The Denver Broncos have had one of the NFL’s best safety rooms consistently, dating back to the days of T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart, and the 2022 squad was no different.

That said, the winds of change are swirling, and the Broncos’ safety room is about to get face lift. How did everyone perform in 2022, and what’s the outlook like for 2023 at the position? Let’s look.

Justin Simmons

Almost immediately after he earned the starting safety job in 2017, Justin Simmons started putting together a compelling case for himself as the Denver Broncos’ best player and as the prototypical modern safety.

Yet, despite consistently adding to that resume with every season, he somehow managed to reach a new height in 2022, despite being limited by injuries and only appearing in 12 games. Of course, 12 games is still a large portion of the season, but for Simmons, who went four years without missing a snap, it marks a sizable absence.

However, it still managed to somehow be Simmons’ most productive season.

He finished the year with six interceptions, a new career-high and tied for the league lead, and he created nine takeaway opportunities, a 50 percent improvement on his prior career-best mark.

As a result, he was named to the third All-Pro team of his career, tied for the second-most among active safeties. He also played the fewest games of anyone that was either a first-team or a second-team All-Pro this season, further highlight just how outstanding his performance was in a limited time frame.

Simmons is showing no signs of slowing down on the field, and his incomparable locker-room presence is more valuable than ever, now that Bradley Chubb and Kareem Jackson, who helped with a lot of the leadership elements, are likely both gone. Dre’Mont Jones, another huge defensive leader, might be gone.

There’s a decent chance the Broncos change defensive schemes, but Simmons is so well-rounded and intelligent that that shouldn’t be much of a concern. Between him and Patrick Surtain II, the Denver Broncos have an elite, high-character secondary pairing to shepherd this defense and this franchise into its next era.

Kareem Jackson

Kareem Jackson has been a beloved Bronco for four seasons now, and deservedly so. Not only has he consistently been an imposing on-field presence, but he’s also been the perfect compliment to Justin Simmons, an idyllic prototype at safety for the Fangio and Evero schemes, and a consummate leader in the locker room.

That said, with him approaching free agency, and multiple young, promising figures at the position, the Denver Broncos would be wise to move onto a new starting partner for Simmons.

Over the past two seasons, Jackson’s lapses in coverage have become more frequent and more damaging to the Broncos’ defense, as he’s allowed seven touchdowns, while only creating five forced incompletions over that span, per Pro Football Focus.

In each of the past two seasons, he’s sacrificed more touchdowns than he’s had forced incompletions, and that only happened to him one other time in the 11 other seasons of his career. During that stretch he also allowed passer ratings of 111.8 (2021) and 116.1 (2022) when targeted, the third-worst and worst rates of his career.

He’s still a positive presence in the run game, and was generally a stabalizing force in coverage, but the decline has been noticeable and has dinged Denver’s defense at times.

If Jackson is interested in returning in a rotational capacity, the Denver Broncos should certainly consider it, but ultimately, it’s time to usher in a new era at the position.

Caden Sterns & P.J. Locke

Easing the fears of a likely Kareem Jackson departure are the two highly talented young safeties the Denver Broncos have waiting in the wings.

Caden Sterns and P.J. Locke have seen 585 and 139 snaps, respectively, over the last two seasons, and their high-end play during those stretches should leave Broncos Country feeling relatively confident that they should continue to get high-end play from the safety position, even in the wake of Jackson’s exit.

With Justin Simmons sidelined in Weeks 2 through 5, Caden Sterns entered the starting lineup and the defense didn’t skip a beat. In fact, you could even argue that the stretch of games Sterns started was the best defensive stretch of the season. That’s amazing considering the career-high level Simmons was playing at in 2022.

Sterns is already a star player in coverage thanks to his elite athletic range and natural understanding of offensive structure, but he also shows the type of prototypical versatility that most every NFL team is coveting as the league’s defenses move towards being split-safety-centric.

That said, this high-level play from Sterns isn’t exactly a surprise. Sterns looked like a future top-10 pick his first season at the University of Texas before coaching differences led to inconsistent play and a steady decline to Sterns’ draft stock. Once he got to the league, it quickly became clear that the problem wasn’t him, and he reverted to his formerly elite status.

With that in mind, Broncos Country should be very excited about the promotion to Sterns’ role that’s about to take place.

The one big concern is the hip injury that ultimately landed Sterns on season-ending injured reserve. As of now, Sterns is trending in the right direction, but the history of hip injuries in the NFL is a relatively scary one.

Fortunately, the Denver Broncos have about as good an insurance plan as one could imagine, with P.J. Locke ready to step up.

Locke, another Texas Longhorn, has seen his role slowly inflate after joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent, thanks to him turning in exceptional performances nearly every time he gets an opportunity.

For now, he’s a core special teamer, but his ability to contribute solid reps consistently from the nickel, in the box and back deep makes him an easy answer as a third safety, even if the Broncos infuse the position with some talent this offseason.

The one hiccup to be wary of is the fact that Locke is set to be a restricted free agent this off-season, and could easily be coveted by another safety-needy team. If someone is willing to give Locke a starting-caliber contract, the Denver Broncos might miss out, but that’s the only outcome in which losing Locke would be acceptable.

Delarrin Turner-Yell & JaQuan McMillian

This section of the safety room is certainly the most interesting to watch this off-season.

Delarrin Turner-Yell was a 2022 rookie that showed very little outside of a few special teams splash plays, and, as a result, is going to have to battle for a 2023 roster spot. With some room opening up at safety, he has a good chance to make the roster, but he’ll almost certainly face some competition.

And, that competition could come from in an unlikely source — JaQuan McMillian.

McMillian struggled at cornerback throughout training camp, and as a result, was a bit of an afterthought as the Broncos narrowed their roster down to 53, but managed to grab a spot on Denver’s practice squad.

During that time, the Broncos slowly gained interest in McMillian as a safety, instead of as a corner, and gave him some run in a hybrid safety-corner role in Week 18, to a good deal of success.

McMillian played most of his snaps as a wide corner, but also saw work at the line of scrimmage, and in the box, showing the defensive versatility he boasts. Also, as a result of his relative inexperience, he was targeted 11 times by Justin Herbert and Co., and limited them to just 70 yards and a 66.5 passer rating, while making an impressive downfield break-up.

Now, one of the top players to watch this offseason will be JaQuan McMillian.