After losing defensive backs coach Christian Parker earlier this week, the Denver Broncos are expected to hire a big name to replace him coaching the secondary.

Denver Broncos set to hire Jim Leonhard as defensive backs coach

While Super Bowl Sunday will dominate the attention of the NFL world, the Broncos are expected to hire a highly touted coach from the college ranks to coach their secondary in 2024.

ESPN’s Dan Graziano first reported on Sunday that the Broncos and head coach Sean Payton are expected to hire Jim Leonhard to coach their secondary this upcoming season. Leonhard played 10 seasons in the NFL from 2005 to 2014 including one season with the Broncos in 2012.

As a safety, Leonhard finished his long career with 14 career interceptions, 35 passes defensed, and 431 total tackles. After his playing career, he transitioned into coaching, starting off as a defensive backs coach for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2016. Following his first season, he was promoted to defensive coordinator and continued to coach the secondary through 2021.

He was promoted to interim head coach during the 2022 season. In 2023, Leonhard served as an analyst for Illinois and will now be returning to the NFL this season.

From UW’s website: in Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator, UW has ranked among the nation’s top five in total defense and top 10 in scoring defense four times. During that time, the Badgers rank third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), first in total yards allowed (284.8 yards per game), first in pass efficiency defense (110.5), third in rushing defense (103.4 ypg) and first in opponents’ third down conversions (30.5%). Wisconsin has forced 112 turnovers over that span, tied for fourth-most among Power Five Conference teams.

The Badger’s secondary was impactful in their first year under Leonhard’s direction in 2017; the Badgers’ defense ranked second nationally in total yards allowed (262.1 ypg), third in scoring defense (13.9 ppg), third in rushing defense (98.4 ypg) and No. 1 in pass efficiency defense (96.4).

Led by the Leonhard-coached secondary, UW gave up just 11 touchdowns through the air, picked off 20 passes, and was one of only four FBS teams to hold opposing teams under a 50 percent completion rate. With a school record of 75 breakups to go along with their 20 interceptions, the Badgers led the nation with 95 passes defended.

He’ll now work directly with the Broncos’ secondary, leading players like Justin Simmons and Patrick Surtain into next season. While the loss of Parker was huge for the Broncos, it was always going to be important for Payton to get his replacement hire correct, and on paper it feels like Leonhard is a home-run hire to lead the secondary next season.