Predicting 5 Broncos Defenders Poised to Earn First-Time Pro Bowl Honors in 2020
The Denver Broncos enter the 2020 season with one of the NFL's youngest and most exciting rosters. On the heels of three consecutive draft hauls that have been lauded by pundits, the Broncos are absolutely teeming with talent and potential.
But potential doesn't pay the bills. Only production.
The onus is on the Broncos coaches — especially Head Coach Vic Fangio, Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur — to convert that potential into production. The talent at these coaches' disposal will go a long way toward getting it done but it won't be easy.
The Broncos have transitioned quickly from being one of the older rosters in the league to one of the youngest. As such, there are several budding players whose trajectory has them cruising for individual accolades in the NFL.
Last year, the Broncos had just two Pro Bowlers (Von Miller and Courtland Sutton). Sitting here in early July in the dog days of the NFL summer break, let's take a quick look at a handful of defenders with a legitimate shot at earning a Pro Bowl nod for the first time in their respective careers.
Justin Simmons | S
Simmons is coming off a phenomenal 2019 campaign that saw him get snubbed for the Pro Bowl, though he did earn second-team All-Pro honors. Being in Year 2 of Fangio's scheme, which was a perfect fit for Simmons' skill-set, the odds are good that the fifth-year safety will finally go from being a Pro Bowl darkhorse candidate to a bonafide participant.
With the July 15 deadline rapidly approaching, the Broncos are working to get Simmons extended on a multi-year deal but if the two sides fail to reach an accord, he'll play out 2020 on the franchise tag with $11.441 million fully guaranteed salary.
Kareem Jackson | S
Despite playing 10 years in the NFL as a former first-round pick out of Alabama, Jackson has inexplicably never made it to the Pro Bowl. He came close last year as a first alternate but no cigar.
Like Simmons, Jackson fits Fangio's scheme like a glove and although he's getting a little bit long in the tooth (32 years old), I like the 11th-year pro's odds of finally breaking through and garnering that individual accolade that has eluded him for a decade.
Bradley Chubb | LB
Honestly, after posting 12 sacks as a rookie (franchise record), Chubb had a case for Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors in 2018. He received neither and then four games into his second year, suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season.
Despite being back on the mend, it's difficult to project what Chubb's impact will be 2020 simply because he is rebounding from a serious injury and the team is likely to play it safe with a snap count of some sort, which we can likely expect to consume the first quarter of the season.
There have been Comeback Player of the Year winners who've stormed back after a year lost to injury only to set the league on fire statistically and considering the rare talent the former No. 5 overall draft pick possesses, I wouldn't put it past Chubb as a distinct possibility. Still, anything less than double-digit sacks would be a disappointment from Chubb, which would in theory at least put him on the radar for Pro Bowl voting.
Alexander Johnson | LB
Frankly, if Johnson would have opened the 2019 season as a starter, there's a good chance he would have found himself in the Pro Bowl. Instead, he debuted in Week 5 and would go on a serious romp as a starter, finishing the 2019 campaign with 93 tackles (51 solo), five tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
All-in, it added up to the fourth-best grade for all NFL inside linebackers according to Pro Football Focus. A former college free agent, Johnson stormed onto the NFL scene last year and surprised a lot of people. Now firmly on the radar, look for Johnson to take another step forward in 2020 and vie for a coveted Pro Bowl nod.
For what it's worth, former Broncos All-Pro middle linebacker Al Wilson said a few months back that he envisions Pro Bowls and All-Pros in Johnson's future. Perhaps that starts in 2020.
Bryce Callahan | CB
I know, I know. How could I list Callahan here when he's yet to even take a snap as a Bronco? Like you, I remain in a 'believe it when I see it' holding pattern with regard to Callahan's health and availability.
However, he proved in 2018 that he's one of the most talented slot cornerbacks in the NFL, in the same category as ex-Bronco Chris Harris, Jr. In Chicago that year, Coach Fangio tested Callahan out as a boundary corner and he more than held his own.
Thus, it stands to reason that if he's as healthy as he says he is and availability is a non-issue in 2020, Callahan will be Denver's No. 2 boundary corner in base packages and the slot corner in sub, like Harris was in the days of yore. With that much exposure, I could see Callahan — a long-time veteran in the Fangio scheme — really commanding the attention of Pro Bowl voters with a strong season.
Again, though, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we all would eat our fill. Callahan's first focus has to be getting and staying on the field. Check that box, and based on his talent and experience, I'm optimistic the rest will follow.