Ranking the Denver Broncos’ safeties ahead of the 2022 NFL Season –

November 7, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Denver Broncos safety Caden Sterns (30) motions to the Dallas Cowboys fans after he intercepts a pass during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos have a ton of talent at the safety position, including arguably the best safety in all of football.

It’s undeniably one of the best position groups on the roster, which is sure to make it one of the most contentious groups to come training camp.

As these players compete for playing time, who’s most likely to emerge victorious, and who’s most likely to miss being named to the final roster? That ‘s what we’ ll try to answer here.

Rather than ranking players based on how good they’ve been in the past, we’ll be ranking players based on where we project them to fall on the depth chart in the future. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at what safeties are most likely to play in the starring role for the Denver Broncos in 2022.

1. Justin Simmons

There is not much one can say about Justin Simmons that has not already been said.

He’s a tremendously valuable leader for the entire Broncos roster, especially the defense, and is arguably the most talented player on the entire roster. There’s also a very strong case to be made for Simmons as the best safety in all of football.

He’s a rare athlete that also happens to be one of the most intelligent players playing the position. Whereas most of the contenders for the title of ‘best safety in football’ either thrive near the ball, or back as deep as a center-fielder, Simmons is capable of disrupting the idyllic modern safety, who lined up inside the box or 15 yards off the line of scrimmage.

He’s a no-brainer at the No. 1 spot and leaves to discuss a little.

2. Caden Sterns

Stop sleeping at Caden Sterns immediately. It’s time Broncos Country starts giving Sterns its flowers as a potential defensive building block of the future.

It’s easy to overlook Sterns as a nice fifth-round pick who had an impressive rookie campaign while operating in a limited role, and expect nothing more from him this season, but doing so would be foolish. Sterns has superstar potential, and seems to be realizing that potential now in Denver.

Just a few years ago, the Sterns were being hyped up as a top-10 pick at safety, which is remarkably difficult to do. The heavily lauded Kyle Hamilton, widely viewed as the best player in the 2022 NFL Draft class, just went 14th, to evidence that point.

Unfortunately, the Sterns were then unable to replicate that same level of play in later seasons, as a result of being entrenched in such a toxic environment, and their draft stock plummetted quickly. He became a boom-or-bust prospect, that could either re-capture his former glory or be out of the league soon.

Fortunately for Denver, that gamble is trending toward paying off in a major way, as it seems Sterns has righted the ship and is back to the player that earned rave reviews early in college. Throughout last season, coaches and key defensive players raved to media figures behind the scenes how astounding the Sterns’ football intelligence was and how tantalizing their upside is. Now, it’s time to take him to the next step that many believe he can.

3. Kareem Jackson

Ever since signing him as part of 2019’s offseason, Kareem Jackson has been a remarkable player and defensive leader for the Denver Broncos. However, it does feel like it’s time for him to pass the reigns of his starring role to a younger star.

Last year was pretty hit-or-miss for Jackson, and it felt like we saw more coverage lapses from him in 2021 than we saw in 2019 and 2020 combined.

That said, don’t see this as Jackson’s memorial service. He is still a very meaningful contributor to projects with a sizable defensive role, especially in Ejiro Evero’s defense.

It’s been widely reported that Everoo wants his defense to go live in the dime package, which makes sense as an adaptation to the modern trends of the NFL, however, relays that the lighter package can leave teams vulnerable to the run. As a result, it will be critical to have a ‘dimebacker’ who can fulfill many of the responsibilities you place on a defensive back while being a talented enough run defender so that you are leaving yourself vulnerable to the ground game.

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect job for Kareem Jackson? A downhill, physical enforcer who has the ability to drop coverage and play some corners?

It sounds perfect to the analyst. Jackson and Sterns will likely swap 2021 responsibilities this offseason, and the defense should be better off for it.

4. PJ Locke

For several offseasons, PJ Locke was one of the Fangio staff’s favorite players thanks to his lauded work ethic and intelligence. As a result, Locke slowly climbed the depth chart, from undrafted afterthought to valuable special teams contributor and trusted backup.

As Fangio’s staff was swept out, and Hackett’s staff entered the building, it felt like Locke was being sent back to square one, with the odds stacked against him. However, after observing his utilization at the Broncos’ OTAs and minicamp practices, it feels like Locke is still a major part of the new staff’s plans – as he should be.

Unfortunately for Locke, it would be virtually impossible for him to supplant any of the names ahead of him this season, but he should still see the field more in 2022 than he has in any other season, and Jackson’s advanced age leaves the door cracked for Locke to earn a bigger role on defense.

5. Delarrin Turner-Yell

Finding much playing time on defense for Delarrin Turner-Yell in this loaded safety room may be difficult for Nathaniel Hackett and Ejiro Evero to figure out, but his skill set should translate to special teams immediately.

Turner-Yell is an intelligent, instinctive, fiery and physical safety who is at his best when attacking downhill and sorting through traffic. He has a natural feel for where the ball is, and when he fires at a target, he almost always connects and brings his man down.

That sounds like the perfect skill set for anyone who can help upgrade the Broncos’ punt and kick coverage units.

However, Turner-Yell showed lapses in his discipline while at Oklahoma, sometimes being over-aggressive, over-pursuing, taking a bad angle, and allowing a big play. This tendency also shows up in coverage, and he’ll need some time to refine his skills in that aspect of the game. Nonetheless, his special teams prowess should earn him a roster spot and some playing time as a rookie.

6. JR Reed

The Broncos did Just sign JR Reed this offseason, but it’s difficult to see how he fits in with the limited roster spots and Denver didn’t invest enough in him to guarantee a roster spot. They’re only paying Reed $ 895,000, and there’s no dead cap hit for cutting him.

Meanwhile, they’ve just invested in Turner-Yell, and Locke has been lighting it up at OTAs, as he has for years now.

It feels like this regime brought Reed into a special teams ace, but Locke has already proven to be a high-end special teams player in past seasons, while Turner-Yell has traits that make it easy to project him as a major. Special teams contributor early in his career.

7. Jamar Johnson

If you were to do the same exercise immediately after the 2021 NFL Draft, Jamar Johnson would have found himself ranked third in a fairly shallow safety room, with plenty of opportunities to expand his role.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way for Johnson. Injuries limited him throughout last year’s offseason programs, and the Sterns quickly gained the leg-up on the depth chart. Locke also proved to be a more reliable special teamer and tackler than Johnson, and quickly, he found himself buried with little-to-no playing time.

There was some hope he could rebound from the rough start this season, but seeing the team add Turner-Yell and Reed, and bring Jackson back, feels like a no-confidence vote.

Johnson will probably be released sometime in August, but his pre-draft pedigree was good enough that he’ll get a new opportunity with a second team soon after.

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