I fully expect the Broncos to get a “Fangio bump” in 2019. What does that mean? Well, it means that the quality talent already on the roster will get a boost from their new head coach (and long-time defensive guru) Vic Fangio.
Any Broncos fan can admit that the talent on the defense was not coached to their full potential by former defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Fangio is going to call the defense in 2019 and he should know how to get the most out of the talent in the starting lineup.
Perhaps the player to receive the largest “Fangio bump” this year is safety Justin Simmons.
Could Simmons be the biggest benefactor from the hiring of Fangio? Let’s take a look.
Fangio has a long history of coaching great linebackers as a defensive coordinator, most notably the best LB corps in NFL history – the “Dome Patrol” with the Saints in the early ’90s. However, that’s not the only position that Fangio has had great success coaching. His defenses have produced great safeties, as well.
Last year with the Bears, Fangio coached Eddie Jackson to an All-Pro season. Jackson was a fourth-round pick for the Bears in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was known as a playmaker coming out of Alabama, but it was Fangio who got the best out of him. Jackson put up great numbers under Fangio in 2018, missing two games with a high ankle sprain.
Jackson had a whopping 15 passes defensed in 2018 and he intercepted six passes last year – taking two of those picks to the house for a touchdown. He was always around the ball and had the athleticism to make field-flipping plays once his hands were on the ball.
On Saturday, I asked Fangio if Simmons could be his Jackson this season.
“(It would) be nice. I don’t know if he has Eddie’s running ability after the interception, but maybe he does. We’ll see.” Fangio said.
Could Simmons post similar numbers to Jackson in 2019? Under Fangio, he just might.
During the past few years, we’ve seen quite the development of Simmons and his game. Coming out of Boston College as a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Simmons was known for his size/athleticism combination and high football intelligence.
We’ve seen all those qualities during his career with the Broncos. Simmons has good size at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds. While he’s not the fastest safety out there, Simmons makes plays and puts himself in position due to his knowledge of the game. He does a good job of diagnosing plays as they breakdown in front of him. He doesn’t bite on play fakes that often and is rarely fooled by looking at a quarterback’s eyes.
He played every snap for the Broncos defense last year and should once again put in nearly 1,000 snaps in 2019. Simmons has been a solid starter for the Broncos in the last two seasons, but he has yet to earn a Pro Bowl nod. That could change this year with the tutelage of Fangio.
Simmons is in the final year of his rookie contract and he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. That should give him plenty of extra motivation to play at his best in 2019.
While I compared Simmons to Jackson above, he might get paid like former Bears safety Adrian Amos did this offseason. Amos was a solid contributor and not quite the All-Pro that Jackson was last year, but his play was enough to get a four-year, $37 million contract from the Packers earlier this offseason.
The safety position is one that is getting paid at a high level. In terms of annual average salary, Tyrann Mathieu ranks No. 1 with the $14 million per year he got from the Chiefs in 2019. It’s unlikely that Simmons reaches that level, but he could crack the top-10. Amos is the No. 8 highest paid safety in terms of annual average salary and that could be where Simmons ends up.
On Saturday, Simmons had two interceptions and looked fantastic, taking one back to the house. Each time he made a play, I kept thinking this is how he breaks out in 2019 and breaks the bank in 2020.
We’ll see if Simmons can continue to make big plays in practice and then take that to the field in the regular season this year.
The Broncos defense is going to be elite again this season and there are several players who should have standout seasons for the unit. While much of the focus could go to the pass-rushers like Von Miller or Bradley Chubb, savvy football fans will not ignore the contributions of a guy like Simmons.
Fangio’s history suggest that Simmons could have a breakout season in 2019. He’s in a contract year and the safety position is becoming highly paid in this league with the way offenses have changed in recent years. Simmons has always had the smarts, length, athleticism and work ethic to be a star and we may see him at his best – because of Fangio getting the most from Simmons natural skill set.