Free Agent Scouting Report: Danny Trevathan (LB, Denver)
With how many star players the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos are going to be forced to work out contracts with, it’s likely that Danny Trevathan hits the open market. This is where a team in dire need of linebacker help, like your Miami Dolphins, can make a grab for him. So, for our first real free agency scouting report, we’ll be taking a gander at Danny Trevathan, one of the men responsible for transforming Cam Newton’s dream season into a living nightmare.
Danny Trevathan was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL draft, in what turned out to be a huge steal. Although Trevathan did not start in his rookie season, he was an active role player, participating in each of the Broncos’ 16 regular season games. When the Broncos declined to go after incumbent starter Joe Mays proceeding the 2012 season, it was apparent that they had faith in the 2nd year linebacker to compete for the starting job. Throughout the 2013 season, Trevathan was one of the few great players on a defense that had to be routinely bailed out by Peyton Manning and the record breaking 2013 Broncos’ offense. His breakout season included 129 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, and 10 passes defensed, as he established himself as one of the best young inside linebackers in the NFL. Unfortunately, the 2014 season proceeding the Broncos’ Super Bowl blowout was that of an injury marred campaign. He suffered a few nagging injuries, including a severe foot sprain that ended a season in which he only appeared in three games.
While the lost 2014 season raised concerns of durability, Trevathan put fans’ concerns to rest in 2015, starting 15 regular season games, and every playoff game throughout the Broncos’ Super Bowl run. While not quite as impressive as his 2013 campaign, Trevathan still finished the season with 109 tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed, and a touchdown to go along with a Super Bowl ring. Danny Trevathan graded as well as teammate Brandon Marshall; he still finished as Pro Football Focus’ 6th best inside linebacker in the NFL, and he’s certainly in line for a huge payday.
Danny Trevathan is an extremely versatile linebacker with no glaring or deal breaking weaknesses. As an every down linebacker, he holds his own against the run, constantly puts himself in position to make plays, and accurately attacks the ball carrier without overextending himself. But, as good as he is as a run defender, he’s going to be banking on his ability in pass coverage. Possessing a high football IQ, Trevathan has the instincts and intelligence to make plays in both zone coverage and man coverage. Take this play against the San Diego Chargers for example:
Danny Trevathan reads the eyes of Quarterback Phillip Rivers, recognizing that he is going to throw to Antonio Gates on a drag route. He breaks coverage, and takes advantage of a poor throw by Rivers in order to intercept the ball and put six points on the board. This play is indicative of how beneficial it is to have an intelligent linebacker who is confident in his ability to diagnose plays as they’re happening.
In addition to having elite instincts and intelligence, Danny Trevathan is also a stalwart in sticky man coverage. He has few issues covering satellite running backs or pass-catching tight ends, as he has the technique and body control required to keep up with them and eliminate their ability to make big plays in the flat or down the field. This play against the Indianapolis Colts displays his ability in tight man-to-man coverage:
Danny Trevathan is tasked with covering athletic tight end Coby Fleener, one of the Colts’ most adept vertical threats and a favorite target of Andrew Luck. As Fleener shifts along the line of scrimmage, Trevathan follows him. Once the ball is snapped, Fleener goes deep, which in most cases would indicate a mismatch between tight end and defender. However, Trevathan maintains coverage throughout the play, and ends up batting the ball away at the perfect time. It’s rare to find linebackers that can go toe-to-toe in the passing game against athletic tight ends, but Danny Trevathan is one that makes it look easy.
Danny Trevathan’s elite pass defending ability, and advanced skill in run defending, could make a huge difference to a Miami Dolphins’ linebacker corps that couldn’t even tackle a geriatric grandfather with an artificial hip.
