ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos were on the clock with the final pick of the third round in the 2021 NFL Draft, George Paton's phone saw plenty of action.
At the end of the second night of the draft, the Broncos' general manager explained that several teams called Denver to see if the team would part with the 105th pick.
Paton and the Broncos, though, had their attention set on an alluring prospect.
"We had a lot of action on that pick," Paton said, "but Baron Browning was too special to move back."
In Browning, the Broncos found a highly athletic player who could fit in at two different positions.
The team has put Browning at inside linebacker to begin his NFL career, and Head Coach Vic Fangio said he would remain there for "a good bit."
At inside 'backer, Browning will compete for snaps alongside Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson. His 4.58-second 40-yard dash speed and 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame should make him a strong candidate to match up with tight ends Darren Waller and Travis Kelce in the AFC West. Browning has been praised for his pass coverage skills, and he's been compared to a more athletic K.J. Wright.
Browning may have to work to improve in the run game, but it's possible he could push for snaps in the near future. And with Jewell and Johnson both entering the final years of their rookie deals, Browning could become a three-down linebacker before long.
Despite his athleticism, Browning said he'd rather be known as a technician — and he's worked to improve his pass coverage skills from the inside linebacker position. He said during rookie minicamp that he's already feeling comfortable again at inside 'backer, despite splitting time at outside linebacker during his time in Columbus.
If he ends up back on the edge, he could provide depth behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Browning had six sacks over the final two years of his career at Ohio State, including five in 2019. At the outside linebacker position, Browning could drop back in coverage at times while still using his size and speed to get after the quarterback.
Denver's depth is perhaps a bit better at outside linebacker than it is inside, as Malik Reed — who led the team in sacks in 2020 — returns for his third season with the Broncos.
Whether he plays inside or outside, Broncos fans should expect Browning to largely stay put. His skill set may make it enticing to move him around on the field depending on the team's matchup, but Fangio noted that his versatility may have hurt him with the Buckeyes. By focusing on one spot, Browning believes he'll be able to hone in on his technique.
"I think it's a great feeling just because I can focus on that one position and critique every small detail," Browning said during rookie minicamp. "When you're asked to do so many jobs — I embraced that role and I feel like I'm a very selfless player and a team player — it's hard to find all the small intangibles and critique yourself the same way you could if you're playing one position."
It may also allow him to make more plays as he tries to carve out a role on defense while also contributing on special teams.
"No matter how good of an athlete you are, if you give somebody a lot of responsibility, all those different responsibilities start to blend together," Browning said of playing two positions. "You're trying to be cautious and make sure you're doing the right thing before you read what you see and go because you don't want to have a mishap.
"I think playing one position allows you to play faster."
That, in part, is why Browning believes his best football is ahead of him. And it may also be why Paton decided to turn in the card for the 105th-overall pick.