Player Profile: Justin Simmons proving himself as a stalwart on defense

Justin Simmons after Broncos - Raiders game. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Justin Simmons after Broncos - Raiders game. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

We take a closer look at Broncos’ fourth-year safety Justin Simmons on this week’s edition of player profile.

Simmons, the Broncos up-and-coming star at safety, is earning a lot of praise from his teammates due to his special and sometimes spectacular play.

“J’s just being consistent,” future Ring of Famer Chris Harris Jr. said on Wednesday. “He’s playing smart, playing consistent every week. He’s turning into a complete safety for sure.”

But, let’s go back to the very beginning. Simmons was born in Manassas, Virginia in 1993, but moved to Florida where he attended Martin County High School in Stuart, located on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. He garnered the attention of some colleges by collecting All-Area Defensive Player of the Year, along with being named second-team All-Florida, a substantial accomplishment in a state with immense high school football talent. At Martin County, Simmons also starred in basketball and track and field, where he participated in long jump, triple jump and high jump.

A three-star recruit out of high school, Simmons had offers from schools such as Boston College, Florida International, Georgia State and Illinois. In July of 2011, he committed to Boston College, where he was recruited by wide receivers coach Ryan Day, now the head coach at Ohio State.

Simmons played in all 12 games as a freshman, starting six at free safety and one at defensive back, finishing the season with 52 tackles and two forced fumbles. After a modest sophomore campaign, he broke out in his junior and senior seasons. Simmons started all 13 games as a junior, seven at free safety and six at cornerback, led the team in tackles with 76 and recorded two interceptions. During his fourth and final year as an Eagle, he started all 12 games at free safety, finishing third on the team with 67 tackles, to go along with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. For his accomplishments, Simmons was named Second Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Simmons turned heads by recording the best 20-yard shuttle time since 2006 with a time of 3.85 seconds. Further evidence of Simmons’ freakish athleticism came when he registered the top time in the 60-yard shuttle and finished second overall in the three-cone drill. At Boston College’s pro day, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. Once the pre-draft process was complete, Simmons was viewed by most experts and scouts as a third-round pick, ranking as the fourth-best free safety prospect and the sixth best safety overall.

As speculated, the third round was where Simmons was selected, headed to Denver with the 98th overall pick. Simmons and the Broncos agreed on a four-year, $3.06 million contract with a signing bonus of $645,420.

Simmons began his rookie season as the backup free safety, playing behind Darian Stewart. The highlight of his rookie year came in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints, when he was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after leaping over the center and blocking Will Lutz’s extra point attempt that would have given the Saints the lead with 1:22 remaining on the clock. His roommate and good friend, Will Parks, picked up the ball, tight-roped the sideline and returned it all the way for a sensational two-point conversion, providing the winning margin in a 25-23 win.

In 2017, his second NFL season, Simmons took a giant leap forward, starting all 13 games he played, registering 63 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and five passes defended. Just one season later, Simmons was one of the Broncos’ most reliable players on defense, starting every game, totaling 97 tackles, good for second on the team and three interceptions, tied for the team-high with Chris Harris Jr. Not only did Simmons start all 16 contests, he was just one of three NFL players to start 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps, meaning he was on the field for every single defensive play in 2018.

Through five games this season, Simmons has not missed any of the 324 defensive snaps. Moreover, he was responsible for the Broncos’ first takeaway of 2019, intercepting a first-quarter Philip Rivers pass in last Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

If Simmons is able to continue his solid play and be a rock in the defensive backfield for the Broncos, he might just earn his first ever trip to the Pro Bowl this season.

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