Born Broncos: Duke Ihenacho goes from undrafted steal to key contributor

Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos
Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

In this edition of "Born Broncos", we take a look at the hard hitting strong safety, former Denver Broncos undrafted steal Duke Ihenacho.

Career Stats for Denver Broncos S Duke Ihenacho

Years Played: 2012-2016

Teams Played for: Broncos, Commanders, Giants

145 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 8 pass deflections

Duke Ihenacho was born in Torrance, CA on June 16th, 1989. An active athlete his whole life, Ihenacho played other sports until putting on the pads for the first time as a junior in high school. Despite the late start, Ihenacho blossomed into a promising college prospect. After receiving a few offers, he signed on with San Jose State for his college career. Family played a role in the decision, as Duke's older brother Carl was also on San Jose State's roster. In his five years as a Spartan, Ihenacho made his mark as a hard-hitting, play-disrupting safety, ranking amongst the top tacklers on his team every season.

Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, Ihenacho was widely considered an early Day 3 pick with a potential starting upside. Despite the pre-draft accolades and solid testing scores, Ihenacho went undrafted. The Denver Broncos soon signed him as an UDFA. Ihenacho carried his hard-hitting ways into the NFL, logging seven tackles in the 2012 preseason. He would spend his rookie season bouncing between the active roster and the practice squad. However, it would be his sophomore training camp where Ihenacho made his mark.

Duke Ihenacho
Washington Redskins v Denver Broncos / Scott Cunningham/GettyImages

With his fast and aggressive playing style, Ihenacho quickly racked up team leading tallies for tackles and in the process, became the Broncos starting Strong Safety. In week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, Ihenacho led the team in tackles with 12. His 2013 season was off to a promising start, but he would unfortunately sustain his first of several career altering injuries. An ankle injury would keep him out for one game, stunting what was an otherwise impressive sophomore season.

In total, Ihenacho finished the 2013 season with 74 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 6 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He would play in 15 games (14 starts) during the regular season, along with starting all 3 playoff games that year. Unfortunately, the loss in Super Bowl 48 changed the tune of the organization, one that would ultimately affect Ihenacho. After the loss to the Seahawks, General Manager John Elway prioritized rebuilding the defense in the 2014 off-season. This included the signing of marquee free agent (and fellow hard-hitting Safety) T.J. Ward.

With a prized free agent occupying the same room, Ihenacho soon found himself in a different role. He would be released by the Broncos at the conclusion of the 2014 Training camp, only to be quickly snatched up by the Washington Commanders. Ihenacho was given another chance at being an NFL starter with a new team. in his three seasons with Washington, Ihenacho stamped his mark on the starting strong safety position, earning the job in each season. Unfortunately, injuries would linger. In consecutive seasons, Ihenacho would be placed in injured reserve shortly after the season started. Between the 2014-2015 seasons, he would only play in 4 games. Undeterred, Ihenacho would try to reclaim his starting spot for the 2016 season.

For the 2016 season, Ihenacho would play in 15 games (with 10 starts) and rack up 66 tackles, four tackles for a loss, and two pass deflections. The timing was perfect, as Ihenacho entered free agency after that season. He would sign with the New York Giants, presumably to be their starting strong safety. Unfortunately, a knee injury at the end of the 2017 preseason would cost Ihenacho his 2017 season and, ultimately, spell the end of his football career.

Duke Ihenacho, Jermaine Kearse, Denver Broncos
Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

While injuries shortened his career, there's no doubt that Duke Ihenacho left an impression on Broncos Country. Every year, we look forward to finding those "camp darlings" that rise from buried on the depth chart to pushing for starting jobs. Ihenacho's performance in the 2013 camp was one of the most memorable ascensions in recent memory. Even a decade since that camp, many Broncos fans will remember Ihenacho as the fast, slobber-knocking safety looking to make his mark in the Mile High City.

Duke Ihenacho is now a lifestyle coach and co-hosts a podcast with former Bronco Omar Bolden and Jalon Webster (@niceandneatthepodcast). While Ihenacho has moved on to other endeavors, Broncos Country should be appreciative of the effort he put forth in the Mile High City. Few players left more out on the field than Duke Ihenacho and while injuries did shorten his promising career, there's no doubt that the tenacity and aggressiveness that he played with will be remembered for a long time.

Mile High Salute to you, Duke! Thanks for everything you did for the Broncos!

5 best drafted QBs in the post-John Elway era. 5 best drafted QBs in the post-John Elway era. dark. Next