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Here's why the Broncos got a steal in fifth-round pick Justin Strnad

Andrew Mason Avatar
April 25, 2020

DENVER — What is better than 22 Janos or 53 Lindsays?

According to Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, it’s 110 Justin Strnads.

“You’d love to have 110 like him,” Clawson told Demon Deacon Digest last December when asked about Strnad, a team captain who became a fifth-round pick of the Broncos on Saturday.

Then Clawson quickly added the caveat:

“Healthy though.”

Unfortunately for Strnad and his team, a 2019 season in which he was averaging 9.9 tackles per game ended when he tore his biceps while trying to tackle Florida State running back Cam Akers in a game last October.

Wake went 6-1 last year with Strnad in the lineup, surrendering an average of 26.3 points per 60 minutes during the games in which he played.

Without Strnad, the Deacons limped home with four losses in six games and an average of 33.7 points allowed per 60 minutes (not including what Syracuse scored in an untimed overtime on Nov. 30).

Strnad was, with apologies to Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirred the defensive drink in Winston-Salem. He led Wake in tackles as a junior; he paced the team with three interceptions as a sophomore. Strnad could provide some pass-rush punch and was willing to attack the run when he had open space; he had 2.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in just seven games last year.

But Strnad was at his best when he dropped back.

Strnad was a safety at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, Fla. before converting to linebacker at Wake Forest. Once he got there, most of his work came in zone coverage, which is the bread-and-butter of the Deacons’ defensive tactics. This makes him a fit for what Vic Fangio wants to see from his linebackers.

It would come as no surprise if Strnad becomes the Broncos’ best pass-coverage linebacker within a year.

Every team is looking for coverage linebackers. So why was Strnad available near the end of the fifth round?

The biceps injury was a factor, but it didn’t keep him from doing most of the drills at the NFL Combine. Strnad said Saturday that he was “100 percent” at the Combine, although he opted to bypass the bench press there as he completed his recovery.

What ended up being more of a reason for his drop through the draft was his timed speed; he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.74 seconds.

But his ability to drop into coverage, quickly change direction and move step-for-step with tight ends, inside receivers and running backs shows that his game speed is faster than the stopwatch reveals.

In that regard, the 238-pound Strnad is a bit like the 237-pound Danny Trevathan, who fell to the sixth round in 2012 after running a 4.75-second 40-yard dash at that year’s combine.

Strnad is not be the thumper that Trevathan was, but his range and coverage instincts gives him a chance to be an asset whose play exceeds his draft value. That is a coveted skill set in today’s game, and it was worth the Broncos’ while to gamble on it.

They may not be able to have 110 Strnads. But just one can be of immense aid to Fangio.


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