Is this the season the Broncos get back to their winning ways? Last year, in the first season with Vic Fangio as their head coach, the Broncos finished one game below .500 with a 7-9 record. They did finish the season strong, going 4-1 over the final five games of the regular season. That finish has given fans hope that this team is finally on the right track and can perhaps even make a postseason run – especially with the league expanding the playoffs by one team in each conference.
During the last three years, the Broncos have drafted well, and this roster has talented players on both sides of the ball. However, there are questions that need answers before the start of the regular season. In this series at 1043TheFan.com, we will go through each position group searching for those answers.
This is the latest part in our Training Camp Preview. Today, we’ll take a deep dive on the safety position.
Starters: Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson
The Broncos have one of the best starting safety duos in the NFL. So long as these two stay healthy, the team has no problem keeping up with opponents from this position. The strength and versatility of both players allow the Broncos to move them around the formation to get the best matchup on game day.
Justin Simmons has been an outstanding draft pick for the Broncos. A third-round pick out of Boston College in the 2016 NFL Draft, Simmons came into the league with a reputation of being a high-character and high-intelligence player. He’s turned out to be just that, as his numbers getting better and better each year. Entering 2019, Simmons had 13 pass breakups and in his first season playing for Vic Fangio, Simmons had a whopping 15 pass breakups last season.
Simmons does a good job of diagnosing plays in front of him. He’s a smooth athlete who can change direction quickly. This skill helps him play in coverage where he can move across a lot of ground in a hurry. Simmons is not a thumper as a tackler, but he is a sound tackler who does not hesitate when he sees a play develop in front of him.
Kareem Jackson was a great free-agent addition for the Broncos last year. In his first season with the Broncos, Jackson was everything he was cracked up to be. A converted cornerback, Jackson looked at home playing full-time safety and knocked away 10 passes in 14 games.
Jackson is one of the most intimidating players in the league. He is a hard-hitting safety who can separate the ball from the ball-carrier. Opponents need to know where Jackson is at all times when he’s roaming the field. In addition to being a force to be reckoned with against the run, Jackson is a ballhawk in coverage. Simply put, he’s one of the best players on the Broncos roster regardless of position.
Reserves: Trey Marshall, Alijah Holder, Douglas Coleman, P.J. Locke
Lack of proven safety depth is a concern for the Broncos. Sure, they have some interesting names from this group, but they all need to prove something in order to get excited about their future with the Broncos and in the NFL.
Trey Marshall should be the No. 3 safety for the Broncos. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Florida State and has mostly played on special teams during his Broncos career. At the end of the 2019 season, Marshall did get to play on defense with Jackson out. In those two games, Marshall played 123 snaps and compiled 11 tackles, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. He showed that when called up he can be reliable for the Broncos defense.
Alijah Holder has the versatility to stick in the NFL and move up the depth chart – so long as he stays healthy. Oft-injured in college at Stanford, Holder has good quickness and doesn’t lose much speed when changing direction as evidenced by his recording the fourth-fastest three-cone drill at the Scouting Combine in 2019. He’s got the footwork to adjust on the fly, but he needs to do a better job of getting his hands on the rock. Holder had 10 pass breakups in his final collegiate season, but zero interceptions and only two interceptions in his injury-shortened career.
Douglas Coleman was one of the best ball-hawking safeties in all of college football during his career at Texas Tech. He only played safety one year for the Red Raiders, and in that one year, Coleman had a whopping nine interceptions. A converted cornerback, Coleman is a playmaker who knows how to bait a quarterback into a throw and close on the ball quickly. He could be an answer for the team losing Will Parks this offseason in free agency.
P.J. Locke originally came into the league as an undrafted free agent signed by the Steelers coming out of Texas. Locke failed to make the 53-man roster for the Steelers and was out of the league for a few months before the Broncos signed him to the practice squad in December of 2019. He’s box safety with a willingness to get his hands dirty playing against the run. His size and speed limit what he can do in coverage, although Locke does a good job of following the route combinations in front of him.
The Broncos don’t have any problems with their safety position, so long as Simmons and Jackson stay healthy. Depending on how many corners they carry will determine the number of safeties on the final roster. Simmons and Jackson are locks of course, and Marshall should make the team as a valuable special teams player at least.
The rest of the group will have to have great performances in training camp as there are no preseason games to impress. It’s going to be tough to make the 53-man roster unless there are some outstanding performances in practice – and daily consistency from these reserve safeties.
The Broncos want to have a top-10 defense in 2020. They can do that if they get more turnovers this season. With the cornerbacks being a question mark, Denver needs to rely on big plays from their starting safeties if they want to rank among the NFL’s best.
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