It has been quite the journey for fifth-year safety P.J. Locke in 2023. A preseason leg injury landed Locke on injured reserve for the first month of the season. Discouraged, but not deterred, Locke battled his way back onto the field and came up with one of Denver's biggest plays of the year; a game-sealing interception to secure the Broncos' first home win of the season.
During the week seven matchup with Green Bay, safety Kareem Jackson was ejected following a hit on Packers tight end Luke Musgrave. With Jackson out, Locke was called upon to take his place. Late in the fourth quarter, Denver held a two-point lead, but the Packers still had plenty of time to drive down the field for a game-winning field goal. That was when Locke made his spectacular play, intercepting quarterback Jordan Love deep down the field to secure his first career interception and seal the victory.
The play garnered huge praise from Broncos All-Pro safety Justin Simmons who gave Locke his props in a postgame interview with Denver media.
""For anyone who goes back and watches the film, that was a one-of-one type of play that P.J. (Locke) made.""- Justin Simmons, Broncos safety
Simmons said Locke was playing a deep half of the field, and came all the way across the field to pick up the receiver running a deep over route. In other words: Locke covered an absurd amount of ground to grab the interception. It was a spectacular play that most safeties could not make. This is a huge compliment coming from Simmons who has witnessed every bit of Locke's development in Denver.
Locke said the play was an emotional moment for him in his postgame interview with Denver media.
""Honestly I wanted to tear up man, it just felt like all my emotions bottled up and I just wanted to go celebrate with my guys ... all the stuff that I've been through, you know, at that moment I felt it.""- P.J. Locke, Broncos Safety
Throughout his career, Locke has made the most of his limited opportunities on the field. Just a season ago, Locke forced a game-sealing fumble against San Francisco to secure one of Denver's few wins of 2022. He is a talented player who has come up with some big plays in his career, and he is very likely to play a big role in Denver's future.
Kareem Jackson is 35, and likely will not be back with the Broncos a season from now. Locke may be one of the guys competing for that open safety spot. Of course, Denver would have to resign Locke as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024; a move they absolutely should make as a team in need of quality safety depth.
This is not to say Locke will be the future face of the Broncos' defense, there were plenty of mistakes made on Sunday including a substitution error that left the defense with ten men on the field forcing Denver to burn a crucial timeout. Still, Locke's interception on Sunday gave a glimpse of what the 26-year-old safety is capable of; making special plays that not everyone can make.
At this point, almost nothing is guaranteed when it comes to the Broncos roster. Between now and next season, there will be a lot of shuffling, but Locke is certainly a player the Broncos will keep a close eye on for the future.