The Broncos re-signed linebacker Alex Singleton, 29, on Thursday to a three-year contract worth $18 million. The deal includes $9 million in guaranteed money.
Singleton’s road to his first major NFL payday was a long one. He left Montana State after the 2014 season and joined the Seahawks for the 2015 offseason. He bounced around practice squads for a year, before heading north to the Canadien Football League. In three seasons, he was a two-time All-Star, one-time Grey Cup champion and one-time league Most Outstanding defensive player. He returned to the NFL ahead of the 2020 season and played two seasons in Philadelphia before joining the Broncos in 2022.
Singleton was initially pegged for a special teams role in Denver, but injuries to both starting linebackers allowed him to try his hand in their place early in the season. When Jonas Griffith went down with a season-ending injury, Singleton took over the starting job.
Despite only starting 12 games, Singleton finished fifth in the NFL with 163 tackles. We’re taking a look back at his 21-tackle performance against the Chargers in Week 6.
Singleton makes his name as a chase-and-tackle linebacker. He can hold his own in coverage or as a blitzer, but he he’s at his best when he’s reading a run play and chasing down the running back.
Here’s an easy example from the Chargers’ second-to-last offensive play of the game:
It’s nothing special. Singleton just mirrors the running back toward the sideline and helps Kareem Jackson make a tackle short of the sticks.
Here’s another example from the previous play:
Again, it’s nothing complex. Singleton reads the running back moving outside and meets him at the edge. You don’t have to be a stud to diagnose that play.
This one is a little more impressive:
(Sorry this clip is down right now. I’ll go back after the show and find it.)
Singleton reads the pulling guard and follows him to the left side of the field. He finds the hole before the running back does and stuffs the run for no gain.
All of the plays above are good, clean run defense from a linebacker. This next play kicks it up a notch.
Once again, Singleton reads the pulling blocker and knows the run is moving to his left. But this time, bodies are flying all over the place. Singleton reads the run through traffic and pops the running back cleanly in the chest.
Notice the little move Singleton makes to dodge the guard. It’s subtle, but that can be all it takes to make a big man miss.
Look at this little move he pulls on Matt Feiler later in the game:
Here’s that same move in action:
Combine Singleton’s quick-twitch lateral movements with his ability to read developing runs and track running backs, and you get plays like this one:
The Broncos have no business stopping that run. Just took at how much green is out there. Look at the Chargers’ numbers advantage, which grows when they pull blockers to the right side of the field. But Singleton makes the play.
The popular opinion is that Singleton is a tough fit in nickel defenses. He’s nothing special as a cover linebacker, which limits a defense’s options. But there are advantages to having Singleton on the field in the nickel, especially when the offense isn’t facing a clear passing situation. On a 1st & 10, for example, Singleton can provide sideline-to-sideline run-stopping capabilities, which frees up more defenders to play the pass. See the play above as evidence.
Before we get to Singleton’s skillset against true passing plays, let’s look at how he defended a couple of screens.
Look similar? Well it should. Singleton uses that same move we’ve seen over and over again, setting the blocker up outside and then pouncing back inside. It’s a shoe-string tackle, but it’s a tackle nonetheless.
Here’s a cleaner rep:
And here’s the one that justifies an $18 million contract:
If anything, Singleton might be better against screens than against the run. He gets to play against linemen in space, where his quickness is even more valuable, and he has plenty of burst to get to the boundary to make a tackle.
Against true passing plays, Singleton is a more limited player. He was used in man coverage on 13.6% of his coverage snaps, which was 83rd out of 96 linebackers who dropped into coverage at least 100 times in 2022. When he did play man coverage, Singleton often lineup up against running backs.
Here’s Singleton in man coverage against Austin Ekeler. Sadly, Baron Browning ruins the example with a sack:
Singleton knows he has help inside from Jonas Griffith playing a shallow zone, so he makes sure Ekeler can’t get outside of him. It might not please the eye, but Singleton took away the danger while allowing a small void behind him.
Most of Singleton’s pass-defending snaps in 2022 came in zone coverage, where he manned the middle of the field. In the game against the Chargers, he gave up 10 catches and was targeted 10 times, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics. While that sounds like a horrendous outing, he only gave up 39 yards on those 10 catches. None of them gained double-digit yards. PFF went so far as to call him the Broncos’ best coverage defender in the game. The screen passes above probably help him in that regard.
Here was one of the short catches:
Could you wish Singleton was a step faster and able to get to the receiver quickly enough to put a hand on the ball? Sure. But he gets a good break on the play by reading the quarterback’s eyes and he gives up a short gain.
Here he is crashing forward to make a tackle for a three-yard gain:
And another short gain:
And another one:
In a vacuum, a linebacker finding himself isolated with Austin Ekeler and giving up six yards is a ho-hum result. You want better, but a six-yard catch isn’t far off from the median expectation.
Singleton has a lot of C-level plays in pass coverage. They’re nothing special, but they don’t hurt you much either. He gives up some catches, but he’s typically within a few steps and can clean up the tackle. In his 14 starts, Singleton averaged a little less than four catches allowed per game, so it’s not like he’s being picked on. His 82% completion percentage allowed in 2022 was close to his career average, but his 99.1 passer rating allowed was a dozen points better than his career best. Among 96 linebackers with at least 100 coverage snaps, Singleton’s passer rating allowed was 42nd.
As a blitzer on passing plays, Singleton is alright but once again isn’t a standout player. His best physical attributes are his short-area quickness and burst. He isn’t the most powerful linebacker, and that means he doesn’t often blow up running backs in pass protection.
Austin Ekeler is one of the league’s top third-down backs, and his pass-protecting ability is a big reason why. By my count, he won three of the five matchups with Singleton in this game.
Here’s one of the wins I’m giving Singleton, despite Herbert making a great play:
As a run blitzer, Singleton is more effective. Instead of being picked up by a running back, he’s trying to beat a lineman. He gets to rely on his quickness instead of his strength.
He hardly impacts this next play because it’s designed to go the other way, but it’s the best example I could find:
To recap all of the above…
- Singleton is a fairly well-rounded player. He doesn’t have glaring weaknesses, though the last regime didn’t play him in man coverage very often. That might have more to do with the system than the player, but it is worth monitoring, especially as the next regime is expected to spend more time in man.
- As a run defender, you won’t find many linebackers you’d prefer to Singleton. He has great instincts. He reads plays well as they develop. He gets by linemen. He’s a sure tackler, as evidenced by his 6% missed tackle rate.
- He’s more finesse than power… at least for a linebacker. Singleton isn’t a speed demon, but he’s a quick-twitch player who can get up to speed quickly.
And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a high-motor defender who makes a habit of cleaning up tackles.
Take a look back at some of Singleton’s best plays from 2022:
Click here to see Alex Singleton’s appearance on The DNVR Broncos Podcast the day after he agreed to his new deal.
Click here for our Film Room on new Broncos guard Ben Powers.
Click here for our Film Room on new Broncos defensive lineman Zach Allen.
Click here for our Film Room on new Broncos right tackle Mike McGlinchey.