For Denver Broncos fourth-year safety P.J. Locke, the journey to where he stands now is one that has not been mentioned enough at the professional level. Despite all of the odds stacked against him, Locke has battled through numerous moments of adversity and has truly set the standard for generations to come in his hometown Beaumont, Texas.
In limited opportunities through the first four seasons of his NFL career, Locke has undoubtedly made the most of them. In the last two seasons, Locke has made two game-winning plays, starting with his clutch forced fumble late in the fourth quarter versus the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 of the 2022 season. Most recently, substituting for veteran teammate Kareem Jackson, who was ejected in the fourth quarter, P.J. Locke immediately made an impact in the secondary by making two strong tackles in the red zone and intercepting Packers quarterback Jordan Love for what turned out to be the game-winning takeaway for the Broncos.
With Kareem Jackson expected to miss the next two games due to suspension, Locke will serve as the team's starting safety alongside All-Pro Justin Simmons, whom Locke holds in high regard. Depending on how well Locke plays under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, he may find himself remaining the starter the rest of the way, even when Jackson returns from suspension.
Prior to earning his starting role with the team, Locke had primarily served as a key contributor on special teams as he led the unit in snaps in 2022. Throughout his football career, Locke has always been a player that has been overlooked. During his rookie offseason in 2019 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Locke was promised by coaches that he would be signed to the practice squad following an exceptional training camp. However, just days later he was informed that he was being waived during final roster cuts.
Later that year, Locke entered his name into the XFL draft pool and was selected by the Tampa Bay Vipers. However, after flying out to sign his contract with the XFL, the tablet he was using to finalize the deal happened to have a technological issue and crashed just before he was able to make his signature. Five minutes later, Locke's agent contacted him to inform him that the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos wanted to schedule him for a workout at their facilities. Weeks later, Locke was signed to the practice squad and the rest is history. If it weren't for a tablet crashing, Locke would have signed his rights over to the XFL and would not have been able to sign with an NFL team until the next year.
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Locke, 26, has yet to enter the prime of his career and is only just getting started in Denver. He devoted a large portion of his time this offseason to watching film of numerous star defensive backs and growing his knowledge of the safety position to strengthen his overall skillset in his fifth season in the league. With great pieces around him in the secondary including Justin Simmons and Patrick Surtain ll, the room for improvement is through the roof.
Making his first career start this week against the Kansas City Chiefs at home, there is no doubt that Locke will be fully prepared for the opportunity and will make the most of it. It seems as if every time the vet is on the field, a difference is being made, even if it is the slightest. As long as Locke remains healthy (which he has done very well in the last three seasons) and makes plays on the ball, there is not a single coach who will refuse to keep Locke in the lineup for the remainder of the season. The sky is the limit for the young, talented safety.