The Denver Broncos draft class was small this year, bringing in just five new players. The team did add a handful of undrafted rookies to the squad as well, though. Denver’s first pick, Oklahoma wide receiver Marvin Mims, should make an immediate impact on the team. But which Broncos rookie sleeper will step up and put his imprint on the 2023 NFL season? The player with the best chance to do so is the team’s third-round pick out of Arkansas, linebacker Drew Sanders.

LB Drew Sanders is the Broncos rookie sleeper to watch in 2023

New head coach Sean Payton’s biggest challenge this season is getting more from quarterback Russell Wilson. With this in mind, the team added a bunch of offensive linemen in free agency, with tackles Mike McGlinchey and Cameron Fleming, guard Ben Powers, and center Kyle Fuller all signing ahead of the 2023 NFL season.

The team also added running back Samaje Perine, Payton’s former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway, and Mims in the draft.

These players should all help Wilson, but it is likely that, especially early on in the campaign, the team will have to rely on defense to win games as Payton figures out how (and with who) to run his offense.

To that end, the team signed one of the best defensive line free agents on the market in Zach Allen (to replace the best DE on the market, Dre’Mont Jones, who they lost in free agency), added secondary help, and re-signed starting linebacker Alex Singleton.

Singleton and Josey Jewell, who both had a career years in 2022, will hold down the off-ball linebacker spots, while outside linebackers Baron Browing, Randy Gregory, Jonathan Cooper, and last year’s second-round NFL Draft pick, Nick Bonito, will be the rush linebackers.

Losing Jones and trading Bradley Chubb last season has left the Broncos with a problem at edge rusher, and as good as Singleton and Jewell were last season, both have been inconsistent in their careers.

That’s why Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders is the best candidate for the Broncos rookie sleeper of the 2023 NFL season.

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Sanders is an incredibly talented athlete who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in Texas. He signed with Alabama, but at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he was a bit undersized as an edge pass rusher and didn’t have all that much success.

After two years with the Crimson Tide, Sanders transferred to Arkansas, where the Razorbacks coaching staff moved him to an off-ball linebacker role, and Sanders flourished.

In 2022, Sanders flew all over the field and filled up the stat sheet. He had a team-leading 103 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception, and five pass breakups. His performance earned him a first-team All-American nod.

Drew Sanders is the perfect linebacker for the modern NFL. He can man multiple positions from play to play and rush the passer from anywhere on the field. The linebacker will allow Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero to play all types of formations to confuse offenses and get big plays.

The best comp for how Sanders should fit into the Broncos lineup in the 2023 NFL season is Haason Reddick of the Philadelphia Eagles. Like Sanders, Reddick is an undersized pass rusher but is incredibly skilled at the pursuit. He wasn’t used correctly early in his career, but in the last three seasons, he’s created a unique position for himself and has flourished.

Since 2020, Reddick has 180 tackles and 39.5 sacks. If the Broncos look to the Eagles for the best way to utilize Sanders, he could become the same type of player that Reddick is, and be the Broncos rookie sleeper in 2023.

And in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Broncos did signal that they want to be able to give multiple looks on defense with the same personnel, which is a thoroughly modern defensive philosophy.

In addition to Sanders, the team also drafted Iowa defensive back Riley Moss. The former Hawkeye played cornerback in college but has all the skills needed to play safety in the NFL as well. With these two players in the mix, Evero — one of the best young DCs in the league right now — will be able to flex his creative muscles and create all kinds of problems for opposing offenses.

Thanks to the Russell Wilson trade, the Broncos didn’t have too many draft picks to work with in this year’s draft. However, they got great value in Sanders and Moss, addressing two positions for the price of one with both these draft picks.