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Defensive No Bull Positional Review: Safeties

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Denver Broncos offseason positional review discussing what the team has based off of 2015 production of players on the team. We'll review stats, eye-test opinion, contract situation, and depth on the Denver Bronco team as we prepare for the start of free agency and the NFL draft.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I'm breaking down our team to look at what we have in the cupboard for this offseason. In doing so, I've gathered a bunch of data from www.nflgsis.com and www.profootballfocus.com to give us some stats to look at as we evaluate what our players did in the 2015 regular season. Also, www.overthecap.com contract info will be embedded when available. I'll add to that a synopsis of each player including their contract situation. Hopefully this helps Broncos Country here at MHR be better educated on the state of the team.

Wrapping up our defensive personnel, we are looking at the safeties today. I've clamored for years on improving the talent of this group in order to make our defense better. In 2015, we finally made some significant steps here and the product on the field reflected it in big turnovers and tough sledding for our opponents.

The great thing about our defensive scheme for our safeties is that it by nature keeps their jobs streamlined and impactful. Sure if you are in a cover-2 as a safety you still have to read and react. But if your reads are minimized, it makes your ability to impact the play that much quicker. We were blessed with two starters who really could get into the play quickly and make things happen. When one or the other were injured, the defense didn't look nearly as sharp.

Stats

Player Tkl Ast Sack TFL QH Int PD FF PFF
Darian Stewart 46 13 0 2 1 1 10 1 8.2
T.J. Ward 50 11 2 4 3 0 6 2 3.2
David Bruton 31 12 1 1 1 2 7 2 2.3
Josh Bush 13 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 -0.2
Shiloh Keo 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 -1.2
Omar Bolden 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.8

Darian Stewart

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This guy was the best signing of the 2015 off-season for John Elway and the Denver Broncos. He was 2015's most impactful defensive player not named Von Miller in my opinion for the Broncos. I remember when it was announced that we signed him, I (like many others) thought, "Who is this guy?" Doing some basic research made me scratch my head a bit. He's built a lot like a Strong Safety. He had only limited use in Baltimore as a Free Safety. He was just what we needed though and I'm a big fan of his play.

On the field, Darian is the vast majority of the time playing a deep zone as a traditional FS. He does everything well that you want to see in a safety back there: diagnosing plays, keeps the receiving options in front of him, closes with speed, good pass defense skills in the air, and tackles like a truck.

Contract Info:

This is a very team-friendly contract for Denver. I can see us needing to give him a raise in order to keep him around in 2017 and I sincerely hope we do. He's looks amazing in Orange and Blue and could be a core component of our dominating defense for years to come.

T.J. Ward

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Ward is everything you want in a Strong Safety. I spent a lot of time in 2014 being frustrated at how he was used (man coverage on TEs with him drives me nuts). Luckily in 2015 Wade Phillips started using Ward the way he was meant to: as an enforcer.

Ward plays so well where he's got an attack role where he can read run or pass, then attack the ball once the play gets moving. He's also a superb blitzer. I also liked his coverage skills this year a lot when he was tasked with being the top end of a bracket on deeper routes.

Contract Info:

We've still got two more years on our contract with Ward. He's paid well for a safety, yet reasonable for the Broncos cap situation and his play on the field definitely warrants the contract. This was another really great move by Elway to bring this kind of talent to our team. Ward is another great talent on the best defense in the NFL.

David Bruton, Jr.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Here's the guy that probably doesn't get enough love from Broncos country out of all the great players in our secondary. David Bruton, Jr. has really become a superb safety in the past couple of years with the Bronocs. His liability early in his career was his man coverage technique.

That is no longer an issue from what I've seen in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He's often tasked with TE coverage and he does a super job flipping his hips and running with his guy. He's a huge asset for our defense in defending the pass and when our team had good success against TEs, it was oftentimes because of good play from Bruton in sub packages.

Bruton also is a strong player against the run and always has been. He's quick to diagnose plays and understands where he needs to be to make an impact. If we didn't have TJ and Stewart, Bruton would hands down be the best safety on the team.

Contract Info:

Bruton is an Unrestricted Free Agent as of this writing. I've heard rumblings that the Broncos have had some positive talks with him and I really think it would be a great idea for him to finish his career with us in Denver. We use sub packages enough that he still can have a big impact on the field as our #3 safety.

Josh Bush

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Bush is a young safety learning the ropes of the NFL and he had quite the trial by fire in the back half of the 2015 NFL season. The exposure he had is going to be a big benefit to him as he continues to grow as an NFL player.

Let's start with the good stuff on Bush: he's got really good instincts against the run. He's an aggressive tackler like our other safeties and we really don't lose much in run defense when he's on the field.

The problems I saw with Bush were his lack of ability to diagnose and attack passing plays. He looked a lot more Rahim Moore and a lot less Darian Steward in coverage. Basically he would put too much cushion between him and the plays in front of him and not be able to stop plays from happening.

The good thing here is that he has the speed and quickness to improve as a player if he can work out the kinks in reading pass plays and make better time attacking the football once it is in the air. He's a young player that I think has a lot of unrealized potential.

Contract Info:

Unless we find some better cheap options at safety (think draft here), I think it is likely that Denver will at least bring Bush back in for training camp for another shot at the team. Time will tell, but I think he's a guy who can still be coached up some and improve.

Shiloh Keo

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows this is the guy who got his job on twitter. Really we were in a bad place with safety injuries and Shiloh was a great answer for us in 2015 just from a "warm bodies on the field" point of view. He knew the defense and the calls and was able to come in and make a difference for us.

That being said, I'm not a big fan of Keo's on the field. He lets a lot of big plays happen in front of him at an even worse rate than Bush. Also he doesn't have a ton of upside against the run. People will remember that he made a few really big impactful plays for us, but keeping if we're keeping it real (and I always do) he had the benefit of being in the right place at the right time on almost all of those.

Contract Info:

I doubt we'll see Keo in Orange and Blue this off-season and this stems mostly from my eyes telling me he's at his ceiling. That being said, it won't cost a ton to have him in training camp and if we can't find some options for safety depth in the draft, there's no reason not to bring in a guy who knows our team, our defense, and has Super Bowl experience.

Omar Bolden

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Omar Bolden doesn't honestly wow me on the field. He's a liability in pass coverage and like Keo is mostly mediocre against the run.

The positive that Bolden does bring to the table is his Special Teams play. He's looked very good on returns and as part of our coverage units.

Contract Info:

The problem here is that I can't see that we're going to bring back a guy who is a liability on the field just to play Special Teams. To be fair though, he looked like one of our best kick returners last year by far.

Position Overview

The big thing I see when I look at this group is a lack of depth. If Bruton doesn't resign with us, we're really thin here and that can cause our team to flat out lose games (the regular season Pittsburgh game comes to mind...if our safeties were healthy no way do they come back and win it). As you can tell from my notes along the way, I really think we'll see some additions in the draft moreso than free agency.