No other Broncos player can fill T.J. Ward’s shoes like Su’a Cravens could

Washington Redskins inside linebacker Su'a Cravens (30) prior to a game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Aug 10, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Washington Redskins inside linebacker Su'a Cravens (30) prior to a game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos acquired Su’a Cravens back on March 29 and the circumstances surrounding the linebacker/safety hybrid were very different than they are now.

Before arriving in Denver, Cravens was the victim of post-concussion syndrome that kept him off the field, as well as family issues that kept him from his team. That all changed when John Elway swapped fourth and fifth round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft to bring Cravens to Denver.

“John [Elway] called him up and told him how excited they were to have him,” Cravens agent Peter Schaffer told ESPN after Cravens was traded to Denver. “Everyone is positive going forward and that’s all Su’a is concerned about now.”

From every possible perspective, it seems that Cravens could not be more excited about his opportunity with the Broncos. Denver needs another hard-hitting and strong-framed safety after the Broncos released T.J. Ward in early 2017, and Cravens seems to be a viable replacement.

Finding a player who can produce in a similar fashion as Ward is more important than originally thought. In a recent article from Sports Illustrated, they interviewed Aqib Talib, the Broncos former cornerback, and asked spoke to him about the loss of Ward including how it negatively impacted the Broncos defense. According to Robert Klemko, who wrote the piece and spoke with Talib, the soft intermediate zones on defense were an area in which the Broncos struggled to defend — an area that Ward used to protect.

“While the Broncos finished third in yards allowed in 2017, they lost a certain bite in the passing game with Phillips’s departure. Joe Woods’s defenses were soft underneath, with opposing offenses’ average depth of target dropping from 11.92 yards in 2016 to 8.31 a season later, and completion percentage rising from 42.6% to 50%, per SIS. Opposing quarterbacks had a 48.12 passer rating in 2016, and an 88.54 rating a year later. One major personnel difference: The Broncos jettisoned hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward after the 2016 season, a move that was unpopular among several defensive players, including Talib.”

Cravens has the skill level and aggression to fill the role that has been vacated by Ward. Yes, Cravens is sized more as a linebacker, but his ball skills are no joke — just like Ward. According to Pro Football Focus, in the 11 games he played in during the 2016 season, Cravens lead the league in lowest catch rate allowed by a rookie linebacker.

Between Darian Stewart and Justin Simmons, there is already some depth at defensive back, but Cravens’ ability to play the a hybrid of linebacker and safety makes him even more interesting. The Broncos need to shore up the passing zones that sit underneath their defensive backfield, and what better way to scare off passing routes than having a hard-hitting safety patrolling that zone?

Cravens will be given the chance to secure a sizable role with the Broncos defense this year, and now all that is left is for him to take control of the strong safety spot. Cravens could not fit the bill any better, and if there is one player on the Broncos roster who can fill the gigantic shoes left behind by Ward, it is Cravens.

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