The Denver Broncos entered the 2020 season with plenty of questions. How would the pass rush do in the absence of Von Miller? Would the offensive line improve at all? Could Drew Lock be ‘the guy’?
While many questions remain unanswered with Denver having played only six games, one popular concern with the team seems to be answered with authority:
Who at cornerback could the Broncos depend on and how would that positional group perform?
The Broncos did trade for A.J. Bouye, sending the Jacksonville Jaguars a 2020 fourth-round selection. So far Bouye’s impact has been limited given a shoulder injury but having just returned from a stint on injured reserve, the arrow is trending up.
The Broncos also seemingly have gotten all they could have hoped for and more from third-round rookie from the University of Iowa Michael Ojemudia. After Denver’s recent bout with late round-three cornerbacks in Brendan Langley and Isaac Yiadom, it’s nice to see the team not just ‘hit’ but ‘emphatically hit’ on the position.
However, according to Pro Football Focus, the Broncos’ cornerback who has been the best of the unit so far in 2020 has been Bryce Callahan. After missing the entirety of the 2019 season due to a foot injury, many were uncertain what level of impact the team could get from the former Chicago Bear.
Signing a three year, $21 million contract in 2019, Callahan had begun to draw some jeers from those in Broncos Country over his durability and availability. Could Callahan stay healthy? Would he be able to live up to his contract? How rusty was he going to be after missing a year?
If the question was, How good is Bryce Callahan? Based on his 2020 play, the answer can be nothing worse than '“very good to great!'
According to PFF, Callahan has been the eighth-best cornerback in the entire NFL through the first seven weeks of the regular season, earning a grade of 80.2. Here's what PFF said about his body of work thus far.
Typically a pure slot corner, Bryce Callahan has had to man the outside positions for much of this season due to the situation in Denver. For the first three games of the year, he was almost exclusively a perimeter corner before splitting time evenly in Week 4 and then moving primarily inside over the past two weeks. His performance has ticked up as he transitioned back to his natural position, but the fact that he was able to perform as well as he did outside speaks volumes about his ability as a cover guy. Over the entire season, he has allowed only 166 yards in coverage.
With Bouye re-entering the fold for the Broncos’ cornerbacks, it does seem like Callahan will find a majority of his work from the slot. It’s where he does best while Bouye and Ojemudia also fit best on the boundary.
With how often teams play three-cornerback defensive sets this year, being the ‘nickel’ corner is nothing to scoff at and is as important a position in the NFL as it has ever been in the history of the game. It's a passing league and having three (or more) corners a team can trust can be a game-changer.
Callahan was a relative unknown entering the 2020 season and through the early going, not only has he been excellent, but he has been healthy to boot. Durability was a concern with him leaving Chicago and it reared its head in 2019 with the Broncos, but if anything, with how Callahan is playing in 2020, Denver might get surplus value back on his contract just yet.
Callahan may be the team’s slot corner, but right now he is arguably playing as well as any defensive back on the entire roster and is one of the key drivers for the Broncos’ defensive success to start this season. He, along with his fellow corners as well as safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, give the Broncos one of the better starting-five defensive backfields in the AFC.
As long as the offense comes to play and the special teams learn to avoid their weekly oopsie, the Broncos' defense, led by the secondary, will give the team a chance to win. Despite the unspectacular start to the 2020 season, Callahan has been a huge positive.
He deserves more credit and with analytics revealing just how good he's been playing, perhaps that praise will come just yet.