Denver Broncos sixth-round rookie draft pick JL Skinner possesses various traits that could allow him to play a hybrid role on defense this upcoming season.

Denver Broncos rookie safety JL Skinner could be an under-the-radar player this season

The Denver Broncos safety room features a variety of depth options as the team prepares for this upcoming season.

While Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns project to headline the starting duo on the backend of the secondary, it’s possible that JL Skinner — Denver’s sixth-round selection could play a hybrid role this season.

Any time there is a brand new coaching staff in place, it’s important to note that the status quo can change.

With Vance Joseph coming back to Denver as the team’s defensive coordinator this season, replacing Ejiro Evero — it’s worth analyzing how much the defense could change from a structural standpoint.

Sean Payton has previously indicated that the defensive scheme will remain the same as it did last season, which is important considering the defense was the team’s strong suit in 2022.

In 2022, the Broncos ran a hybrid 3-4 scheme where their base was primarily nickel (five defensive backs) and they mixed in quite a bit of dime (six defensive backs) under Evero.

So how does Skinner factor into the equation potentially?

His 6’4 size and hard-hitting frame during his time at Boise State are tools that Joseph and defensive backs coach Christian Parker can utilize.

Parker has been monumental as a coach and developer of talent and could help accelerate the process of getting Skinner reps.

It’s worth mentioning that Skinner has to take the necessary strides in training camp and carry them over into the preseason in order for these projected roles to establish themselves.

Shortly after being drafted to the Broncos, Skinner told local reporters on a conference call that he can play in the box or as a coverage option in the middle of the field.

“At my school, we did a lot of both,” Skinner said. “I have experience doing both, so I’d say I do a lot of work down by the box. My school had me rotating down in a box a lot, so just depending on those situations and what the Denver Broncos want me to do, I’m able to do both. I feel very experienced deep in the post and down [in the box].”

Personnel matters in the NFL and while Simmons and Sterns were initially projected to start at safety prior to the return of Kareem Jackson, that doesn’t eliminate Joseph or the Broncos from being creative with their personnel packages — especially in the dime.

When Denver expands to their dime looks, which they did quite a bit of last season — K’Waun Williams and Skinner could end up playing inside of the slot while Sterns and Simmons play on the backend in passing situations.

Skinner’s size and demonstrability of being a hardnosed tackler provide Denver with the perfect combination of coverage and enough protection against the run if they do play in the dime with him and Williams.

However, during training camp, there will be competition with the return of Essang Bassey who stepped up in the dime last season, and Locke who also saw time in that same role.

Denver Broncos rookie minicamp begins on May 12 and will run through May 14. OTAs and off-season workouts will occur on May 23-25, May 30-June 1, and June 5-8 with Mandatory Minicamp set for June 13-15.

It’s uncertain whether or not Skinner will actively participate in any of these as he progresses toward making a full recovery from a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered right before the NFL Scouting Combine.

The Broncos’ rookie safety mentioned he is ahead of schedule in his recovery process.

“I’m actually ahead,” Skinner told local reporters. “I’m running and doing everything right now—lifting and doing all that stuff. So, not too far. I’m about a month out from my full expected recovery to be fully cleared, but I’m back doing all my normal activities—my normal things every day. It’s been good.”

A month away puts him in the ballpark of being ready for some OTAs and mandatory minicamp — but Mile High Sports will continue to monitor as on-field workouts being.