Name: Justin Simmons
Height: 6’2" Weight: 202 lbs
Age: 23 Experience: 2nd
College: Boston College
Justin Simmons is one of my favorite young players on the Broncos roster right now. I think in a few years everyone will be looking back wondering how this kid dropped all the way to the third round of the draft in 2016.
Simmons was drafted to replace David Bruton’s role as the 3rd safety in Denver’s big dime packages, and filled that role admirably last year, to the tune of 24 tackles (20 solo), one sack (9 yards), two interceptions (83 yards), four passes defensed, one blocked extra point and five special-teams stops. Simmons played in 25% of defensive snaps and 60% of special teams snaps.
The five biggest things that are critical for a safety in the NFL to possess are: athleticism, tackling, man-coverage ability, instincts/vision and ball skills.
Simmons with the leaping end-zone INT -- Lynch looking for a target in the back left corner of the end zone. Spectacular play by @jsimms1119— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) June 14, 2017
Simmons so far has shown he has three out of the five in spades, and is pretty close on the other two.
The first, athleticism is something that has excited me about Simmons since he was drafted. He blew up the combine with his athletic ability, and it definitely translates onto the field. He displays the range and closing speed to be true difference maker and ball hawk in the secondary.
Both his ball skills and athleticism were on display in the play above where he not only picks off Alex Smith, but also stops what would’ve been a sure-fire touchdown play to Tyreek Hill.
He also shows off great instincts in run support, and sure tackling. According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons was the only safety in the NFL who played over 200 snaps without missing a single tackle.
Check him out here blowing up a run before it even gets started. This also shows Simmons’ versatility, in that, he can play single-high deep safety as well as close to the line of scrimmage.
Lastly, his man coverage, while not perfect, is pretty advanced for such a young player.
Here he is locking down his man 1-on-1 in the middle of the field, which is no easy task.
Not only is he the total package as a safety on the field, but he is also a stand-up guy off the field and has a great attitude and maturity about him for such a young player.
I met him at the Week 17 Raiders game in Denver, and he was the nicest player I have ever met, taking time to talk and interact with the fans and thank them for their support.
He is my breakout player for this year, and I think he has all the tools to be a great safety in Denver for years.
While Simmons has all of the skills I listed above to be a great safety, he could improve on his man coverage ability and instincts/vision. At times on tape last year, he was just a second late breaking on the ball from a deep safety position. While that will come with time and film study, if he can improve his vision and reaction time to routes, he will be even more dangerous.
Additionally, there’s one play in particular in man coverage on Travis Kelce where he gets turned around and allows a catch that demonstrates how he still has some room to grow in that department as well. But in his defense, not a lot of guys can cover Travis Kelce 1-on-1.
If Simmons can improve his man-coverage ability, he could be Denver’s “tight-end killer” fans have been looking for.
“It’s just like the term that is used: being thrown in the fire. Obviously throughout the season, myself and Will had a significant amount of playing time being that we were backups for [S] T.J. [Ward] and [S Darian Stewart] ‘Stew.’ So we knew the whole season that we were one play away from starting, both of us. It was just a matter of when that time was coming. If that time was coming, would we be ready? That’s all that was. At the end of the season, it was great to have those reps happen the way that they did, especially in a crucial time where the playoff run was still open. It was a time for us where we could make a run for it. It wasn’t like they were pity snaps. They were snaps to get us into the postseason. We definitely learned a lot. We watched a bunch of film on things we could improve on and work on. That tape is still valid today. It’s just been a great opportunity. We’re looking forward to this season.”
I think Justin Simmons eventually makes T.J. Ward replaceable, whether this year or next. I think he will cement himself as a starter at free safety, which will allow Darian Stewart to play more strong safety, relegating Ward to a rotational safety in sub packages. The only question in my mind is a matter of “when” not “if.”
No matter his specific role, though, make no mistake, Simmons will make some noise and become one of the best young players on Denver’s defense this next year.