Although we saw him in limited action last year, the Denver Broncos seemed to find a potential gem in Jonas Griffith. The Broncos first brought him in to help out on special teams with a trade just before the season to the San Francisco 49ers.
Griffith ended up seeing the field on defense as a linebacker due to multiple injuries and numerous bad plays. In just four starts and 255 total snaps on defense, Griffith had 46 total tackles and four tackles for a loss.
Lots of promise was shown on the pitch, but there were mistakes. While Griffith currently plans to be a starting linebacker alongside Josey Jewell in Week 1, it’s worth looking back to take a look at some of these plays that show his promise, but also on which he can work.
It’s hoped that Griffith will return from his dislocated elbow for the start of the season, which seems more realistic heading into Game 1. However, if he misses the first week, there’s a good chance he’ll come back for week 2.
Play 1 | Las Vegas Raiders | Week 16
Situation: First trimester | 9:02 remaining | 1st-&-10
Griffith had a great game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16, where he had 13 total tackles. His ability to keep his eyes in the backfield and sort through trash is excellent. He quickly read the piece here, while wary of possible gambling action.
When the transfer is done, Griffith closes in quickly to make the tackle. Although it’s a simple surface play, it shows many of the desired traits you look for in a modern linebacker. You can’t be too quick to close the game, in case it’s a game action, leaving a passing lane open.
There’s also credit to be given to No. 99 for eating the blocks of No. 70 and No. 75 to provide Griffith with the space he needs to get to the ball carrier. 99 also kept 70 busy long enough to stop him from going down and putting a block on Griffith.
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Play 2 | Las Vegas Raiders | Week 16
Situation: First trimester | 8:24 remaining | 2nd-&-7
It’s Griffith’s own game. He reads the game from the beginning and will plug the hole. The No. 29 drives a gap and forces an adjustment from the running back, which Griffth reads and adjusts. With 99 committing 70, Griffith can step back from the 70 block attempt and change gap to meet the ball carrier in the hole.
Griffith makes the play, but it’s a good team effort that shows how great defense can be when the pieces are put together. From the moment he took the field, he showed an excellent ability to read running designs and the running back. This play highlights that ability and shows that he has enough strength to meet a ball carrier with power in the hole and come away with the tackle.
Play 3 | Las Vegas Raiders | Week 16
Situation: Second trimester | 14:19 remaining | 3rd-&-1
Griffith has solid strength, but it’s balanced with good athleticism. In the modern NFL, you can’t have just one of those traits, but a balance of both. The ability to read the room is again highlighted, along with how quickly Griffith reacts to what he sees.
There are also good instincts, and Griffith has great confidence in them. It can be dangerous at times, but it balances how fast he can read the coins. The final piece we will look at here will show how instincts and the ability to read still need to be developed.
It was a short-range situation, and the Raiders have an option with the No.59 remaining disciplined at the back, forcing the transfer. Griffith reacts immediately but gets engaged by the climbing tight end. Instead of being pushed back, Griffith holds his ground and gets into position to make the tackle.
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As the first down was picked up, Griffith being able to block and lose enough to make the tackle, kept this run from going over 20 yards.
Play 4 | Las Vegas Raiders | Week 16
Situation: Second trimester | 13:10 remaining | 2nd-&-7
Not only was the Week 16 game great for Griffith, it was also one of the best performances by a Broncos linebacker in about 10 years. It was a great and clean game, and not just as a run defender. Now we have the chance to watch Griffith in the cover.
Griffith takes the outside court, keeping his eyes on the running back out of the backfield. Then, with pressure on the edges, the quarterback turns to the running back.
With his eyes on his back, Griffith can react quickly and close in on the play immediately. He stays disciplined and doesn’t go too high to open up the possibility of being rounded. Instead, he settles on the line of scrimmage, forcing the ball carrier to make a decision.
If the fullback wanted to cut inside, Griffith was able to cut and meet the fullback while bringing in reinforcements. The other option is on the outside, where Griffith has clamped the lane with the sideline, making it easier to push back out of bounds.
Griffith reacts to the full-back’s decision to take him outside and pushes him out of bounds with no gain. Griffith’s excellent game is to stay disciplined in his pursuit and where he lays his foundation. Many young linebackers in the NFL will see the potential for a tackle for a loss and climb too high, leading to the guard slashing them for a good gain.
Play 5 | Kansas City Chiefs | Week 18
Situation: First trimester | 6:19 remaining | 3rd-&-6
Defending the Kansas City Chiefs on the goal line is extremely difficult, especially for a younger linebacker. There’s enough of a threat with the quarterback as a runner, and the Chiefs’ offensive line was killing him as run blockers. Griffith is suspicious of the race and cheats a bit too much on the inside.
Travis Kelce is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and does a good job selling the run. This helps him go unnoticed for a second in front of Griffith, who is still on the run. By the time Griffith realizes, it’s too late. Kelce has more than enough space to make the landing easier.
It’s in these types of situations that Griffith needs to improve the most. Being cautious of the race is fine, but you have to stay disciplined. Allowing Kelce to get this space is overwhelming.
It looks like Griffith just lost sight of the ball behind the line. The instincts against the run are great, but they betrayed him here.
There are plenty of tools and traits to work with when it comes to Griffith, and by all reports out of camp, he’s upped his game. If he can improve on what he’s shown in his four starts, Denver could having a very good starting linebacker who could potentially end the fan cries for a better player at such a devalued position.
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