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PFF Taps S Justin Simmons as Broncos' Most Underrated Player | 3 Players More Deserving

We can think of three Broncos more deserving of 'most underrated.'

Given how little national notoriety the Denver Broncos have had over the last few seasons, it comes as no surprise that some of the players fans consider to be undoubted stars are not viewed that way from a national perspective. Simply put, not many people were tuning in to watch the Broncos with the team being the unfortunate combination of both bad and boring for the past six years. 

The lack of eyeballs on Sunday tuning in to watch the Broncos has to be the explanation for Pro Football Focus listing All-Pro safety Justin Simmons as the team’s most underrated player entering the 2022 season.

Simmons is one of the very best safeties in the game. He posted a career-best 90.7 PFF grade in 2019 that really set the bar for how good he could be, and though he hasn’t quite repeated that season, he has been consistently impressive since. Simmons is an excellent free safety with the range to make plays in coverage, but he also impacts the run game far more than most at the position. He is averaging more than 25 defensive stops across the past three seasons, far more than a typical free safety.

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Under former head coach Vic Fangio, the Broncos played a good bit of pre-snap two-high safety shells that would rotate into coverages after the snap. While year-to-year the type of coverages the Broncos rotated into would change based on injury and personnel, one thing remained true: the Denver defense played two to three times as much Cover 6 or quarter-quarter-half coverage as the league average while playing some of the lowest rates of true Cover 2 or Cover 3 of any team in the NFL.

The two-high pre-snap safety shell is an ideal fit for a smart and lengthy safety like Simmons. While not the behemoth of a true box safety more prototypical of a team utilizing more single-high safety coverages and not the true blazing single-high safety such as Earl Thomas during his prime, Simmons is good at doing nearly everything. 

Single high? Two high? Over the slot? In the box? Simmons’ ability to wear many hats is ideal for today’s NFL with defenses mostly being influenced and springing off Fangio and his key tenants.

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Will new Broncos' defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero utilize Simmons as Fangio did in his match-quarters-heavy defensive scheme? That remains to be seen, but given how the players have indicated that the defensive scheme should be mostly the same outside of switching some verbiage, a dramatic shift philosophically would be rather shocking. This should be good news for Simmons this season.

Further good news for Simmons? The Broncos should have (on paper at least) massively improved their pass rush which was ranked as one of the single worst pass-rushing defenses in all of football last season. 

Losing Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and playing seventh-round picks and undrafted free agents on the edge will do that to a defense. Also, Simmons should have a chance to make far more plays on the football this season as the Broncos will likely field an above-average offense for the first time since 2014 with Russell Wilson in the fold. 

With opponents being forced to play more catch-up and feeling compelled to score points, the risky throws for Simmons to pounce on should increase. However, is Simmons truly the Broncos’ most underrated player? 

Here are three players Broncos fans would likely consider fitting the description more accurately. 

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III (25) runs the ball in the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Empower Field at Mile High.
Denver Broncos cornerback Ronald Darby (21) breaks up a pass intended for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) during the second half at AT&T Stadium.
Josey Jewell
Russell Wilson

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