The Denver Broncos have made some big moves in the offseason to shore up the secondary, so much so that some fans have started to dub them as the No-Fly Zone 2.0.' Today I will be comparing the two formidable secondaries to see how each stacks up against the other.
I will be breaking down the cornerback and safety play and evaluating the defensive masterminds Vic Fangio and Wade Phillips and how these coaches were able to maximize the talent they had at their disposal.
Talib was an imposing cornerback who did not back down from any challenge, no matter who stood across from him. He possessed an impressive skill-set that ensured any receiver he faced was going to have a long day.
Talib was a long, rangy cornerback who had 33-inch arms that he used to disrupt wideouts at the line of scrimmage. He also had a knack for making opposing quarterbacks pay dearly if they decided to throw his way, as he is fourth in league history in interceptions returned for touchdowns with 10.
Chris Harris, Jr.
On the opposite side of the field, the Broncos had Harris, who came up in the league as primarily a slot corner and excelled at it. As he gained more experience, he developed the ability to thrive at boundary cornerback and decisively established himself as one of the most versatile defensive backs in the league.
Harris was a very disciplined player who had excellent lateral quickness, balance and would typically get the best of any receiver. The only receiver that seemed to get the best of him was Antonio Brown in his prime.
A 2014 first-round pick, Roby was entering his second year with the team and was beginning to come into form as the Broncos' third cornerback. He would learn and contribute as an integral part of the team alongside two prominent Pro Bowlers.
Roby had good speed, good play recognition, and was reliable in run support as he was not scared to get in there and mix it up with the best of them.
Webster was a physical cornerback who sometimes played with a little bit too much physicality early in his career. He learned to fine-tune his game as time went on, understanding that it's not all about making the big hit but settling down and just making the play for the team.
As time went on, Webster would develop into a vital part of the secondary and even thrive in his role on special teams.
The Broncos signed the free-agent Fuller in March, a two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro player that every signal-caller identifies pre-snap. Fuller had a rocky start to his career but found a way to turn it around and develop into a cornerback that can give opposing quarterbacks fits.
He can play in any coverage scheme due to his capacity to play off-man, press, and even has experience covering slot receivers. He can turn and run with any receiver, flip his hips, and attack the ball. He will most likely play boundary corner for the Broncos.
Darby was the first signing for the Broncos this offseason. A physically gifted player with top-end speed, he's coming off an impressive season where he led the NFL in pass breakups.
Darby has the ability and athleticism to line up and be in the hip pocket of the opponent's best receiver all day long to defend and deflect the ball coming his way. Having said that, he does not possess the best ball skills when it comes to creating turnovers. Hopefully, his ability to deflect passes can turn into easy interceptions for his ball-hawking teammates.
Callahan is a previously undrafted cornerback who learned to thrive in Fangio's system when playing with the Chicago Bears. Callahan has a scrappy, physical mentality and plays every play with maximum effort.
Along with Fangio's tutelage, this attitude has helped Callahan develop into one of the league's top slot cornerbacks. Callahan's main drawback is his inability to stay on the field due to his history of injuries.
Patrick Surtain II
Denver's first-round pick this year, Surtain is elite when it comes to the metal part of the game — using his processing skills to dissect opposing offenses — knowing what they're trying to do, and allowing him to eliminate routes before they have a chance to develop.
Physically, Surtain is an athletically explosive player with excellent length, terrific ball skills, and was the overall most fundamentally sound cornerback in this year's draft.
Ward played with a physicality that was not matched by many, and a hunger for the big hit. Wise opponents avoided him on the field of play.
Ward would get hyped up after every hit he delivered. His energy was infectious and could be felt throughout the team. He tended to work best close to the line of scrimmage. He was an exciting player to watch.
Stewart followed Gary Kubiak from the Baltimore Ravens to join forces with Ward as one of the most brutal hitting safeties in the NFL. Stewart would be the final piece to the vaunted Broncos secondary and brought a style of play that struck fear into any pass-catcher who dared to catch a crossing route.
Stewart was not known for his excellent coverage skills but came up big against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game with a big interception in the second quarter.
Simmons has grown into one of the best safeties in the NFL today. He is a long, rangy safety with excellent size and athleticism for the position and the intelligence and awareness to maximize his effectiveness on the field. He can quickly diagnose plays and uses his range and ball-hawking skills to attack the ball.
Simmons has thrived in Fangio's system and has shown the ability to make plays all over the field. So much so that the team decided to make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL.
Jackson is a hard-hitting physical safety who possesses coverage skills as he previously played cornerback prior to moving to safety. He uses his versatility to be a jack of all trades.
Jackson can play towards the line of scrimmage in run defense and has the athleticism to cover receivers and pass-catching tight ends. He and Simmons work well together, with one being the ball-hawking safety and Jackson looking to deliver the big hit.
Defensive Mastermind: 2015
Phillips orchestrated one of the best defenses in NFL history. The team was loaded with talent at all three levels, and he knew how to unleash them all. Phillips' secondary would thrive in man coverage because he had talented cornerbacks who could hold their own out on an island and a pass rush to minimize the quarterback's opportunity to scan the field to find the open receiver.
Together, the pass rush and talented secondary would generate opportunities for the defense to create and capitalize off of opponents' mistakes, some of which turned into points on the scoreboard.
Defensive Mastermind: 2021
Fangio has been a defensive mastermind for a long time in the NFL. His scheme is more of a cerebral style of play. He doesn't tend to send a lot of blitzes and relies more on his secondary's coverage ability.
Fangio's scheme allows him to do more with less, as proven last year. The Broncos were able to play well even after multiple stars wnt down with injury, especially in the red zone. Denver ranked first in red-zone defense for the majority of the year.
The Advantage: 2015 vs. 2021
Talib, Harris, and Roby could cover almost any elite pass catcher the NFL had to offer. Talib possessed the size and physicality to stifle big-bodied pass catchers, Harris had the quick footwork and anticipation to mirror any quick shifty receiver, while Roby possessed the talent to be a No. 1 cornerback on any other team in the league.
The trio would remain in good health throughout the year, playing at an All-Pro level, and were always a threat to score when creating turnovers.
Simmons and Jackson are the perfect combination of safeties. Simmons brings a tremendous skill-set that allows him to cover any weapon the opposing team has to offer with the football IQ and athleticism to recognize and attack opposing offenses in a multitude of ways.
In tandem with Jackson, who can crowd the line of scrimmage or roam the field waiting for the precise moment to turn into a heat-seeking missile and destroy anyone with the ball for maximum effectiveness, the edge goes to the 2021 duo.
Phillips allowed his premier coverage cornerbacks and hard-hitting safeties to play to their strengths. He would maximize their talents, allowing them to play aggressive, and they loved him for it. Players laid it all out on the line, attacking each play as if it was their last every time they stepped on the field.
Bottom Line: No-Fly Zone Reigns Supreme
The No-Fly Zone consistently shut down premier pass catchers week after week. It not only looked to create turnovers but take it to the house every time the ball touched its hands.
However, the 2021 secondary has the talent to compete with the former World Champs, but the ability to stay healthy is vital, as well as the development of Denver's young rookie Surtain. The future looks bright for this secondary as it looks to develop potentially into the No Fly Zone 2.0
Follow Kenneth on Twitter @KennethMHH.
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