A lot of things may not have gone right in 2020 for the Denver Broncos, but one thing was certain week after week: Justin Simmons was one of the best players on the field in the Orange and Blue.
Simmons played all of 2020 on the franchise tag, making $11.441 million in his fifth season with the Broncos. Now an unrestricted free agent and the best safety on the open market, Simmons is set for a huge payday.
New Broncos’ GM George Paton should have an easy decision on his hands.
Currently, Spotrac projects Simmons’ value at a three-year contract for $43.125M, or roughly $14.375M per year. Simmons is just 27 years old and is one of the top safeties in the National Football League.
According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons was graded as the eighth-best safety in the NFL, clocking a 77.4 defensive grade, including a terrific 79.0 mark in pass coverage.
That’s the key part of his role on the Broncos.
When Vic Fangio’s defense is at its best, he has a fearsome pass rush with ball-hawking defensive backs, specifically at safety. Prior to being hired as the Broncos head coach, Fangio had standouts like Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos roaming in the back half of the Chicago Bears defense, taking away the football at a high rate.
Knowing that, Fangio should be bending Paton’s ear to keep the Pro Bowler Simmons in the Mile High City. Below, I make my own personal case to keep Simmons in Denver, breaking down all five of his interceptions for the Broncos in 2020.
Simmons started fast in 2020, picking off Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 on the road in Pittsburgh, sparking a short-handed Denver team in the second half.
Simmons is at the top of the screen towards the left.
At the snap, Simmons has slot responsibility.
Simmons does a great job keeping his eyes on Roethlisberger in the pocket while maintaining contact with JuJu Smith-Schuster as the play breaks down.
While keeping an eye on Roethlisberger, Simmons is able to be in position to make a play on the poorly thrown football, skying for the interception, which leads to a 40-plus-yard return.
The second interception of the season came against the rival Los Angeles Chargers and rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in the Mile High City.
Lined up in a Cover 2 role, Simmons does a great job reading Herbert’s eyes while gaining depth in his drop.
In the process, Simmons is able to eye the Chargers’ receiver pushing vertically, taking the over route in the process.
Look at the way Simmons flips his hips to run with the crossing route. He transitions easily from his backpedal to flat-out running in coverage across the field.
He does a great job of reading Herbert’s eyes, baiting the rookie into the deep shot, allowing himself to undercut the crossing route for the pick.
Simmons’ third interception of the season was his best of the year, in my opinion.
On the road in Atlanta, Simmons showed off some unreal range from the safety position. For my money, he should walk into Paton’s office and put this play on a loop when he asked for a new deal.
To be able to cover deep on the left hash and flip his hips and run — all because he’s eyeing Matt Ryan the whole time — and make a play on the ball 50 yards down the field is something special.
You can’t teach range and athleticism. Simmons has an abundance of both.
Simmons’ fourth interception of the year came in a classic Cover 1 Robber role in the red zone against the Miami Dolphins in Denver.
Lining up on the right hash here in the red zone, Simmons knows he has the responsibility to get to the middle of the field quickly, playing the robber role to the stacked bunch to Miami’s left.
As he drops to the middle of the field, Ryan Fitzpatrick never sees Simmons cutting across the end zone.
He again shows tremendous range to cover that much ground in a short amount of time, cutting off a throw that got out of Fitzpatrick’s hand quickly.
Simmons’ final interception of the year came largely due to his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and put himself in the right position.
At the top of the screen in the deep half of the field, Simmons never takes his eyes off of Raiders’ QB Derek Carr.
Once Simmons sees Carr lock into tight end Darren Waller on the crossing route, Simmons shifts his weight and works downhill to help in support.
He shows lightning-quick reflexes to react to the tipped ball, hauling in his final interception of the season.
The Case for Simmons
The safety's production over the last four years should be more than enough to retain one of the best safeties in the league.
Without the Boston College product patrolling the back-half of the defense, Denver’s defense will slip dramatically. Simmons works incredibly well in tandem with strong safety Kareem Jackson and allows Denver to really bottle things up defensively.
Simmons is a legitimate depth piece, one that defensive coordinators clamor for and covet. Denver doesn’t need to do any clamoring — just get him to sign on the dotted line.