The Denver Broncos may have had the second worst record in the league last year, but this is not a roster devoid of talent. At least, not anymore.
Thanks to the 2010 and 2011 draft classes, the Broncos have some young players who have provided the franchise with hope for the future, and in the 2011 draft, the Broncos went out and picked up two safeties who could compete for starting jobs this season.
Not only that, but on paper, the Broncos have what appears to be enviable depth at the safety position, something they really have not had in a long, long time. As we prepare for the 2011 season, let's take a look at the Broncos' safety position; who will start, who will play, and who--unfortunately--will be on the outside looking in.
20 Brian Dawkins, 16th season
Dawkins played in only 11 games last season, but he was still a key component of the Denver defense (even though it was the worst in the NFL). Dawkins had 66 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception, showing that even at 36 years old, the man can still ball.
However, as good of shape as Dawkins is in, the five lost games to injury are somewhat concerning, especially since the Broncos also had to deal with the loss of soon to be discussed Darcel McBath for a good majority of the season. David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy started at one point or another for the Broncos last year, which is seemingly unacceptable. Dawkins is still a big part of the Broncos' defense, especially since they are going to need some veteran leadership on a very young team.
It didn't take long for Broncos fans to realize what Dawkins means to a team not just on the field, but in terms of his vocal leadership and intensity. I think Dawkins will play that same role for the Broncos this year, and I believe he will start once again until he proves that he is no longer capable of keeping up in this league. Dawkins is in great shape, as always, and he should be a starter for the Broncos again this season.
23 Renaldo Hill, 11th season
I have been very critical of Renaldo Hill because of his pass interference penalty on a hail mary against the New York Jets last year in a game the Broncos had won. Ever since that play, it seemed like every time Hill was in the frame, it was something bad, but perhaps that was just my frustration.
Hill finished the 2010 season with 63 tackles, a forced fumble, and two interceptions. He also recovered a fumble, and to his credit, he was able to start all 16 games last season. In fact, Hill hasn't missed significant time since 2007 where he only played in seven games.
I think Hill is what he is--a veteran who knows the game, but he has so many athletic limitations that he needs to be playing behind a phenomenal pass rush to be effective. Hill is 32 years old and has had a very solid NFL career, and he even surprised me in 2009, his first year with the Denver Broncos. Still, there's a reason teams were prone to big plays against the Broncos last year, and part of the problem was the Broncos' safety play. Hill will really need to step his game up, or he's going to lose time to the rookies coming in.
31 Darcel McBath, 3rd season
I remember when John and I were at training camp, you just look at McBath and watch him go through drills and you are like, "Man, this guy is going to be an absolute stud." I'll admit, I anticipated McBath having a huge season in 2010, and it never happened. McBath played only seven games and proved that he is one of the Broncos' special teams aces, but you expect more from a former second round pick.
Freak injuries have defined McBath's career, and I hope they don't plague it. McBath has great ball skills and a ton of talent, he just needs to stay on the football field. I wouldn't be shocked if he locks down a starting job in training camp, provided he can stay healthy.
30 David Bruton, 3rd season
Bruton is quickly becoming one of my favorite players because of his willingness to do whatever the coaches ask him to do, but he's not shown me much from the safety position, aside from playing solid at times in spot duty. He is definitely one of the Broncos' best special teams players, and he has great size/speed ratio.
As the summer progresses, Bruton is going to have a heck of a time hanging on to his job, but I like his odds because of his prowess on special teams. Not only that, but he offers upside because he's only 23 years old.
34 Kyle McCarthy, 2nd season
McCarthy was one of my favorite undrafted free agent signings last year, and he did not disappoint. He played in eight games last year and didn't accumulate much in terms of stats, but he definitely saw the field more as the season progressed. The 2nd year player out of Notre Dame faces an uphill battle--to say the least--to crack the Broncos' roster.
38 Nick Polk, 1st season
Polk isn't technically a rookie, but he hasn't seen any NFL action to this point and was signed to the practice squad in December of last year. He will compete in training camp and in the pre-season as a big bruiser at the safety position out of Indiana.
Rahim Moore, Rookie (2nd round)
Moore was a big time collegiate safety for a couple of years at UCLA, one of which he picked off 10 passes. Pretty much all season long, he's been considered the top safety in the entire class of 2011, though it was fairly weak overall. Moore is improving as a hitter and has a knack for finding the football, as evidenced by his 10 interception season two years ago.
He followed that up with only one pick this past year, but he's a very athletic safety with range and he can make plays all over the field. He doesn't have great straight-line speed, but he said he's bulking up this offseason and working hard to be the best free safety he can be. Don't be shocked if he is starting sooner rather than later.
Quinton Carter, Rookie (4th round)
Heading into the 2011 NFL Draft, Carter was my second overall ranked safety behind Rahim Moore. The fact that the Broncos were sitting there in the fourth round with him still on the board is a pretty big shocker to me, so I thought it was a great value pick. Carter is a great athlete who is a head hunter and was named a first-team All-American in 2010 for his excellent season. Last year, he had 96 tackles and four interceptions for the Sooners, and is just a ball of energy on the field and a great leader to his team.
Carter also displays great leadership off the field, known as a high character guy by his coaches and his peers. Whenever Brian Dawkins stops playing he has the ideal skill set to take over.
The Broncos have a great, young wide receiver group, but on paper the safeties could be equally as impressive. The fact that they have six guys who will be guaranteed NFL roster spots is pretty amazing, but then you add in guys like McCarthy who could be on the outs, but are still talented special teams players. This will be a fantastic competition to watch over the course of the offseason when it begins, and I think Broncos fans will be pleased about the amount of talent overall in the secondary. I have a sneaking suspicion that Renaldo Hill's roster spot is in jeopardy, but the Broncos could opt for a more veteran group and trade/cut David Bruton, which would be unfortunate. I would look for Brian Dawkins to lock down a starting spot pretty much right now, and then the rest is up for grabs. If Darcel McBath shows improvement at training camp, he could lock up the other starting safety spot.