It's no Stretch: Advanced Analytics Reveal Broncos Have NFL's Top Safety Duo
In recent weeks, what has become absolutely central to the growing success of the Vic Fangio defense has been the impressive play and rapid development of his secondary. In particular, it's the standout performance of safety Justin Simmons, who has found himself atop the rankings for his position for most of the season, as adjudged by Pro Football Focus.
Not that Simmons is taking too much notice of such distinctions.
“It’s cool," Simmons said on Tuesday. "It’s definitely a cool thing to be part of, but I don’t pay too much attention to it.”
No. 31 has become a growing force on Denver’s defensive backfield with his head coach giving him a free role to disrupt opposing offenses in a safety tandem with Kareem Jackson. Simmons is currently PFF's No. 2-ranked safety, while Jackson is No. 4. It's not a stretch to argue that Denver has the top safety duo in the league.
“One of the things from a safety standpoint is setting up your defense into the right calls to where you’re going to be the most successful," Simmons said. "Kareem and I kind of have the freedom to do that.”
Fittingly, only Minnesota has two safeties ranked in the top-10 — Anthony Harris (No. 5) and Harrison Smith (No. 10).
As the national media have sat up and taken notice of the emerging 25-year-old ball-hawk, Simmons' expanding role and impact is already well known to veterans like Chris Harris, Jr.
“This system just fits Justin," Harris said on Tuesday. "When you have a system like Fangio has, it just allows him to play free... He gets to see where the QB is going and that fits Justin perfectly.”
Central to what is making Simmons a complete player is his continued grounded emphasis on expanding on-field communication with his partner in crime — Jackson — which he pointed out from the podium.
“There are a couple of things here and there," Simmons said. "A couple of communication things that Kareem and I talk about all the time fixing and getting right for the second half of the season.”
Crucial to improving the Broncos' current position of 3-6 will be for Simmons to continue to recognize what he is doing right and constantly pushing to improve. Something that he certainly seems to be on top of.
“I think I played well, not pulling the humble card or anything like that," Simmons said. "I’ve done a lot of things well.”
Early signs certainly point to another great safety tandem emerging that could well follow in the footsteps of the likes of the legendary Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater — a historic pairing that struck fear into opponents many years ago at Mile High.
In order to get anywhere near that level, Simmons, for the moment, has to keep balling out in the hope and expectation that GM John Elway will address his contract extension this offseason. With that in mind, Harris, Jr. even chimed in on the matter, with some good humor.
“He hasn’t asked me about advice with his contract or anything like that,” Harris said.
All joking aside, with one half of the safety pairing — Jackson — contracted long-term, it would be bad business practice if Elway were to split up the tag team from doing their collective mission to search and destroy.