Justin Simmons has been integral to the Denver Broncos defensive success since he arrived in the NFL. In 2023, he’ll return as the team’s captain, leader, and premier player, but whoever starts next to him is up in the air.

State of the Denver Broncos safety room

Heading into 2023, the Denver Broncos outlook at the safety position is in a different place than last season. This could be good or bad for the Broncos as they embark forward in Sean Payton’s first season as the team’s head coach.

Health will be a crucial factor in determining who secures the other spot at the position opposite of Simmons.

Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns set to be the starting duo?
Simmons has maintained his status as one of the NFL’s top safeties and has demonstrated that he is multifaceted against the run and in coverage against the pass.

The All-Pro safety finished 2022 tied for the league lead in interceptions by snagging a career-high six from opposing quarterbacks. Not only did Simmons have six interceptions, 69 tackles, and seven passes defensed — he forced a league-high 10 turnovers with three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in combination with the interceptions he grabbed.

What’s even more impressive is that Simmons did all of that despite missing five games last year.

When he experienced a brief stint on injured reserve after Week 1, Caden Sterns started in his place and also produced at a high level.

In just five weeks of action, Sterns accounted for 21 tackles, four passes defensed, and two interceptions. According to Pro Football Reference, the Broncos’ young play-making safety allowed just five catches on 17 targets, leading to quarterbacks having an 8.1 passer rating when looking his way. Just ask Matt Ryan who threw two interceptions to Sterns in Denver’s Week 5 overtime loss.

Unfortunately, a hip injury that had been impacting him for quite some time wasn’t healing, forcing him to get reconstructive surgery and ending his 2022 campaign after just five weeks.

He’s expected to be ready for training camp and is projected to be the starting option opposite of Simmons this upcoming season — replacing 14-year veteran Kareem Jackson who could still find his way back to Denver this off-season.

General manager George Paton invested draft capital several years ago in Sterns and former Bronco Jamar Johnson. The third-year player out of Texas has tremendous talent and potential, but injuries have impacted the first two years of his NFL career.

Now that his hip issue has been fixed, he’ll get every opportunity to be the guy opposite of Simmons going forward into 2023.

What does the Broncos depth look like at safety?
Behind Simmons and Sterns, the Broncos safety depth is strong, but could also benefit from the addition of a young guy in the NFL Draft.

During NFL Free Agency, Denver re-signed veteran player and key special teams ace P.J. Locke who was initially a restricted free agent who the team did not place a tender to.

Locke’s demonstrated reliability when stepping onto the field defensively, and is crucial toward maintaining the foundation of Denver’s special teams unit which is being revamped under new coordinator Ben Kotwica, with the assistance of legendary coach Mike Westhoff.

Behind him, Denver drafted Delarrin Turner-Yell in the 2022 NFL Draft. The young product out of Oklahoma made several big plays on special teams last season and will get the chance during training camp to earn an expanded role and contribute on defense this upcoming season in some of Vance Joseph’s sub-packages.

Outside of those two names, Devon Key is an off-season futures contract addition who will get the chance to compete during OTAs and minicamp for a spot on the Broncos’ 90-man roster.

If Simmons or Sterns were to be impacted by an injury in 2023, Locke has proven to be a reliable player who could step into a role on the backend, but would Turner-Yell be ready? This is one question surrounding the team heading into training camp at the end of July.

With limited draft capital in the 2023 NFL Draft, it is possible that Paton and Payton look at potential options at the position, but re-signing a veteran player like Jackson could be the most beneficial move they can make in the interim.

Jackson could play a pivotal role on defense, but it could come at the price of reduced snaps in favor of Sterns getting the opportunity to start next to Simmons.

Regardless, Jackson’s mentorship to the safety room and various players at other positions is a valuable aspect that would make bringing him back into the fold an easy decision for most front-office executives.

Will it be Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns or will the safety position look entirely different at the start of the season?