From the offensive line to the receiving core, the Denver Broncos roster is full of players entering a potential make-or-break season. Can Courtland Sutton be the physically dominant wideout he was in 2019? Will Jerry Jeudy finally take the next step and fulfill his All-Pro potential? Will Russell Wilson prove he can still play at a high level? Can the offensive line finally form a cohesive unit? These questions as well as many others will be answered as the season progresses, but one area that won't require quite as much questioning is the Broncos' very solid secondary.
Headlined by two All-Pros in safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Patrick Surtain II, the Denver secondary that finished top 5 in the NFL in total pass defense a season ago should be poised for another strong performance in 2023.
Simmons is coming off a 2022 campaign where he earned his second straight, and third overall All-Pro selection. The longest-tenured Bronco finished 2022 tied for the league lead in interceptions despite missing five games to injury. Simmons is simply one of the top safeties in the game, and he has proven to be a beacon of stability in an otherwise unstable era of Broncos football.
Patrick Surtain II will enter his third NFL season coming off a First Team All-Pro nod in 2022. The 23-year-old corner has already established himself as one of the best at his position, if not the best. He is a cornerback technician, his tape can be used as a tutorial on how to be an elite-level defensive back. In just two seasons, "PS2" has amassed six interceptions and 24 passes defended. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), quarterbacks throwing in Surtain's direction averaged a measly 82.9 passer rating. Much like Simmons, Surtain offers much-needed stability on a roster that must prove itself in 2023.
Outside of the two proven stars in the secondary, nickel corner K'Waun Williams is about as solid as they come at his position. The 32-year-old NFL veteran has made a career out of his ability as a slot defender. In his first season as a Bronco in 2022, Williams was perhaps the most underrated player in the Denver secondary as he consistently provided blanket coverage while displaying physicality in run support. He played most of last season with a cast on his right hand, and still managed to be one of the more consistent playmakers on the roster. He doesn't rack up incredible defensive stats, and his name won't be plastered on headlines, but he is indeed a top-notch nickel in the league.
All of this isn't to say the secondary has absolutely no uncertainty heading into this season. Beyond Simmons, Surtain, and Williams, the other positions in the secondary will see some younger players stepping into bigger roles.
Second-year cornerback Damarri Mathis is currently slotted in as the second starting outside corner. The 2022 fourth-round selection started 11 games during his rookie season and showed he is a more than capable starter. Mathis was constantly tested by opposing quarterbacks due to his rookie status, but he held up well in coverage while making a name for himself as a physical tackler. With some experience already under his belt, Mathis should be poised for a huge leap in 2023.
Third-year safety Caden Sterns has shown flashes of brilliance over his first couple of seasons. When healthy, Sterns is an athletic ball-hawking safety with a knack for robbing passes over the middle, but his ascension on the depth chart has been slowed by injuries. Sterns has been competing with veteran Kareem Jackson for the starting strong safety role throughout camp and preseason, a competition he can win barring another severe injury.
Though Sterns may be on his way into the Broncos' starting lineup, Kareem Jackson has been in the lineup for the last four seasons. The 35-year-old safety has provided veteran leadership and a bevy of highlight-reel hits during his Broncos tenure. Jackson struggled at times in coverage last season, but he is still a heat-seeking missile capable of blowing up screens and runs near the line of scrimmage.
Some speculate Jackson may be cut prior to week one to make room for some of the younger safety talent on the roster. P.J. Locke has been with the team since 2019 and has shown promise in limited playing time, and 2022 fifth-round pick Delarrin Turner-Yell and rookie JL Skinner could be valuable depth pieces and special teams players. Kareem Jackson's role on the team may not be quite as defined as years prior, but if he is on the 53-man roster, I believe he his contributions could be invaluable. If not, there is a stable of young safeties waiting to get their shine.
The Denver secondary is not completely without its share of questions and players that must prove themselves. Young players will be taking on larger roles, and some minor injuries have already popped up in camp and preseason, but when compared to other groups on the roster, the secondary looks to be the deepest and most talented bunch. Broncos fans should feel at ease with the secondary they'll be rolling with in 2023.