ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —Jonas Griffith suspected he could play at the NFL level.
Internally, he believed he had the ability to be a full-time starter.
But until the end of the 2021 season, it was only a guess.
Griffith, who didn't begin playing football until his senior year of high school, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers in 2020. Ahead of the 2021 season, he was dealt to the Broncos in a late-round pick swap — and he got his first chance.
The inside linebacker appeared in eight of the Broncos' first 12 games, but he only received special teams snaps. When Kenny Young suffered an injury against the Lions in Week 14, he took the first defensive snaps of his career.
A month later, after four consecutive starts — including three games with at least nine tackles — to end the season, Griffith at last had the evidence he needed.
"You kind of have an illusion of like, 'I can do this,'" Griffith said Friday. "But when you actually do it, that's a little bit different. But I would say that was a big thing for me, going out there and doing it and proving it to myself that I could do it. I feel like that was huge for me and a big confidence booster going into the offseason."
Griffith received several other votes of confidence from the Broncos this offseason, as they first extended an exclusive rights free agent tender to keep him in Denver. The Broncos then, after re-signing Jewell and adding Alex Singleton in free agency, chose not to pursue an inside linebacker in the draft. Those moves — while at least mild indicators in the team's belief in its inside linebacking group — have not changed Griffith's mindset.
"I wasn't relieved; you still have to do the job," Griffith said. "They can bring in anybody at any moment. That's been my approach since being in the NFL. A lot of older guys have told me that you have to be ready and prove yourself every day."
The team's offseason moves have Griffith poised to compete for a starting spot alongside Jewell — and that role would be as more than just a spot starter. Griffith has been promised nothing, but he is in position to earn the role. During recent OTA practices open to the media, Griffith has received plenty of first-team reps.
"Every day is a competition," Griffith said. "I don't think I have anything solidified. Every day is an opportunity for me to show this coaching staff what I can do and to improve every day."
As he competes for the role, last year's experience has helped to change his mentality. He also gained the benefit of being able to evaluate his game on film ahead of the offseason program. What others see from that film may portend future success.
"You definitely saw a couple of steps in the last couple games of last year of where he's excelled," Jewell said of Griffith. "Whether it be the quickness of the recognition of the plays, the guy is always fast, so you always see that on the field and just the physicalness that started to creep up and come into the last couple of games. He showed that he can long-arm guys, he can two-hand them and swim off of them or arm over, and just his understanding of the game, route concepts and stuff like that. So it's been fun watching him progress so far."
Less than a year ago, Griffith arrived in Denver as a depth player the Broncos hoped could shore up their special teams. In 2022, he could be much more for the Denver defense.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best version of myself," Griffith said. "… I prepare to be a [No.] 1 [inside linebacker], and I expect to do that."