Over the past half-decade, the identity of the Denver Broncos has been predicated on the strength of their defense. With the Broncos winning a Super Bowl due to fielding a historic combination of pass rush and secondary play, perhaps the team can recapture some of that defensive synergy this coming season to propel the organization to its first playoff berth since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
While the Broncos have spent copious resources on the offensive side of the ball over the last few seasons, the 2021 squad will still cultivate a 'defense first' mentality if they're planning to make any noise this year. That was also the plan last season, but alas, due to the insurmountable number of injuries the secondary faced in 2020, the defense faltered as a young sputtering offense could never get off the ground to overcome the injuries on the other side of the ball.
The Broncos needed help on offense, but if this team were to contend in the AFC West arms race the team needed to once again fortify the secondary.
Adding former GM George Paton to the mix made it all the more apparent that Denver was likely to go after secondary players early and often this offseason. After years working as Minnesota Vikings’ GM Rick Speilman's No. 2, and with defensive-oriented head coach Mike Zimmer, it was inevitable that the secondary would be a primary focus for Denver.
However, even those fans calling for the defensive backfield to be addressed were likely taken aback by the level that the Broncos added talent to the unit this offseason.
Perhaps one of the harshest critics of the Broncos this offseason has been Pro Football Focus. While the analytics giant has next-to-zero faith in the combination of Denver’s quarterbacks, the site does believe the Broncos have the making of one of the best secondaries in football this year, ranking them as the single best defensive backfield in the NFL entering this season
1. DENVER BRONCOS
No team improved its secondary more than the Broncos this offseason. Last year, third-round rookie Michael Ojemudia, an injured A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan — who played out of his natural slot position — were the team’s top three outside cornerbacks. Denver now has the luxury of deciding which of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby or top-10 pick Patrick Surtain II will start the season on the bench due to Callahan likely moving back inside.
The Broncos also have a case for fielding the league’s best safety tandem. Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson rank second and sixth, respectively, in PFF's Wins Above Replacement metric since the start of the 2019 season.
Will the Broncos field the best secondary in the NFL this year? Given the talent and depth of the unit on top of how innovative and consistently great Vic Fangio's scheme is, it's certainly a possibility.
The question is whether the cornerbacks and safeties will be enough of a strength to overcome the likely ups and downs from the offense this year in a division stuffed with passing game talent. If Denver extracts even league-average quarterback play from Drew Lock and/or Teddy Bridgewater (or both) with the talent it has on offense — on top of an elite secondary — this team could surprise. If and could being the operative words.
Either way, the Broncos’ 2021 defense should be as good as this team has seen since the Super Bowl. With a great defense, a team like the Broncos simply needs to get into the playoffs. After that, anything can happen.
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