Broncos safety Justin Simmons is elite, ranked highly by The NFL Wire

Justin Simmons in minicamp. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Justin Simmons in minicamp. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

In Broncos Country, there’s a new face of the team’s defense: Justin Simmons.

OK, there’s an argument to be made he’s been the face of the D for a few years, however, Von Miller still held onto that honor until he was traded away to the Los Angeles Rams last year.

Now we’re into a new era both defensively and for the Broncos as a team. In fact, Miller was the final defender on the team who was with the Broncos when they won Super Bowl 50 in Feb. 2016. That Super Bowl was led by the defense first and despite his many downsides, Vic Fangio was a solid defensive coach over the last three seasons.

2022 kicks off the Nathaniel Hackett Era, in which Denver is expected to be led by the offense first and foremost, with a hopefully solid defense and trips back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

With all the focus on the offense — centered around Russell Wilson — the defense will have to hold their end of the bargain up for Denver to indeed be playoff-bound.

And that’s where we circle back to Simmons, who is not only Denver’s defensive leader, but likely the best player the Broncos have on that side of the ball.

The USA TODAY’s NFL Wire, led by Doug Farar, put out their list of the top 13 safeties in the NFL this week, and Simmons was on the list. In fact, after being rated as the No. 1 safety in the league heading into 2021, he came in at No. 2 this year.

“Simmons was our No. 1 safety last season, and the only reason he didn’t take the title again was the greatness of Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer,” Farar wrote.

What makes Simmons so successful is the fact he’s basically as gifted at covering receivers and making plays on the ball as another cornerback, but he’s simultaneously a strong tackler.

And as Farar explained, Simmons’ pass coverage was much better in 2021 than it was in 2020. Last year, the Broncos superstar safety allowed 29 catches on 47 attempts for only 353 yards and two touchdowns, while picking off five passes. That was a vast improvement both in touchdowns (7 allowed in 2020) and passer rating allowed (40.4 points better in 2021).

So now, as we look forward to this season, the expectation is Simmons will continue to be arguably the best safety in the NFL.

The Broncos smartly brought back his safety mate Kareem Jackson — who is more a slobber-knocking hitter of a safety than is Simmons — and this will be the fourth year they’ve lined up with one another. That chemistry and trust will be huge considering the many shakeups on Denver’s defense.

At least we know the very back end is on lockdown, while Patrick Surtain II immediately became a known quantity and star as a rookie last year.

Defensively, the Broncos are stacked in the secondary, with community leader Simmons leading on the field, too. Up front, they’re solid, but a giant question mark surrounds Randy Gregory’s health and production (as well as Bradley Chubb’s). And in the middle, Denver has its weakest point on the unit, but Josey Jewell seems primed to lead from that spot.

The simple truth is, it’s possible if not likely the Broncos will take a step backwards on defense this year. But, they should make a giant leap on the offensive side of the ball.

If both hold true, there’s no way Denver doesn’t make the postseason in January of 2023.

As for Simmons, he has 21 career interceptions and 10 in the last two years combined. Look for him to put up another 4-5 picks this year while he and his new defense have fun flying around together.

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