By Chad Jensen
DENVER (247 SPORTS) – Before the season started, I had tapped Justin Simmons as a darkhorse to earn a Pro Bowl bid in 2018. However, the Denver Broncos’ third-year safety got off to an extremely slow start, making my “bold prediction” look somewhat ridiculous. However, Simmons’ play has steadied out since the bye and we’re starting to see some of that game-changing ability he possesses come to the surface. Last week vs. the Bengals, Simmons picked off his third pass of the season, and wore multiple hats for the Broncos.
What’s been particularly impressive about Simmons, despite some of his foibles at times this season, has been his durability. He’s one of only four players in the league to play 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps (817). That’s impressive and speaks to how DC Joe Woods and Vance Joseph view and value the safety.
With Chris Harris, Jr. — the team’s No.1 cornerback — going down early in the Bengals game, and Tramaine Brock not dressed to play, the Broncos were short on cornerback help. Simmons stepped in and played nickel corner for the Broncos, and the results were surprisingly effective.
“It says a lot for a guy not to work nickel all week, to move there in the first quarter of the game and play 50 snaps there at a high level,” Joseph said on Monday following Denver’s 24-10 victory over Cincinnati. “That speaks also to his physical traits, to match [Bengals WR Tyler] Boyd who was their best guy outside of [WR] A.J. Green. When A.J. went down, it was all Boyd, so to match him down the seam and to match him intermediately, he won more than he lost. That’s special.”
I’d say its special. We’ve seen Simmons’ versatility as a safety — playing both the strong and free safety roles — but now we’re realizing he’s the complete package as a defensive back.
The Broncos reportedly plan to address the short-term loss of Harris by signing Jamar Taylor, but Simmons might continue to have his number called at nickel cornerback while Taylor gets up to speed, especially if Brock continues to miss time.
“It’s good to have him [Simmons],” Joseph said. “We’ll see how we proceed this week as far as the nickel goes, but he’s a guy that can play it for us—we know that—at a high level.”
I’ve criticized Simmons at times this year for being a fraction of a second late to react on plays, whether it be in coverage or in run support. In fairness, Simmons’ has faced a brutal gauntlet of elite-level QBs this year, but he has stepped up his play, and is now executing as one of the best young safeties in the game.
This is all to say nothing of his impact on special teams. Just two weeks ago, he blocked a Steelers’ field goal attempt in the first quarter, which directly helped pave the way for a Broncos’ upset win.
As a 2016 third-rounder out of Boston College, Simmons’ ceiling is ridiculously high. The Broncos have put a lot on his plate this year, which likely explains some of his struggles early on in the season, but he seems to have acclimated to the strain and is now playing like a true defensive weapon for the Broncos.