It’s not fair to expect a gourmet three-course meal from a chef when they are given sub-par ingredients. Such was the case for Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio at the cornerback position last year. A cornerback room of Bryce Callahan, A.J. Bouye, and Michael Ojemudia looked fine on paper, but when reality set in with injuries and other factors, it became an insurmountable obstacle.
Given how important depth is at cornerback in the modern NFL, the Broncos were wise to invest in the position this offseason to ensure that last year’s fate doesn't occur again in 2021.
Fast-forward one week into the 2021 free agency and what was once a detrimental weakness impairing the Broncos' defense could end up be the strength of the entire roster. GM George Paton assessed the Broncos’ needs at cornerback and decided that it couldn’t wait until the draft, spending big money on first Ronald Darby then Kyle Fuller second.
Paton bought the requisite premium groceries to provide his defensive head-coach chef the right ingredients to create some delicious football fare. The Broncos’ heavy investment at cornerback was so emphatic, Pro Football Focus tapped it as its biggest positive takeaway from free agency by Denver.
DENVER BRONCOS: VIC FANGIO NOW HAS AN ABOVE-AVERAGE CORNERBACK GROUP TO WORK WITH
Their cornerback room should be in a much better place heading into the 2021 season, even without the team needing to spend a top-10 pick on a player like Caleb Farley.
The recent signing of Kyle Fuller to join Callahan now gives Fangio two-thirds of his former starting cornerback trio with the Bears. Fuller was at his best with Fangio as defensive coordinator across the 2017 and 2018 seasons. His 84.6 overall grade across those two seasons was a top-15 mark at the position, and he has been one of the league’s better cornerbacks in single coverage throughout his career. His 59.5 passer rating allowed over the past five years in single coverage ranks second among 42 cornerbacks with at least 150 such targets over that span.
Denver also brought in Ronald Darby on a three-year, $30 million contract. Darby bounced back nicely from a down 2019 season with Washington in 2020. He now has overall grades of at least 68.0 in five of his six NFL seasons.
As long as Darby, Callahan and Fuller remain healthy, this should be a much-improved unit. It’s a Denver roster overall that has the makings of a contender if the team can figure out the quarterback position.
While the pass rush versus coverage debate will continue to rage on in the football analytics community, but there's no doubt that both have a synergistic, reciprocal effect on the other. When a team has a good pass rush, the coverage is easier and more vice versa.
All Denver is missing to be a truly dominant defense is a competent offense (at minimum) and not turning the ball over at one of the highest rates in the NFL. How the Broncos' young offense performs remains to be seen, but the defensive ingredients are there for Fangio to cook up something potentially masterful this season.
It’s up to the veteran defensive czar to maximize the talented roster and put the Broncos in the playoffs for the first time in half a decade. Is 2021 a playoffs-or-bust season for Fangio?
Perhaps. But as long as the defense stays healthy and the team gets competent quarterback play, the Broncos could make some noise.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
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