Last offseason, the Broncos made noise by signing several high profile free agents. Among them was strong safety T.J. Ward, whom Denver inked to a 4-year, $22.5 million contract, with $14 million guaranteed. The 28-year-old safety played well last season, finishing second on the team in tackles and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Ward had the benefit in 2014 of having Rahim Moore beside him, allowing him to play much closer to the line of scrimmage. Now that Moore has departed for Houston, Denver needs to find an adequate replacement who can play as a true free safety. So, who should start opposite T.J. Ward?

The Broncos drafted Omar Bolden out of Arizona State University in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The rangy Bolden was originally drafted as a cornerback, and has spent the better part of his career transitioning between corner and safety.

Playing sporadically, Bolden finished 2014 with 19 combined tackles and a fumble recovery. Bolden, who returned 13 kickoffs for the Broncos at 33 yards per return, has top-end NFL speed, which should allow him to patrol a deep centerfield as the free safety.

Assuming Bolden has decent hands from his time as a corner, his kick return experience would make him a dangerous threat to score on every play. He has the ability to be a quality starter if given the chance.

This offseason, the Broncos signed safety Darian Stewart to a two-year contract worth $4.25 million. Stewart started 14 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 and currently sits atop several third-party depth charts (the Broncos will release their official depth chart on the team website during preseason).

Stewart, who is believed to be leading the safety competition thus far, is confident in his ability to make a difference on the field.

“I feel like I’m going to be the final piece to the puzzle,” he said on a conference call shortly after signing. “The secondary they have there is one of the tops in the league and adding myself, I think we can get it done out there.”

Stewart finished last season with 53 combined tackles for the Ravens, as well as one interception and a forced fumble, after spending the first four seasons of his career in St. Louis.

David Bruton Jr. had 25 combined tackles, 3 pass deflections, and two forced fumbles in limited action at free safety last season. Bruton is a fan favorite, both for his off-field charity work, as well as his play as the gunner, and his role as special teams captain.

Bruton is a talented athlete who plays with the necessary ferocity, but he may lack the technical ability to be a starting safety in the NFL.

Bradley Roby has proved that he possesses the right skill set to be a difference-maker in the secondary. Last season, the rookie corner finished third on the team in tackling, demonstrating a willingness to lay his body on the line that is necessary at the safety position.

“There’s no doubt I can do it. It just teeters in my mind: Is this something for the rest of my career or just certain times in the game?” Roby said, via the Denver Post. “I hope it leans to the first one. But adding versatility will only help.”

The second-year cornerback has the talent to thrive as a free safety, but it is a move generally reserved for older corners in the twilight of their career. Roby is young and has shown the potential to develop into a shutdown corner, which may mean his repetitions on the outside are too valuable to sacrifice for help over the middle.

So, who should start at safety opposite T.J. Ward?


Bryce Rudnick, a Mile High Sports intern and CU-Boulder student, contributed to this report.