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2020 NFL Draft: Outside linebacker sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The outside linebacker position has changed in recent years. Most players are graded as edge defenders now as college defensive ends stand up to play linebacker in the pros. There are some true outside linebackers that performed at that position in college, however, and these players are quite intriguing draft prospects.

The Broncos have a great starting duo of outside linebackers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. However, behind them the team lacks depth and that’s why they should be looking long and hard at this group of outside linebackers (or edge players). Who knows how much longer Miller is going to be with the Broncos, and the team needs better depth in case one of their starters gets hurt like last year when Chubb was lost for the season with a knee injury.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the outside linebacker position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Market Watch

The first round is going to have quite a few edge players go off the board. Of those prospects, a couple are worth noting as outside linebackers. If they are not noted in this article, then check my defensive end market watch for the top-of-the-line edge rushers.

K’Lavon Chaisson from LSU is one of the top outside linebackers there is. Chaisson can be described as a physical freak, and his athletic traits are some of the best in this class regardless of position. However, his production does not match the potential and Chaisson’s skill set. Last season, Chaisson had 7.0 sacks and 21 pressures, which is good, but his physical ability should’ve been more productive. He did record four or more pressures in each of the last four games, so perhaps he could carry that momentum over to the pros.

Chaisson reminds some in the scouting community of former Broncos outside linebacker Shaq Barrett. He can bend with the best of them, almost Miller-like with that ability to get around tackles. Chaisson lacked consistent production but you did see good effort and sometimes that worked against him. He does like to chase the run play and will sometimes bite on play-action fakes so hard that it’s difficult to recover.

Zack Baun was a star pass-rusher at Wisconsin, and that production and skill set could get him drafted in the late first or early second round. He’s undersized at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, so his grade is based on the assumption he could put on around 10 pounds and his strong production with the Badgers. He’s got more power than men of his size usually have and Baun is known as a coachable player.

His coverage skill is among the best in the college game. He has no problem working in space and does a good job anticipating where the ball is going to go. Being undersized, Baun loves to dip around the edge then turn on the juice to get after the quarterback. He is absolutely relentless getting to the passer and will chase plays that go opposite of him.

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Sleepers

Trevis Gipson from Tulsa has had great success creating pressure on the quarterback from the outside linebacker and defensive end position. He rushed more from the inside this year than he did in previous seasons and Gipson was better than ever. He recorded a whopping 41 pressures in 2019, but Gipson doesn’t have polished moves yet. Imagine what he could be with NFL coaching and refining that raw skill set!

Gipson is a flexible player with a bag of tricks as a pass-rusher. Again, none of those moves are refined, but he knows how to set up moves and use one move after another quickly. He’s very flexible which allows him to get around the edge. His length also helps him make up ground quickly on his way to the passer.

Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith has one of the most unusual pass-rushing moves I’ve ever seen. In fact, when I watched him in one-on-one drills during the week for practice for the East-West Shrine Bowl, I had to rub my eyes after the first time he performed his jumping/spin/chop move to get quickly around his defender. It’s a strange move, but one that he’s been coached to do in college and it works for him.

Highsmith had 16 sacks last year, although those numbers came against weaker competition and half of them came in two games. However, the production and his work ethic are going to be attractive to teams in the mid-to-late rounds. Highsmith has multiple moves to get after the passer when the ball is snapped, but I’d like to see him stack moves if his first trick is countered. He’s a late-bloomer as a prospect and should continue to get better after only playing one year on the edge.

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Broncos Fits

John Elway doesn’t draft players from Alabama, but I hope that changes if Terrell Lewis is on their draft board. He’d be graded much higher if it wasn’t for a lengthy injury history with the Crimson Tide, including a knee injury that cost him the entire 2018 season. Lewis has the length and strength to work well rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.

He is incredibly flexible and can get around the corner with great timing and footwork. Lewis is laterally agile and can use his athleticism to get into the right position to make a tackle. There are other players who share a similar skill set, but few understand the way to diagnose and move as fluidly as Lewis does. His long arms prevent blockers from getting into his frame, and that wingspan also makes him better in coverage.

Trevon Hill from Miami reminds some in the scouting community of former Broncos first-round pick Shane Ray. Unlike Ray, Hill won’t go in the first round and is instead a player I could see available for the Broncos in the sixth round. Hill began his college career at Virginia Tech but was dismissed and ended up being a graduate transfer for the Hurricanes.

Like Ray, Hill is somewhat undersized and measures in around 245 pounds. That used to be the weight for outside linebackers and pass-rushers but now those players are around 20 pounds heavier. That change means Hill will likely be part of a rotation as a reserve. Hill has explosive traits and can close on the quarterback quickly. He can bend and burst to the quarterback and also has shown the ability to transfer speed to power at times.