Broncos' Drew Sanders suffers torn Achilles, to miss most of season

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will have to wait to see how much linebacker Drew Sanders had improved from his rookie season in 2023 because the third-round pick a year ago will now miss at least most of the 2024 season.

Sources told ESPN on Monday night Sanders suffered a torn Achilles early on in the team's offseason program in mid-April, as first reported by 9News in Denver. Sanders has had surgery to repair the torn tendon, and his recovery time is expected to be between six and nine months.

It does leave open the possibility Sanders, whom the Broncos selected in the third round of the 2023 draft (67th overall), could return before season's end if his recovery goes well. It is unclear what day Sanders suffered his injury given coach Sean Payton has consistently said he would not discuss injuries in the offseason or players' specific progress in recovery, but seven days before the draft opened on April 25, general manager George Paton was asked about the team's need at outside linebacker and included Sanders in the mix in the defense for the season.

"The outside 'backer group, we have three that are really talented -- [Nik] Bonitto, [Baron] Browning and [Jonathon] Cooper,'' Paton said last month. "We have a young Drew Sanders, if he stays outside. So we like the group, but you're always looking at those type of positions. They're hard to find. If someone falls in your lap, you're going to take them.''

The Broncos, knowing Sanders' expected recovery time, did select Utah outside linebacker Jonah Elliss in the third round (76th overall) of last month's draft. After Elliss' selection, Payton did not reveal Sanders' injury, but he did describe how much the Broncos believed they needed to select Elliss.

"He was a target,'' Payton said. "... We felt like we had to get past the Falcons. His brother is now in Atlanta, [former Saints assistant general manager] Terry Fontenot is now in Atlanta. We sat there for however long, and fortunately we were able to draft him ... He's an edge player that plays with energy, effort, all those things you look for -- really good football makeup, good character.''

After the Broncos selected Elliss, Payton also said: "You're never afraid to draft at the top on your strength. We'll sort that out. It's always a harder position to find in the offseason and in free agency, and so we felt like he definitely checked the pressure player box, and then we'll sort through that depth as we get to it.''

Sanders played at both inside linebacker and outside linebacker in the Broncos' 3-4 alignment last season. He played in all 17 games, started four and played 253 defensive snaps in all, or 23% of the defense's total.

With the departure of inside linebacker Josey Jewell in free agency, both Payton and Paton had said earlier in the offseason they had not decided what position Sanders would work at most of the time going through the team's OTAs, minicamp and into training camp later this summer.

Sanders had 24 tackles last season with a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.