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This is the 39th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Set to enter his fifth season in the NFL, Woodyard is coming off a career year after finally cracking the Broncos' starting lineup for a portion of 2011. He started early in the campaign at weak-side linebacker as a fill-in for the injured D.J. Williams then moved to middle linebacker for three games. Playing between pass-rushing monster Von Miller and sideline-to-sideline menace Williams, not a lot was asked of Woodyard other than making the basic plays. That's exactly what he did in his seven starts, and finished with a career-high 97 tackles, which led the team.
Notes: The former undrafted free agent made his name on special teams early in his career before making an impact on defense last season. He is a four-time team captain, under three different head coaches — a sign of the respect he has earned in Denver. As a restricted free agent last season, he was re-signed for the manageable cost of $1.835 million. After his play far exceeded that total, however, Woodyard, who turns 26 in July, is hitting free agency at the right time, and he is poised to cash in. He did not end the 2011 campaign on a high note, registering one total tackle in Denver's two postseason games.
Positives: Woodyard played his best at the beginning of the 2011 season when Williams was out of the lineup because of an elbow injury. He had 13 tackles in Week Two vs. the Bengals and 10 the following Sunday against the Titans. He continued to make plays coming off the bench, including what might have been the most important defensive play for the Broncos last season, a forced fumble on Bears RB Marion Barber in the fourth quarter of Week 14 that helped Denver to an improbable comeback win. With excellent speed and athleticism, Woodyard has the ability to play both inside or outside linebacker and in the team's nickel defense.
Negatives: At 6-0, 229 pounds, Woodyard is a bit undersized for the linebacker position. Though he often makes up for it with quickness and intelligence, there are times when fighting off blocks and getting through traffic have been an issue. His lack of strength also proved to be a deficiency when defending stronger running backs or tight ends.
Risk factor: Minimal. Woodyard is a standout special-teams player and is well-liked within the Broncos' front office. However, with Woodyard, Joe Mays and Mario Haggan all being free agents, the team must decide which linebacker to keep and which to let go. If another team believes Woodyard can be a starter, he might fall out of Denver's price range. The Broncos already have a lot of money tied up in Miller and Williams, and have other serious needs on the defense to address.