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Broncos Film Room: Can Todd Davis fill the hole at inside linebacker?

Andre Simone Avatar
July 22, 2016


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With the loss of their leading tackler and most athletic inside linebacker, Danny Trevathan, the Denver Broncos have a gaping hole at the inside linebacker position opposite Brandon Marshall.

Denver had options to draft a player at the position a few months back and chose not to. That left Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, and undrafted second-year player Zaire Anderson to compete for the open spot.

Davis received the most playing time last season (Nelson also was asked to contribute a good amount) and in the offseason has received much praise from his coaching staff. As Wade Phillips told our Ryan Koenigsberg, Davis “played in all of our short-yardage and goal-line plays and all that. Obviously, he substituted when Danny was out, too. He had some playing time, and he played well when he played.”

All this made Davis a perfect candidate for this week’s edition of our Broncos Film Room. So without further ado, here’s what I found when studying his tape and especially focusing on the last month of the regular season when both Marshall and Trevathan missed time.

Scouting Report


  • Likely the skill that most stands out with Davis is his football instincts. Davis shows a keen ability to sniff out plays before they happen, he’s a disciplined defender who executes his assignments and does it with very few mistakes due to how well he reads plays. His ability to read and react truly stands out.
  • Despite being on the smaller side, Davis shows a willingness and ability to take on blockers and make plays at the line of scrimmage against the run.
  • Davis shows great awareness and reactivity when used in underneath zone coverages, doesn’t explode off the screen like Danny Trevathan, but his awareness does. He’s able to stick with TE’s and LB’s and can even excel in such scenarios when asked to play underneath zone coverage.
  • The former undrafted player is a hard-nosed run defender. There’s very little wasted movement in his reading and tracking to the ball. Davis plays downhill, takes on blockers and punishes runners and receivers alike, leaning shoulder first into tackles.
  • In a few limited snaps which he was asked to blitz, Davis showed promise. Executing a delayed blitz perfectly, cuts through the line gets in the backfield suddenly, and forces pass out immediately. He did this consistently in other A-gap blitzes as well.
  • The more tape you watch of Todd’s, the more you’ll notice how complete of linebacker he is. He might lack a truly elite or special NFL skill, but he’s competent or above that in almost every aspect of his game.
  • Thanks to his instincts, Davis sees plays before they happen and would even beat his faster teammates to gaps or tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He plays much faster than his foot speed on film would suggest because of this.
  • While he wasn’t perfect, Davis showed himself to be a reliable open field tackler. He also shows good mobility covering ground sideline to sideline. Against the Raiders in week 14, he stayed with Latavius Murray, who switched field and was unable to gain any yardage with Davis tracking him down the entire way (he ran almost the entire width of the field, and Davis stuck with him better than any Broncos defender).
  • Davis is at his best as a run defender, when he reads plays abruptly and gets downhill. When he takes the action to the linemen and can submarine right into the line, he’s truly awesome to watch. Made some great plays on the goal line, he sifts through traffic well and knows when to hit a hole and get downfield.
  • The more tape I saw and the more I got to see Davis in coverage on the outside, the more I was impressed. He was lined up on the outside to cover a flexed out fullback and looked at ease. He also had to turn and run 30 yards with a fullback lined up as a tight end and looked more than competent. He’s far from unless in coverage even if used in man in a pinch.
  • gif-2
    Davis is lined up as the RILB. You’ll see him turn and run with Marcel Reece downfield.


  • Hard to list this as a weakness, but Davis’ primary limitation is a lack of any special skills (per NFL standards), especially athletically and physically. He’s a master of several important skill sets but is not elite or special in any particular area.
  • When playing side by side with Trevathan, the comparison is hard. Danny was such a superior athlete and mover; he’s in the opposing backfield in no time. Davis lacks that quickness to avoid and jump around blockers or turn and run with fast receivers. He’s not a clear-cut replacement of Trevathan, that has to be understood.
  • He did have a series of two consecutive missed tackles in the backfield. Showed off some really strong movement to get into the opposing backfield, yet wrapping up arm tackles—especially when on the ground or from nonideal positions—is an area he’ll need to work on.
  • Especially in some of the Raiders tape—who have a much bigger offensive line—Davis was swallowed up by linemen and tight ends/fullbacks on a handful of run plays. This is where his lack of size and speed hinders him against the run. Had a few plays ran right at him and couldn’t free himself of the block or make the play. Considering his role against the run, this is one of his more concerning weaknesses. Playing with more leverage and suddenness should aid him in these situations.
  • In coverage, Davis’ his ability to turn and run with receivers is a question mark, especially against faster players. Was used scarcely in man-to-man and asked to run in his role in 2015. Corey Nelson could be poised to play in these types of formations, or the Broncos could opt to use three safeties and Marshall as the lone inside backer.


When compared side by side with Trevathan, it’s hard to ignore Danny’s quick twitch ability and quickness that was so crucial in coverage and the opposing backfield. Davis isn’t that type of special NFL athlete, but he’s more physical. What Trevathan made up in quickness, Davis does with his strength, willingness to take on blockers and awareness.

More so than Trevathan he reminds me of a younger Wesley Woodyard with more physicality (something Woodyard was lacking and hurt his conversion from 4-3 weakside backer to 3-4 inside LB). Davis split time with Corey Nelson in games he played last season, Nelson also looked okay at times, but Davis looks more aware—quicker in reading the play and reacting to it.

Davis might not be a big time playmaker, but the Broncos already have several of those on their defense. He’s a reliable player who won’t make mistakes or lead to any big drop-off in quality at inside linebacker. His ability in coverage and to play sub-packages is up in the air, but with two added safeties drafted and a promising cover linebacker in Corey Nelson, the Broncos might not need him to play in such situations.

Time will tell, but Davis seems like a reliable starter for the Broncos defense, certainly in short-yardage situations and on the first two downs.

Side note

Corey Nelson, Davis’ primary competition, also looked good in the defensive tape I watched. He’s a bit quicker than Davis is, with a faster get-off. He’s very active and seems to be reacting and reading plays well. While Davis appears to be a coaching staff favorite due to his great instincts and relentless playing style, Nelson has a skill set that is closer to Trevathan’s and could make him an important contributor, especially in coverage and in sub-packages. With Nelson and Davis, the Broncos seem to have players make up for the loss of Trevathan (not replace) without too much of a drop-off.

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