The Denver Broncos have a variety of needs to address at various positions. Whether that be adding starters or depth pieces, the Broncos need to address depth at cornerback going into 2023.

Denver Broncos cornerback outlook for 2023

In-house, the Broncos have their starters at cornerback arguably set in stone with Patrick Surtain II and second-year player Damarri Mathis. The questionable aspect here is what that means for Ronald Darby — who is also a starting-caliber corner and was playing at a high level in 2022 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts.

As it pertains to the team’s salary cap, Darby will account for $12.6M this upcoming season against the cap — but Denver can save $9.6M if they were to move on from him. Under new head coach Sean Payton, the Broncos need to evaluate whether or not they believe Darby can continue to maintain his high level of play this season. If he’s healthy he’s a starter — but how might that impact Mathis who emerged as one of the best rookie cornerbacks in the NFL in 2022?

In five games for the Broncos last season, Darby excelled opposite of Surtain. According to Pro Football Reference, He allowed 7 catches on 18 targets, three passes defensed, and a forced fumble — allowing a passer rating of 69.9 when quarterbacks attempted to throw his way.

Mathis on the other hand had a much larger sample size, starting in 11 games for the Broncos in 2022 and playing in 16. He had 65 tackles, and seven passes defensed while allowing 56 catches on 81 targets. With former defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s scheme being heavily predicated on sending pressure and playing a mix of man coverage and Cover 3 — Mathis’ primary responsibility meant keeping everything in front of him and rallying against short passes.

The soon-to-be second-year cornerback plays the game with great instincts, technique, and fluidity in his ability to break on the football and attach to the hip of opposing receivers to close in on his coverage. For a fourth-round selection in 2022, Mathis exceeded all expectations and could be the solidified starter opposite Surtain once again in 2023.

Lamar Jackson is still under contract with the Broncos going into 2023 and could emerge as a key backup next season. Ja’Quan McMillian who was an undrafted rookie free agent is likely to be on the team’s 90-man roster going into training camp — alongside Delonte Hood who was signed to the team’s practice squad.

Faion Hicks is also on the Broncos’ practice squad after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Even with these players in the mix, Denver should still peek at potential depth options.

Potential cornerbacks the Broncos could target in free agency with ties to Sean Payton

The Broncos have yet to name who their next defensive coordinator will be, but there are two free agents with previous ties to Sean Payton who have the potential to start but would likely be depth pieces.

Could a Bradley Roby reunion be in the works?
Bradley Roby, former Broncos cornerback and member of the No Fly Zone is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 15. Having played just one season under Payton, Roby could be a potential option to return to Denver to help solidify the team’s depth at the position.

At this point of his career, Roby could return to Denver and possess the ability to start, but he could also provide quality depth in the event a starter goes down due to injury. In 2022, Roby appeared in 13 games and started in 10 for the banged-up New Orleans Saints. He allowed 34 catches on 63 targets while quarterbacks had a 79.9 passer rating when looking his way. The former Broncos’ first-round pick could be the perfect depth option for Denver.

P.J. Williams has familiarity with Sean Payton
Denver needs a starting caliber player who can be a reliable depth option and plug-in piece in various personnel packages defensively. P.J. Williams could be atop the Broncos’ list in free agency regarding depth considering his familiarity with Sean Payton. Entering his 8th year in the league, Williams played for Payton six out of his seven years in New Orleans.

Throughout his career, he’s appeared in 89 total games for the Saints and started 34 of them. In 11 games for New Orleans last year, Williams allowed nine receptions on 12 total targets for 162 total yards — with 76 of those yards coming through the air. Depending on who Payton hires as his defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, Williams could be an intriguing option personnel-wise and likely cost-effective.

The new league year officially begins at 2:00 p.m. MT on March 15. How active will the Denver Broncos be during free agency?