Drew Sanders

Broncos Sign Third-Round LB Drew Sanders, Wrap Draft Class Deals

The Broncos did not have many draft choices this year, but they will have all their picks under contract before OTAs begin. Third-round linebacker Drew Sanders agreed to terms on his rookie deal Wednesday, Mike Klis of 9News tweets.

After Denver traded into the back of the second round for Oklahoma wideout Marvin Mims, the team stuck with its No. 67 draft slot — obtained in a 2022 deal with the Colts, who traded up for safety Nick Crossto select Sanders. The Arkansas prospect will be tied to a four-year deal worth approximately $5.7MM.

Sanders transferred from Alabama to Arkansas in 2022 and came through with strong sack production — especially for an off-ball linebacker. The 6-foot-4 defender totaled 9.5 sacks as a junior last year, pairing that eye-catching number with 103 tackles. Sanders skipped the Razorbacks’ Liberty Bowl game to prepare for the draft and will be expected to carve out a key role on Sean Payton‘s first Broncos team.

After cutting ties with Super Bowl 50 ILB starter Brandon Marshall in 2019, the Broncos have not devoted much in the way of resources to the off-ball linebacker spots. They do have both their starters from last season — Josey Jewell, Alex Singleton — attached to similar contracts. Tied to a two-year, $11MM pact, Jewell — a former fourth-round pick — is going into a walk year. The Broncos re-signed Singleton (three years, $18MM), but the former UDFA is heading into his age-30 season.

The Broncos have not made a notable edge defender investment this offseason; the team released 2022 trade acquisition Jacob Martin last week. Randy Gregory, Baron Browning and 2022 second-rounder Nik Bonitto remain in place as Denver’s top OLBs. With Gregory missing much of last season, the Broncos may be in the market for one of the many veteran edge defenders still available. The team’s situation also opens up a potential hybrid role for Sanders, who forced three fumbles last year.

Here is how the Broncos’ draft class turned out:

Arkansas LB Drew Sanders Declares For Draft

In a year’s time, Drew Sanders has gone from sparsely used Alabama contributor to a first-round prospect following a transfer to Arkansas. After one season as a full-time starter, the junior linebacker will head to the pros.

A breakthrough season led Sanders to declare for the 2023 draft, Pete Thamel of ESPN.com notes. Ranked as Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 inside linebacker prospect, Sanders will pass on the Razorbacks’ Liberty Bowl matchup against Kansas. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s initial 2022 mock draft slots Sanders as the No. 24 overall pick, placing him just behind Clemson’s Trenton Simpson as the top draft-eligible linebacker.

Football isn’t a lifetime sport; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime sport,” Sanders said, via Thamel. “I’ve enjoyed playing in college. It’s always been a dream for me to play in the NFL, ever since I can remember. There’s an opportunity for me to take, and I want to take it.

… To me, the only way to get better at football is playing football. I’ve never doubted my skills. Arkansas has given me an opportunity for me to show my skills and get better by playing and providing the opportunity to be versatile.”

After starting three games for the Crimson Tide from 2020-21, Sanders transferred within the SEC and put together a breakthrough season. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound linebacker paired 103 tackles with 9.5 sacks, being used as both a middle ‘backer and a pass rusher in Barry Odom’s defense. Sanders ranked 10th in Division I-FBS in sacks, and his 103 tackles ranked third in the SEC. Sanders also totaled 13.5 tackles for loss during his lone Arkansas season.