This week’s Denver Broncos unsung hero is sixth year free safety, Darian Stewart.
For a guy that shares a backfield with three pro bowlers and a former first round pick (Bradley Roby), Stewart has made his presence felt from the day he put on a Bronco uniform. Before we get into his story, let’s take a look at some stats for the sixth year safety.
Name: Darian Stewart
Size: 5’11, 214 lbs
College: South Carolina
2015 Stats: 50 tackles, 6 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception
Career Stats: 250 tackles, 4 sacks, 27 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles
The Story: Judging by Stewart’s play this season, the last thing he should be considered is an “unsung hero”. Quite
Sep 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett (29) carries the ball as Denver Broncos defensive back Darian Stewart (26) defends late in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Ravens 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
frankly, he’s been a fantastic replacement and upgrade to Rahim Moore who departed last off-season. What he does share with his fellow unsung heroes though is his seemingly rags to riches professional trajectory.
A college free agent in the 2010 NFL Draft, Stewart signed with the St. Louis Rams with what appeared to be his first and only legitimate shot in the NFL. After starting 36 games at the University of South Carolina, it would have seemed that Stewart’s consistency and relatively injury free history would have played in his favor during the draft process.
His production caught the attention of NFL scouts, as he was invited to participate in the East West Shrine Game that year. Whatever the reasoning for his draft status may be, he certainly didn’t allow it to be a deterrent from it pursuing his NFL dream.
He went on to make the Rams 53 man roster his rookie year and lasted there until he became an unrestricted free agent in 2014. He ended up starting 19 games in his four years with the Rams and was a consistent contributor on special teams. After clearing his first professional hurdle by making an NFL team, a new obstacle was placed in his way. Despite four years of experience and nearly 20 NFL starts under his belt, he garnered little attention in free agency.
Fortunately for Stewart, it was an elite organization that offered him a deal that would not only continue his NFL career, but bring his play to a whole new level.
After receiving little interest from most teams, Stewart signed a one year deal with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. An organization with a great tradition of defensive players, Stewart soon found himself immersed in a secondary that provided a great career altering opportunity. Stewart did not waste the opportunity, as he became the Ravens starting Free Safety for most of the 2014 regular season and postseason. On top of starting the most games in a season up until that point, Stewart also grew a habit of making key plays to help his teams win games. One such play came against the Steelers in their wild card match up.
In a heated postseason battle against their bitter rivals, Stewart made one of the key plays in the game by intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the 4th quarter help maintain and ultimately, finish with the lead to beat the Steelers 30-17. Despite only one year as a starter in Baltimore, Stewart re-entered the pool of free agents in 2015 with more than just added numbers on his stat sheet. He entered the free agent market as a guy with a reputation for making key plays to win games. With this new found reputation around the league, it was a coach that shared a sideline with him in 2014 that ultimately vouched for his signing in Denver.
As we all know, current Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak was the Ravens Offensive Coordinator in 2014. His offenses faced Darian Stewart on a daily basis. Not only did Kubiak see these great plays in games, but he witnessed this progression every day on the practice field. It was through this experience in Baltimore that helped Kubiak persuade the Broncos brass to target Stewart as one of their top free agent acquisitions.
With the help of Kubiak’s approval, the Broncos signed Stewart to a two year deal this past off-season and he was immediately seen as the new starting Free Safety. Despite a healthy rotation in the secondary, Stewart was able to cement his status as the starting Free Safety and has continued to make big plays throughout the 2015 season. None of which was bigger than against his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, in the opening game of the season.
With only moments left to go in the game, Joe Flacco had driven the Ravens down the field in hopes of scoring the game winning touchdown. Flacco thought he had an open receiver in the end zone and launched the ball towards his receiver awaiting the game winning score. To Baltimore’s dismay, it was one of their own former players that snatched the ball out of the air and sealed the first win of the season for the Broncos.
Now by all means, I’m not saying that Stewart is without faults or isn’t a consistent player, but he really has developed a reputation for making big plays at opportune times. For a team that has “kicking and screaming” as its adopted mantra, it’s fitting that a first year Bronco would breathe life into this team’s new found mentality. Out were players like Rahim Moore (With the most famous defensive meltdown in Broncos history) and in with guys like Darian Stewart, who has had a knack for making game changing plays and never giving up until the game clock hit zero. Stewart not only serves as a great acquisition by the Broncos front office, but also as a living example of the mentality that this team has tried to instill in its organization.
They’ve proven that this team will no longer quit when they’re down or give up when everything seems to be lost. By bringing in players like Darian Stewart, they are sending a strong message to their fan base that when they say they want to do something, they mean it. I hope Stewart can finish this season strong and join his fellow defensive backs in status by gaining a Pro Bowl invitation after this season. Production and fan votes count a great deal, but if All-Pros were voted in by the number of key plays they make, consider Stewart a popular number on the ballots.