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Broncos Film Room: How Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson factor into Denver's plans

Andre Simone Avatar
September 4, 2018

A revelation in the Denver Broncos final 53-man roster was the number of linebackers, six to be exact, that they decided to keep. 

A big part of that decision was motivated by the changing special teams formations, which—in correlation with several injuries at safety—forced the Broncos to keep more linebackers than anyone expected.

The other part in this is the talent and youth the team has at linebacker, guys that might actually be valuable contributors this season. 

The two biggest standouts in preseason so far have been Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson.

Jewell led the team in tackles in the final two preseason games and already looks like he could threaten Todd Davis’ playing time. Johnson joined the team late and is largely unknown. With that being said, he has shown flashes to be a uniquely-powerful linebacker, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Mile High City for a long time.

As the season is upon us, we went back to the tape to evaluate the two rookies and assess if they can be immediate or long-term replacements for who the Broncos already have in place now. 

The Outlaw

Jewell’s production in college was undeniable, which—combined with his character and leadership—made him a worthwhile selection for the Broncos.

What has stood out most from the promising fourth-round pick is how quick he is to dissect plays and fly through the line to make impact tackles.


Jewell might not be the fastest or the strongest, but he plays with perfect form and doesn’t stay blocked long. He’s sound in understanding his assignments and is quick to shed blockers, sifting through traffic to often make a play or get to the ball carrier.


Jewell is really strong wrapping up tackles. Once you’re in his arms, you’ll rarely escape. He always attacks the ball carrier with good form, too, making contact with his shoulder pads and bringing down players with a combination of good attack angles and strong hands to wrap up. 

You’ll also notice Jewell attacks the line with a head of steam; he picks his spots and is patient in knowing when to time his downhill runs to bust through a line.

He really stands out for his ability to almost never stay blocked, he has a natural balance, is always working to free himself and often ends up around the ball to make a stop. Though he won’t overpower anyone, Jewell just knows where to go, he plays with great timing in large part because of his instincts and his ability to quickly read and react to the run. He’s just tough to keep out of a play. 


Another great quality in Jewell is that he rarely over pursues a run, is often in the right spot, and overall is a trustworthy finisher on the second level.

With the young rookie, it all comes down to his instincts and quick processing speed, which allow the linebacker to be in the right place at the right time. That, combined with his motor and ability in pursuit, allow him to be a bit of a magnet to the ball and always involved in the action. 

The rookie has skills against the run, making him as good, if not better, than Davis is right now, potentially allowing him to snatch up a starting job on first and second downs very soon.

Against the pass is where there are more questions about the Iowa product, though his instincts can make him a competent cover man in underneath zone, where you can be sure he’ll react quickly to a route underneath and is going to be in the right spot.

With all that said, Jewell did show that he’s a bit slow to react to passes on short dump offs and just isn’t a great sideline-to-sideline athlete. His first step in pursuing plays East and West can be a bit heavy, which is particularly an issue for the Broncos’ ‘D’ as the unit is still trying to find answers to who will be able to cover tight ends and running backs. 

The big concern is going to be Jewell’s ability to turn and run with NFL talents in coverage, as well as his ability to make plays in space against true speedsters.

He still looks like a two-down defender for now but has had a good preseason and shown some things that are worth getting excited about. He certainly hasn’t taken long to adjust to the speed of the pro game mentally. 

The big unknown

Alexander Johnson’s scouting report is similar to Jewell’s in some ways, as he, too, looks like mostly a two-down backer who is primarily a factor defending the run, shooting gaps and coming up with tackles. Stylistically, though, the two are clearly different, as Jewell is more one to rack up tackles almost quietly, while Johnson is anything but quiet, often lowering the boom to deliver monster hits. 

Johnson is an old-school thumper with the kind of size and intimidating power that set the tone for a defensive unit.

Whether coming downhill to bust through the line for a big tackle for a loss…


Or flying downfield to lay the wood on kickoff coverage.


In only two games, with limited production, he’s made an impact because of these big hits and is likely on the team because of that skillset. He’s a man when it comes to tackling and lowering the boom, and that’s been very evident in his first two games in the NFL.

Due to limited playing time and the fact that, unlike Jewell, we haven’t covered his college tape yet, we had to go back to see what Johnson did in his college days at Tennessee, where he was a tackling machine.

In the SEC, Johnson wasn’t just a big, hard-hitting linebacker, he was also a devastating blitzer up the middle and a train coming downhill.

He has good gap discipline and is a factor when given simple assignments knowing who his man is, though he’ll struggle with pre-snap window dressing and misdirection. 

Johnson promises to be a good goalline defender due to his strength and motor.

He was also utilized as a wildcat running back down on the goal line in his time with the Vols, a testament to his power as a downhill runner.

All that said, Johnson is a one-dimensional player with some obvious deficiencies that haven’t yet been exposed in Orange & Blue but were clear to see in his time in the SEC. Unlike Jewell, he struggles when he is not initiating contact with a lineman and will get blocked out of plays easily, he can also be a bit slow to read and react, and struggles some in pursuit due to slow mental processing.

It’s clear that he’s a bit of a liability in coverage because of his instincts, and he’s not athletic enough to turn and run with backs. His instincts also make him slow in underneath-zone coverage, where he’ll lose a step in diagnosing the play and doesn’t have the athleticism to make up for those lost steps.

Johnson is simply not a sideline-to-sideline athlete and is a stiff laterally.

It’s important the Broncos know who he is and use him in specific instances where he’s best suited, though he does bring an element of physicality that the other backers on the team don’t have. 

In conclusion

Both Jewell and Johnson do what they do very well, and as sure-tacklers who can make plays downhill, it’s obvious to see how they could be valuable special teamers.

What’s more interesting is their long-term projections, as neither have Brandon Marshall’s ability in coverage, but either could replace Davis sooner rather than later.

At the moment, with six off-ball linebackers on the roster, Jewell, and Johnson figure to be the first guys up after Marshall and Davis. Their talents are intriguing, but it’s legitimate to wonder if they’re simply one-trick ponies.

Jewell is the one who seems to have the most cover skills, but he’s far from a specialist, a reason why not having Cravens for the first half of the season is problematic in Denver.

For now, the Broncos can enjoy the youth and depth at the position while we wait to see if either Jewell or Johnson can surprise us all.


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