Everyone heard about the breakout performance of tight end Julius Thomas against the Baltimore Ravens, where he caught five passes for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but not a lot of national media are talking about safety Duke Ihenacho, who had a breakout game of his own.
Ihenacho finished his first career start by leading the Broncos with 12 tackles, and also added three passes broken up and a tackle for loss.
The biggest takeaway I had from Ihenacho’s week one performance was the fact that nearly every defensive play, he was in the frame of my TV some way or some how. Ihenacho showed top level instincts, flying to the ball on every play and making some really, really nice hits.
When watching Ihenacho at San Jose State, this was a guy who had a ton of hype going into the final two seasons of his collegiate career, but he couldn’t reclaim the status he had after a sophomore season where he had five interceptions, two for touchdowns.
Ihenacho has always been a really good tackler, especially playing downhill, and the speed with which he closes on the ball is pretty stunning, dating back even to his college days.
After spending a year learning the nuances of the NFL, Ihenacho busted out at camp for the Broncos in 2013, earning himself a starting job over incumbent and fellow undrafted free agent alum Mike Adams alongside Rahim Moore for the Broncos.
Ihenacho came into a pretty open safety situation in 2012 with the Broncos, but was still extremely raw. He’s now earned himself a couple of nicknames after a very good pre-season performance and now a week one breakout game.
The emergence of Ihenacho or ‘Nacho Libre’ as I like to call him is extremely encouraging for the Broncos. Rahim Moore–despite his poor play against the Ravens last season–showed signs of emerging as a top 10 safety in the league, and he backed that up with a very good game against the Ravens on Thursday night.
Having another young playmaker to go along with Moore on the back end of the Denver defense is a treat, especially after what we saw from the cornerbacks for Denver.
Ihenacho has a chance–like Chris Harris and Wesley Woodyard–to be the next undrafted gem for the Denver Broncos’ defense. Let’s hope he can build off of his excellent week one performance, which he was the second highest graded player on Denver’s D according to Pro Football Focus.