantastic season, making them viable NFL prospects. Elliss had 37 tackles (16 for negative yardage) and 12 sacks in his final year with the Utes. He had a combined 41 tackles and 4 sacks in his first two years.

Conversely, Sanders had 33 tackles and a sack in his two seasons at Alabama. Lack of playing time prompted his transfer to Arkansas, wherein he became a 2022 First Team All-American. He made his lone season with the Razorbacks count, tallying 103 tackles and 9.5 sacks in 12 games.

Broncos Have a Plan for Drew Sanders

GettyDenver Broncos general manager George Paton

While Sanders hasn’t played like the linebacker who terrorized the NCAA Southeastern Conference two years ago, the Broncos may have found a suitable role for him.

As’s Andrew Mason shared, general manager George Paton said during the February 2024 combine, “We thought he finished well on the edge. We’re going to sit down with Drew and the coaches, and we’ve had those meetings. You know, I think he’ll probably end up on the edge. He has the flexibility, and he’s so talented. But once we left Drew on the outside, he finished strong. And so, we feel good about Drew moving forward.”

Despite Paton’s affirmative words, Sanders has much to prove while playing under his rookie deal. In addition to his 24 tackles and one fumble recovery in 17 games, PFF gave him a 37.2 overall grade for 2023.

Improving his 24.1 percent missed tackle rate and 84.6 percent receptions allowed could improve his numbers and increase his playing time.

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