Broncos Darian Stewart the Missing Piece in Secondary?


The Denver Broncos didn’t set out to make any big splash on the free agent market this offseason, but much like in 2013 when they ended up going to the Super Bowl, it’s a lot more about substance than style in this year’s free agent class.

Starting with Owen Daniels, the theme of free agency for the Broncos has been a connection with Gary Kubiak, save for the addition of defensive lineman Vance Walker, formerly of the Raiders and Chiefs. The Broncos picked up one of the more underrated players on the free agent market this offseason when they signed Darian Stewart away from the Baltimore Ravens, a player who played his way into a starting role after going undrafted back in 2010 out of South Carolina.

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Since going undrafted and being picked up by the Rams, Stewart made a bit of a name for himself last season when he helped the Ravens to a solid late-season run, and was fantastic down the stretch starting in an injury-riddled secondary.

After the regular season, Stewart graded out as a top 30 safety according to Pro Football Focus. After the playoffs, he jumped all the way up to 19th in their overall safety rankings.

This is a player who was clearly playing his best football when the team needed it the most, and they came up just short against the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Stewart replaces former Broncos second round pick Rahim Moore in the secondary, a guy who ranked 35th among safeties after the playoffs last year. He joins T.J. Ward in the Broncos defensive backfield, who ranked 31st among safeties per Pro Football Focus.

Pro Football Focus grades don’t tell the whole story, though. Stewart is the kind of guy the Broncos absolutely love. He’s hard-working, he’s physical, and he gets the job done. That was especially evident last year. He feels like he can be the missing piece of the Broncos’ secondary.

“I feel like I’m the final piece to the puzzle,” Stewart said. “The secondary, they’re one of the tops in the league, and I felt like they can get it done out there. We have a great organization and we have the personnel in place to get it done.”

Stewart has the versatility to play both safety positions, if needed. He played in all 16 games for the Ravens and two in the playoffs while starting 14 regular season contests. He had a breakout season, of sorts, before getting the presumed starting gig in Denver to replace Moore.

“I’m just ready to work. I feel like I always play with a chip on my shoulder, and that chip still remains,” Stewart said. “I’m not done yet, I’m just ready to make plays. I’m excited about coming out there and getting to work and working with the secondary.”

Some fans were confused by the Broncos’ lack of any attempt to re-sign Moore after he went to the Houston Texans for just $4 million per season, but it makes sense when you consider that the team had seen enough of Moore to make an educated move of what they want at the safety position.

Four years after he was drafted, they determined Moore was not the long-term answer, and fans should be okay with that.

Stewart, in my opinion, is the most underrated move the Broncos made in free agency. I love when players have the mentality that nothing is given, everything is earned, and then they go out on the field and earn it.

This is a guy that earned every snap he got in the NFL, and has been willing to sign modest free agent contracts in order to continue to climb the rung of his profession. With the Broncos, his role will be bigger than it has been anywhere else in the NFL, and like he mentioned, he’ll have the opportunity to play with some of the most talented secondary players the NFL has to offer.

The Broncos made significant investments in Chris Harris Jr., T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, and first round pick Bradley Roby. Now, they have Stewart in the fold at free safety, and on paper, he’s an upgrade over Rahim Moore. You can say what you want about advanced metrics, but there’s at least something to it.

Maybe Stewart is right. Maybe he is the final piece of the Broncos’ secondary.

After all, the Broncos need someone who is willing to go down kicking and screaming. I get the impression that Stewart is just that type of player.

Next: Interview With Broncos TE Joe Don Duncan