The safety position was a revolving door for the Broncos last year. With all the injuries the Denver defense suffered, the safety position lost two former starters in Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore and had to shuffle through some veterans who are past their time such as Michael Huff.
John Elway was not about to let this one get away this past offseason. While some had pipe dreams of the Broncos adding a top flight free agent at this position, it was almost deemed too unrealistic to actually happen. Then, Elway pulled off his first deal of free agency signing former Browns Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward.
The Broncos are rejuvenated at the safety spots. With the return of Moore, the addition of Ward, and some nice young prospects to look at, the Broncos have some added depth and might even have some tough cuts to make this year. Here’s a look at the players.
4th season, UCLA
The Broncos lost Rahim Moore last season after a really strong start to Compartment’s Syndrome, which nearly took his leg. Moore had started all but one game of his professional career up to that point, and had already set a single season career mark for interceptions with two, doubling his career total. For me, I feel like Moore is developing into an all-around top flight safety. He improved his tackling significantly since being drafted by the Broncos, and was finally starting to come into his own as a ‘ball hawk’ if you will prior to the condition that caused him to miss the rest of last season. He is a huge asset for the Broncos’ secondary, and should be the starter at free safety once again this season now fully recovered and back from a scary incident.
5th season, Oregon
What seemed like a pipe dream turned into reality as John Elway went out in the early stages of free agency in 2014 and signed T.J. Ward. Not only did he manage to get Ward in the fold, but he got him at a seemingly discounted rate at under $6 million per season.Ward is one of the best strong safeties in the NFL when healthy, but he’s only played two 16 game seasons in his four year NFL career, one being the 2013 season with the Browns. Ward racked up 112 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions last season, and figures to add a physical presence to the Denver Broncos’ defense. He graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ best overall safeties last year, and despite his off-field incident this offseason, should be a huge piece to the Broncos’ Super Bowl puzzle.
3rd season, San Jose State
Ihenacho came to the Broncos as an undrafted free agent two years ago, and became the opening day starter in 2013. He’ll be replaced in the starting lineup this year by T.J. Ward, but this is a player who will serve an important role on the Broncos’ defense as well as special teams. Ihenacho is one of the Broncos’ best defensive backs at working up toward the line of scrimmage, reading out plays and playing in the box. I think he’ll live there a lot this season. He finished his first full season in the pros with 74 tackles, three forced fumbles, and two recoveries. He has starting caliber abilities, though he was a bit inconsistent, and offers the Broncos phenomenal depth with the addition of Ward.
4th season, Oklahoma
Carter is a player that has been oft discussed this offseason for the Broncos, and for good reason. Two seasons of recovering from injuries with no football played (hardly) has got to be tough for the former Oklahoma Sooners’ star and former Broncos’ starting safety. As a rookie, Carter made an impression on the coaching staff. People tend to forget that he was starting over fellow rookie Rahim Moore before going down with an injury in his 2nd training camp. Carter’s knee injuries are a concern, but his ability never has been. If he has properly recovered from these injuries, he’ll be another asset for the Broncos’ secondary which is loaded with talent.
6th season, Notre Dame
Bruton is a special teams ace and team captain/leader who has not been able to carve out a significant role on the Broncos’ defensive rotation. He’s stuck in the NFL purely based on his elite special teams ability. Does anymore need to be said? Bruton is one of the Broncos’ leaders on and off the field, and is the only remaining player on the roster from Josh McDaniels’ initial draft.
2nd season, Oregon
Boyett, drafted in the sixth round by the Colts a year ago, was released after an intoxication incident that got him in some trouble with the law. The Broncos brought him on late last season and to be honest you won’t get a lot of late-season pickups that have as much potential as this guy. Just ask T.J. Ward. When Ward was hurt at Oregon, some young freshman named John Boyett came in and became the leading tackler on the team. This is a guy who has a pretty complete skillset for a safety but serious injury concerns which dropped him in the draft, as well as some questions about his overall athletic ability after surgically repaired knees. Yes, I mean both. He’s potentially a longshot, but has a chance to redeem his football career in Denver.
4th season, Nebraska
Hagg was drafted by Tom Heckert in Cleveland, who is now part of the Broncos’ front office. He was signed to a futures deal and will compete for one of the final DB spots on the team.
3rd season, Mississippi State
Mitchell was waived by the Falcons at final cuts last year, signed by the Broncos to a futures deal, waived by the Broncos in May, and re-signed after trying out again for the Broncos in June. Needless to say, it’s been a crazy road for the former sixth round pick. He’s an intriguing dual-threat DB who can play safety or possibly some corner with good athletic ability.