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Broncos' secondary poised for greatness in new NFL

With nickel packages becoming the new normal, Denver is on the cutting edge of the trend with three high-level, versatile cornerbacks.

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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The MMQB had an interesting stat that caught my eye this week regarding nickel defenses.

Stat of the Week

The 2015 season was the seventh straight year for an increase in the number of defensive snaps in the NFL on which five or more defensive back were on the field. Per Pro Football Focus, here is the percentage of plays in NFL games with five DBs or more on the field in every season since 2008:

2008: 43.4%
2009: 45.1%
2010: 48.8%
2011: 52.5%
2012: 54.4%
2013: 58.3%
2014: 60.3%
2015: 63.4%

This is revolutionary, really, and something we don’t talk about nearly enough. Five years ago about half the defensive snaps in the league occurred with four defensive backs on the field; last season it was almost two-thirds of the snaps with five or more defensive backs on the field per snap.

While reading this, it again reminded me how well Elway has set this team up for success in the future. The proliferation of three wide receiver sets has been a growing trend over the last several years as has the increased use of nickel sets to counter, as the numbers above show. However, some teams are still struggling to field two competent corners, let alone the three that has become a necessity in the NFL today.

The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, have been stacking up in the secondary since 2014 when John Elway signed Aqib Talib, drafted Bradley Roby, and re-signed Chris Harris all in one year. It has worked out pretty well so far.

Here is the final CB rankings from Pro Football Focus after the 2015 season. Denver was the only team with 3 corners in the top 35. Not only do they all cover well, and are a versatile group (Roby and Harris both play outside, inside, and even safety at times), but they all 3 tackle very well for corners. Harris had a couple crucial open field tackles against the "untackleable" Cam Newton in the Super Bowl.

The other great news is that these 3 guys are all locked up through 2018 on very reasonable deals. We all know we got a hometown discount from Harris, Talib is on an affordable contract (especially when you consider the deals some of the mid-level corners received in free agency this year), and Roby has one more year after this year and then a 5th year option which would be a deal for us at that stage of his career.

On top of all of that, Elway continues to draft corners as he realizes that you need to have at least 4 corners capable of starting if needed. Kayvon Webster has been solid depth, and this past draft's newcomers Lorenzo Doss and Tarueaun Nixon will be cheap depth (and maybe more) for several more years.

This is just one of many examples of Elway's "win from now on" philosophy. Glad to see Denver getting out in front of league trends and not playing catch up like so many other teams.

Here's to another year of this.