To be clear, there are no true “weaknesses” to Danny Trevathan’s game, as every facet of his game is at least above average. He does, however, have a few aspects to his game that could be concerning to teams that are looking at him as a potential franchise cornerstone. Even though he is not undersized by any means, Danny Trevathan lacks the strength to be a true mauler on the inside akin to Patrick Willis or Luke Kuechly. He also lacks the speed to track down and tackle some of the leagues’ quicker running backs. This play against the Kansas City Chiefs exemplifies this idea:
Trevathan initially makes the correct read, but as a huge lane opens to the right side, he does not possess enough strength to quickly disengage from his blocker, and lacks the agility necessary to tackle Charcandrick West once he has forward momentum. Trevathan whiffs on the tackle, and West makes a large gain for a first down. Trevathan’s less than ideal physical traits are what caused his draft day plummet into the 6th round in 2012.However, I think the numbers prove that his technique and instincts more than make up for his shortcomings. Some other minor weaknesses have nothing to do with the way the 4th year linebacker plays. For instance, his injury history could turn off some teams from shelling out top tier linebacker money. Teams should not discount the 2014 season in which he missed 13 games due to injury, even if he bounced back nicely last year. Additionally, many teams could see Trevathan’s performance as a product of a system that produced one of the best defenses of all time; it’s foolish to think it hasn’t at least played a large part in his success. When Wade Phillips is your defensive coordinator and you play on a defense that includes pro bowlers like Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Chris Harris, your job becomes much easier.
The Broncos have at least four names that are going to be ahead of Danny Trevathan’s on their list of priorities in regard to offseason extensions. Von Miller is expected to get franchise tagged, Brock Osweiler’s contract is going to be tricky to sort out once The Sheriff retires, Malik Jackson has All-Pro potential, and Brandon Marshall is probably the better inside linebacker. This means that Trevathan is very likely to test the market due to the Broncos’ cap concerns. While a hometown discount is not out of the question, I can easily see Trevathan testing the market to gauge how much he’d be worth to franchises in need of a solid starting inside linebacker. His stellar play, coupled with his very young age of 25, suggest that he’s in for a big payday somewhere, and I don’t think that Denver will be able to afford to keep both him and Brandon Marshall. Although, I do expect teams to be a little bit more cautious than in previous years when it comes to signing players coming off of historic defenses. Huge busts like Dannell Ellerbe from the 2012 Ravens and Byron Maxwell from the 2013 Seahawks may force teams into being much more careful in guaranteeing money to a guy like Danny Trevathan.
When it comes down to it, Trevathan is an extremely talented linebacker, who has been almost criminally underpaid for his production ($551,000 per year.) I think that he will shop around and land a contract that is equal to or greater than those on a similar talent level. After looking at some of the contracts for pro bowl inside linebackers, I think he’ll end up fetching between $6.75 and $8.5 million per year on a 4 or 5 year contract due to his very young age. Players in this range, like Sean Lee and David Harris, tend to be well rounded Pro Bowl talents.
How He Would Fit in Miami:
Miami’s linebacker play in 2015 was horrendous to say the least. To put it in perspective, the inside linebacker unit was to the defense what Dallas Thomas and the interior O-line was to the offense. Needless to say, adding a premiere talent like Danny Trevathan would improve that group of vomit-inducing molasses farmers into a respectable unit of NFL linebackers. The Dolphins could employ Trevathan as their primary inside linebacker, and draft a prospect with potential on day two or three of the draft. Although, they would probably need to sign at least one more proven veteran talent to add depth and experience to what could potentially be the youngest linebacker corps in the NFL. Keeping promising former Florida Gator Jelani Jenkins on the outside and less-than-promising former Indianapolis Colt Kelvin Sheppard as a depth linebacker could also pay dividends, as the Dolphins’ linebacker group would likely go from crippling weakness to potential strength, if Coach Joseph’s defensive scheme is sound. The Dolphins have proven talent at every position on the defense but linebacker, so if they add a potential homerun like Danny Trevathan to help along Jelani Jenkins’ development, there’s no reason to believe that the Dolphins’ defense under Vance Joseph won’t be able to make some noise in 2016.