Denver Broncos rookie Caden Sterns is getting slept on

Denver Broncos 2021 rookie safety Caden Sterns. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos 2021 rookie safety Caden Sterns. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos put together a pretty phenomenal all-around 2021 NFL Draft class with intriguing and potential instant-impact players on both sides of the ball. One player that is getting slightly overlooked in the class and maybe even slept on is the team’s first pick from day three — Texas safety Caden Sterns.

The reasons for Sterns getting slept on are not hard to determine. In addition to being a fifth-round pick, the Denver Broncos took a safety literally 12 picks after they took Sterns in Jamar Johnson, a player whose 2020 statistics were quite a bit better than Sterns’.

Not only that, but the Denver Broncos are pretty “set” at the starting safety spots with Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, arguably the best safety duo in the NFL.

How is Sterns going to get on the field as a rookie? How soon is he going to prove that people have been “sleeping” on him in a sense?

Although Sterns’ statistical production was modest compared to Jamar Johnson in 2020, there are some fascinating things on tape that lead you to believe he could be an impact player in Vic Fangio’s two-high safety look sooner rather than later.

Soon after he was drafted, it seemed apparent that Sterns was a nod to the Denver Broncos analytics department as far as being a high-character guy (team captain) who was once the top recruit in the entire state of Texas with an elite athletic profile.

Despite not having the type of production you hope for, Sterns has literally everything else. What the analytics model will say about those traits is this: Plugging this guy into Vic Fangio’s defense and getting him coached up by not only Fangio but Ed Donatell and Christian Parker is a recipe for success.

To get some context on why the Denver Broncos’ analytics model might love Sterns as a fit for the Broncos, we have to look a little closer at some of Vic Fangio’s previous success with mid-round safeties at his other stops in the NFL.

When he joined the 49ers coaching staff in 2011 with Jim Harbaugh, former fourth-round safety Dashon Goldson made his first Pro Bowl. He followed it up with another Pro Bowl campaign in 2012.

With the Chicago Bears, Fangio and Donatell coached up fifth-round pick Adrian Amos who started all 16 games for the team and became a big-money free agent a couple of years ago (Packers). The Bears used a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Eddie Jackson who also became a Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro after starting all 16 games in his rookie season.

Fangio has also had success with highly drafted safeties in his history with guys like Eric Reid and Donte Whitner in San Francisco, but his scheme has proven itself to be great for players no matter where they are drafted.

Justin Simmons, a former third-round pick, has blossomed in Fangio’s defense. Kareem Jackson made the switch from cornerback to safety full-time in Fangio’s defense and has been outstanding.

The list really goes on and on and other defensive coaches around the league are looking at Fangio’s scheme and trying to figure out ways to duplicate it and build upon it.

The way Fangio’s defense has been so favorable to the safety position leads me to believe that Caden Sterns could be next in line with his elite measurables and athleticism.

Sterns, quite literally, is one of the best athletes to come into the NFL at the safety position in the last 30-plus years. Sterns’ 9.59 Relative Athletic Score, for a frame of reference, is even a couple of points higher than Justin Simmons’ 9.38 coming out of Boston College in 2016, and Simmons had the advantage of “elite” or rare height at the position at 6-foot-3.

This shows just how tremendous of an athlete Sterns really is, and the deeper you get into his film, the more you see it coming into play.

Imagining Sterns’ quickness, explosiveness, and speed as one of the two-high safeties in Vic Fangio’s defense is very exciting. The fact that Fangio and Donatell have a recent history of maximizing talent like this in their scheme is all the more reason to buy Sterns as a sleeper with a very high ceiling at the next level.