Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse for the Broncos, they did. After an 0-4 start, it seemed like we were at rock bottom with this team, but that all changed on Monday.
It was announced that second-year pro Bradley Chubb suffered an ACL injury in the game on Sunday and will miss the rest of the season. He’s arguably Denver’s best player on either side of the ball. Without Chubb, the team won’t be the same.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio seemed dejected when talking about Chubb at his Monday press conference.
“It’s a huge loss. He’s one of our better players, obviously. He’s a tempo setter, great player, great person, leader and all that. So, it is a loss,” Fangio said.
So how do the Broncos replace Chubb? Let’s look at the options.
Undrafted rookie Malik Reed
The first player up to step into Chubb’s spot has to be rookie linebacker Malik Reed. Undrafted out of Nevada in 2019, Reed is a pure pass rusher who fell undrafted because he was a bit of a “tweener” as a prospect. Scouts were unsure if he would be able to stand up and play outside linebacker in college after lining up mostly as a rush end for the Wolfpack.
Earlier this year in training camp, Reed talked about the transition to linebacker after bouncing around the formation in college.
“Last year, I moved from off the ball to linebacker and I had to learn a whole new system, but I definitely feel like some of the things that I took from that experience is definitely helping now as far as coverage and how to play the game,” Reed said.
Reed is able to get after the quarterback because of his incredible closing burst. He doesn’t yet have multiple pass-rushing moves and will need to do a better job of disengaging from blockers to be consistently successful at the pro level.
2019 fifth-round pick Justin Hollins
The Broncos selected an edge player when they drafted Hollins out of Oregon in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. I liked Hollins in college and appreciated his game because he can disrupt the pass play and cause strip fumbles when he gets to the ball-carrier. Hollins was at the East-West Shrine Game earlier this year and stood out during the week of practice. In fact, he won Defensive MVP of that game due to his play as a pass-rusher.
That’s one of the reasons why I was a bit confused when the Broncos said they were going to play Hollins at inside linebacker. Standing at 6-foot-5, Hollins gives you an interesting look inside because you don’t usually see players that tall at that position.
He’s learned both positions and that is a positive when it comes to tracking plays according to the young linebacker.
“Yes sir, seeing different formations. I got used to looking at the formations and anticipating motions,” Hollins said.
Moving Hollins back outside just makes a ton of sense. Because of his length, burst and ability to cause fumbles, I feel that Hollins has shades of Shaq Barrett to his game. Hopefully, we get to see him have success as a rotational player on the outside.
Free agent or trade?
There are options out there for the Broncos that are not currently on their roster. With their 0-4 record, I don’t feel the Broncos are going to trade for anyone to add them to the team. If anything, this team will be sellers as the trade deadline approaches at the end of this month.
Instead, I think the Broncos could look at veteran free agents on the open market who could help. One player who could step in immediately was with the Broncos this summer on his second stint with the team. I think Dekoda Watson would be an option for the Broncos due to this injury to Chubb. He did not make the 53-man roster and is still available for any team to sign.
Fangio did not shut down the idea of adding Watson back to the roster.
“He might be (an option). We’ve got the rest of today and tomorrow to look at who might be available,” Fangio said.
A former Broncos first-round pick is still out there too. Shane Ray signed with the Ravens during the offseason, but failed to make their final roster. I know things didn’t end well for Ray here as he was a healthy scratch for his final three contests with Denver, but that was a different coaching staff. In these desperate times, perhaps the Broncos would mend those fences and bring Ray back. Probably not, but there’s not much out there.
This was the last thing the Broncos needed with no wins on the season and a playoff run completely out of the picture. The entire team should be in rebuild mode, so younger players are going to get an opportunity.
The team should use a rotation of players, starting with Reed and also featuring guys like Hollins. If they want to add someone from outside the building, then perhaps Watson is an option or Ray or maybe even former Packers first-round pick Nick Perry.
“We’ll figure out how to get a plan going and how we’ll fill that void. It will probably be more of a committee thing,” Fangio said.
So how does Denver replace Chubb? They don’t. They’ll just have to find a way to get by without him until 2020.