Kenny Young gives the Denver Broncos' defense 'juice' and a shot at the playoffs

Inside linebacker Kenny Young has made an instant impact on the Broncos since arriving in a trade from the Rams in late October. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If the Denver Broncos can scratch, claw or shove their way into the postseason over the next seven weeks, a pre-Halloween trade will have played at least some role.

The Broncos' defense was awash in injuries in October, especially at inside linebacker, when Kenny Young arrived from the Los Angeles Rams, and his express lane move into the starting lineup has been a significant boost.

As general manager George Paton put it: "This guy has a lot of juice, and I feel like we need a little more juice. He can run, he's athletic ... he does cause some disruption."

Young, a fourth-year linebacker, has caused some disruption for opposing offenses, but has settled things down on the Broncos. He has gone from playing 56% of the defensive snaps against Washington just days after he arrived in Week 8, to 66% of the defensive snaps against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9 to 97% of the defensive snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10, just before the Broncos' bye.

Young had started all seven games for the Rams this season before the surprise trade that also saw the teams swap late-round draft picks. It came at the right time for the Broncos, who saw both inside linebackers -- Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell -- go on injured reserve during a four-week span.

Jewell suffered a chest injury in Week 2 against Jacksonville and Johnson suffered a chest injury in Week 6 against the Raiders.

"Wow, [Young] was just around the clock," said Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. "He came in and it was a crash course. ... I think the arrow will keep going up and up and up."

Young's quick start has been aided by a familiarity with the Broncos' system. He spent the 2020 season with then-Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley after Staley had just spent three years on the staff of Broncos' coach Vic Fangio (two in Chicago, one in Denver).

"[Fangio] has been ... helping me a lot tremendously -- just allowing me honestly to go play," Young said. "I think he has this trust. I'm just excited that I came here, and I was able to help the team very, very early. [I will] continue to learn, learn from him, and just continue to build this thing with my guys."

Young has 11 tackles in his three games, including a fourth-down stop in the first quarter of the win over Dallas. His inside linebacker position is important to the Broncos' current defensive scheme, given how much time they spend in the nickel (five defensive backs), because he is often tasked with defending the run with just six players in the tackle box.

"Kenny has played a lot of football, he's picking things up," Fangio said. "... That position, inside linebacker, there's a lot going there in what we do, a lot to learn, more difficult than the other spots in the front seven, so for him to come in on the timetable he was, was really good. I felt like I met him the day he got here and then he was in the rotation at practice like an hour later."

Young has been traded twice in his career since the Baltimore Ravens selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. The Ravens had sent him to the Rams in 2019 as part of the deal to acquire cornerback Marcus Peters.

He joked in recent weeks, when asked about being traded twice before he had even played out his first NFL contract, that "I think I'm a likable guy."

Young, who is in the last year of his original deal, will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end and has shown enough to put the Broncos in a position to make some choices. Young, Johnson and Jewell are all scheduled to be among the team's list of unrestricted free agents.

That's all weeks and months down the road, but Young has already given it at least some thought.

"I actually do. I actually do, man," Young said when asked if he could see himself re-signing with the Broncos. "… I'm from the countryside of Louisiana, so being out in L.A. for six years, this is way calmer. ... I definitely do see myself here long term. It's a special place to be -- great coaches, great players, and just the atmosphere for a linebacker and for a defensive player -- this is one of the places you for sure want to be."