When veteran safety T.J. Ward being released by the team, second-year safety Justin Simmons was placed under a microscope. It hasn’t taken long to see why the Broncos made the decision to move on from Ward — Simmons is more than ready to join the ‘No-Fly Zone’ as a starter.

With 1:56 left in the game against the Raiders, who were driving for what could have back a game-winning touchdown, Simmons made his case; intercepting a deep pass at its highest point — an athletic play that not only T.J. Ward was likely incapable of making, but one that, potentially, no other Bronco on the field could have.

The Raiders were driving for the second time in as many possessions. Down by six and with less than two minutes on the clock, backup quarterback E.J. Manuel looked for the big play that could set up a touchdown and give his team the lead. Amari Cooper, the Raiders’ talented young wide receiver, had already burned Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby and was streaking down the sideline. Meanwhile, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib were covering players on the opposite side of the field.

Simmons, who started the play in the middle of the field, saw that Cooper was clear of Roby and quickly identified the play. Reading Manuel’s throw while sprinting across the field, Simmons jumped in unison with Cooper and stole the ball out of the air above him, securing the highlight-reel interception — and the win — for the Broncos.

“Justin is obviously a great young player. He’s very intelligent and very athletic, and that play he made tonight was a big-time play,” said head coach Vance Joseph, after the game.

The 6-foot-2-inch Simmons is one of the tallest players in the Denver secondary, tied with lanky cornerback Aqib Talib. Where Simmons excels, however, is his leaping ability. In the 2016 combine, Simmons led all safeties in the vertical jump with an impressive 40-inch attempt. Talib, by comparison, only had a 38-inch vertical, and Ward, who Simmons replaced, is only 5-foot-10 and had a 34-inch vertical. The only other player on the Broncos who could possibly match Simmons’ airborne athleticism is receiver Demaryius Thomas, whose 6-foot-3-inch frame and 33-inch arm length puts him at a slight advantage.

Even the Raiders’ Cooper was at a disadvantage in all categories, at only 6-foot-1 with shorter arms then Simmons. Cooper also recorded as only having a 33-inch vertical at the 2015 combine, seven inches fewer than Simmons.

The play worked out in the Broncos’ favor in every way. The ball was thrown slightly off target, forcing Cooper to have to stretch to the right, losing even more of his vertical height to compensate. Simmons, meanwhile, used everything to his advantage. Despite having to react to the play, Simmons arrived first and jumped directly in front of the pass, higher then Cooper could, and even kept the ball away from the Raiders’ receiver as he desperately tried to pry the ball loose.

“They had run that play — it was like an empty look — a bunch in that last two-minute drive and on that one 99-yard drive that they had, so I had to be patient,” Simmons said. “The corners did a great job getting hands on receivers and made my job easy on the back end to just go get the football.”

Simmons’ patience had paid off, securing the win for the Broncos. Cooper, who has been the Raiders’ deep-threat since entering the league in 2015, found himself in a rare situation where he was out-matched and out-played.

“I usually go up and make those types of plays. Justin Simmons went up and made a good play,” Cooper said of the effort.

In only his second year, Simmons has made his case for taking over Ward’s job. His athleticism has been recognized by coaches and teammates, and he has already made multiple game-changing plays through his short career, including a blocked extra point in his rookie season against the New Orleans Saints that saved the game. Head coach Joseph, for his part, is rightly bullish about his young safety.

“Moving forward, he’s going to get better and better as he plays more football,” Joseph said. “I’ve been very pleased with how he’s handled himself as a first-time starter.”