For most NFL teams, adding a nine-year veteran linebacker to the fold for the stretch run would be a dream scenario and a reason to celebrate – especially when that linebacker is a former first round pick who has experience at all three linebacker positions. However, for the Denver Broncos, the return of linebacker D.J. Williams has been nothing more than a small blip on the radar.
Williams was hit with a six-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL’s banned-substances policy, and his most recent DUI got three games added to that, totaling a suspension of nine games to start the season. It’s not that the Broncos want to further Williams’ punishment following his return from a nine-game suspension, although if they wanted to limit his playing time as further punishment for someone who was once a defensive captain, it would be understandable, and no one would give it a second thought. But the truth is that the Broncos just don’t need him that much.
Replacing Williams at weak-side linebacker has been five-year veteran Wesley Woodyard, who is in the midst of a career year. Woodyard has accounted for 100 tackles through the first 12 games of the season, which is a new career high, even with four games left to play in the regular season. Woodyard has also added four sacks, a fumble recovery, and three interceptions to his credit this season; all career highs as well. Williams has led the Broncos in tackles in five of the past eight seasons, but this year Woodyard is the team’s leading tackler, as he is on pace for 133 tackles, a mark Williams has eclipsed just once in his career. Woodyard has been much more than just a place holder, he is completely filling the void left by Williams, perhaps even out performing Williams in some areas, and has become one of the team’s defensive most important defensive players.
Williams is capable of filling in at the other linebacker positions, as he has experience at all three, but the Broncos are set at all three positions. On the strong side, Von Miller is proving to be more than just a pass rusher, as he has made steady improvements at playing in coverage and stopping the run while emerging as one of the favorites for NFL defensive player of the year. In the middle, 15-year veteran Keith Brooking has been steady and reliable, even at age 37. In addition to the starters, youngsters Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan have provided good depth, especially Trevathan who is living up to the reputation he developed in college as a tackling machine.
So where does that leave Williams? In three games since returning from his suspension, Williams has totaled six tackles while playing a part-time role. A veteran like him should be able to shake off any rust relatively quickly and return to form by the time the playoffs role around.
The only question is: do the Broncos have a place for him?