Entering the 2021 season, the Broncos look to have the deepest and most talented cornerback room since Vic Fangio took the Broncos’ head coaching job in January of 2019.
With NFL offenses becoming more and more pass-centric, the importance of having a good group of cornerbacks has skyrocketed into something every team planning to compete for Superbowl must have. Teams not only need one or two good cornerbacks but should have depth throughout the entire position group.
Dealing with an array of injuries at the cornerback position through the 2020 season, this was an area where the Broncos were exposed. Not only did they not have the necessary talent needed at the top of their roster but the depth behind that was even more worrisome.
Although Fangio’s defense did overachieve last season, much due to phenomenal defensive coaching, this was an area first-year general manager, George Paton, had to improve.
Paton accomplished this, pouring tons of resources into the cornerback room, effectively making what was a weakness into what looks to be a strength on paper.
Top of the depth chart
Looking at the top of the depth chart, the Broncos are strong, carrying a total of four players that should all see significant playing time for the Broncos’ defense. Three of those four are new and high-profile players, making expectations for this starting group high.
The only returning player of this group is nickel specialist, Bryce Callahan.
Callahan is coming off what many believe to be his best season as a pro and was far and away the best cornerback on the Broncos 2020 roster. Pro Football Focus also backs this claim by giving him the third-highest player rating of any cornerback in the NFL, with a rating of 84.1.
🥇 Xavien Howard
🥈 Jaire Alexander
🥉 Bryce Callahan
PFF's highest-graded CBs of 2020 🏆 pic.twitter.com/pIrht70Ub5
— PFF (@PFF) December 15, 2020
The only real issue with Callahan is the continued durability concerns. He is a player that has never finished an entire season and has missed a staggering 26 games in his five years as a pro.
This offseason, the Broncos picked up two other players via free agency. Those players are former Chicago Bear, Kyle Fuller and, former Washington Football Team’s, Ronald Darby.
Both players, veterans at the position, are proven players that should have a high impact on the Broncos in 2020. Darby is coming off the best year of his career and Fuller was an all-pro player the last time he was coached by Fangio.
There is little to worry about with these players but Darby does have an extensive injury history and Fuller, who is 29 years old, is getting up there in terms of where cornerbacks at his age typically peak.
For Fuller, his contract situation makes this concern much easier to grapple with. Being on only a one-year deal, the Broncos can reevaluate his play at the end of the season and are not stuck with him long-term.
The last player in this group is newly acquired, Patrick Surtain II, who the Broncos selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Surtain, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, is a highly touted cornerback that is coming out of the University of Alabama.
As pro-ready as they come, Surtain started as a freshman for the Crimson Tide and is clearly very technically sound when watching his film. Using both his size and technique to his advantage, Surtain was one of the best defensive backs in college football from the moment he stepped on campus.
Typically, rookie cornerbacks struggle in their first season. For the Broncos, this concern is mitigated as the top of their depth chart is so strong. Having three other cornerbacks that are all plenty capable gives the Broncos the luxury of not pushing him on the field unless he is ready.
With both Callahan and Fuller on the last year of their contract, Surtain should serve as tremendous depth and a long-term solution at a premium position.
Further down the depth chart
Just trailing the top players on the depth chart is Michael Ojemudia, who will be entering his sophomore year as an NFL player.
As a third-round pick, Ojemudia was thrown into the starting lineup last season and performed about as well as you would expect a third-round player to perform. He was very inconsistent but flashed the physical tools to one day be a quality starting cornerback.
Entering year two, Ojemudia will slide down the depth chart a bit but is tremendous depth for Fangio’s defensive backfield. Going from a starter last year to the projected fifth cornerback this year shows just how much the Broncos have improved this entire group.
Ojemudia should have a predominant role on special teams this season, which is welcomed as the Broncos special teams has been horrendous as of late, and also should focus on furthering his development as a cornerback through practice.
Although his role on defense should not be as impactful this season, the future is bright. As stated earlier, Fuller and Callahan are both on expiring contracts and Ojemudia, if developed properly, could slide into a starting role in the near future.
Bottom of the depth chart
After Ojemudia, the roster spots are slim as the Broncos only carried six cornerbacks on the roster last year. With already five players almost certain to make the roster, the competition will be strong.
As it stands now, there are seven other cornerbacks that will all be lobbying for the last one or two roster spots, along with a possibility of also making the practice squad. Those seven include, Duke Dawson, Essang Bassey, Nate Hairston, Parnell Motley, Mac McCain III, Kary Vincent Jr., and Kevin Toliver II.
If healthy, the favorite in that group is probably Bassey, who plays in the nickel cornerback position.
Bassey is entering his second year in the NFL as an undrafted rookie and actually started in three games last season, recording one interception and 20 tackles.
This experience at nickel, a position the Broncos don’t have a lot at outside of Callahan, with how young Bassey is at only 22 years old, should give him an early lead on the rest of the competition.
More than any position, the Broncos stockpiled resources into fixing the cornerback room. With this many resources allocated, the difference should be noticed immediately.
On paper, this is one of the most talented and deepest cornerback rooms in the league. Matching that with Fangio’s genius as a defensive coach and the return of the pass rush duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, Broncos Country should expect great results from this group.