John Elway. The Duke of Denver. The NFL’s top closer. As a Hall of Fame quarterback, he orchestrated many 4th quarter comebacks and was the architect of 148 wins.
As a NFL executive and general manager, he’s managed to apply that very same Mile High Magic to his 2nd career in football. He’ll forever be admired for lubing the deal that brought Peyton Manning to Denver. That will likely be his crowning achievement from a personnel perspective.
As the new league year began in 2014, Elway went above and beyond, and really outdid himself from a quality and quantity perspective in free agency. He managed to sign the Dallas Cowboys’ all-time leader in sacks: DeMarcus Ware. Watching Ware and Von Miller get after the quarterback is going to be a real privilege.
When negotiations fell through with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Elway set his sights on Aqib Talib and brought him to Denver. He also inexplicably swept the rug out from under the Kansas City Chiefs when he signed Emmanuel Sanders.
But the free agent signing that has me the most intrigued and excited, is T.J. Ward. The former University of Oregon walk-on is a force to be reckoned with. Since the retirement of Brian Dawkins, the Broncos have lacked a physical enforcer who can bring that swagger and ”punch you in the mouth” mentality. Dawkins had those attributes, but in the twilight of his career as a Bronco, he had lost most of his ability to be an effective cover safety.
At 5’10, a compact 205 pounds, Ward has all the physical tools to be a very effective box safety, especially in run support and the point of attack. And that area of his game might be his strong suit. In 2013, he graded out at +8.1 overall per PFF, which was 1st among all safeties.
In defending the pass, he’s not as proficient, but he’s still very good. It took him a couple of years in the NFL to hone his craft as a cover man. But in 2013, he graded out at +4.8 in pass coverage. He’s improved this area of his game dramatically since his rookie year.
In coverage, the highest rated Bronco safety in 2013 was Rahim Moore (+3.3). Duke Ihenacho, who started out the season as the team’s starting strong safety, was a putrid -5.3.
Pairing T.J. Ward with a healthy Rahim Moore will exponentially improve the Broncos’ defense on the back end. Ward’s presence underneath will hopefully allow Moore to be the centerfielding ball-hawk that the team drafted him to be.
Ward doesn’t have the best hands, but his ball skills are good. This is apparent in his ability to break up passes thrown his way and generally just be disruptive. He has amazing athletic talent, but he isn’t the most fluid of defensive backs. He makes up for this deficiency with his strong instincts and physicality, however.
Ward’s strongest asset, and where I believe he’ll help the Broncos the most, is his swagger. His mindset. As Bronco fans, we all remember the intensity and physicality that the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary played with in the Super Bowl. It gets into the opponents’ head and its infectious. Expect that type of transformation in the Broncos’ secondary in 2014. T.J. Ward wears Orange and Blue now.