The folks over at Pro Football Focus are working through the off-season just like all of us - trying to get any type of football fix we can during this slow news period.
One of the fun projects they have done recently is go through various position groups and name a “prototype” player for each specific position.
For instance they list Aaron Donald as the prototype for the 3-technique defensive tackle in their defensive line series.
Their most recent position group was the secondary, and they laid out several prototypes among the back end.
Not surprisingly, when they got to slot cornerback, Chris Harris was the choice to highlight.
Targeting Chris Harris Jr in the slot? Good luck. pic.twitter.com/IxYCoWPcWb— PFF DEN Broncos (@PFF_Broncos) June 19, 2018
Here’s what they had to say:
In what should not be a surprise to anyone, Chris Harris Jr. has been the gold standard of slot cornerbacks. He isn’t just relegated to the slot as he’ll start at outside cornerback in base packages and move inside when the extra defensive backs enter the game. Harris is excellent in both the slot and outside but best and most valuable when manning inside receivers. Allowing a reception once every 16.3 cover snaps in 2017 ranked second best in the NFL as did his 9.3 cover snaps per target. In fact, in every season besides his rookie year, Harris has ranked in the top 10 in both metrics usually ranking top three in either of them.
They also called out the fact that teams were in a five defensive back set 63% of the time last year, which further solidifies the need for getting this position right.
While Harris plays outside corner effectively as well, Denver relies on him to lock down the slot. Harris was on the field for 88% of defensive snaps last year, and was lined up in the slot for 63% of them.
Look for this year to be no different. Harris is still the gold standard at the position and Denver would be foolish to fix something not broken by moving Harris away from where he plays best.
So we know that Denver has the best slot corner in the league, but their other prototypes listed got me thinking - I feel pretty good about Denver’s players at each of their main prototypical positions.
PRESS MAN CB
This role has been played by both Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby in the past, but Roby has excelled in this role, particularly last year. His recovery speed and athleticism allows him to play up on the line and stay in his receivers’ hip pocket throughout their route, which allowed him to get his hands on more passes and contest the pass.
An NFL film study guru, Ian Wharton, has a Cornerback Handbook he produces every year in which he charts every snap a corner takes and their success rate.
Bradley Roby checked in at #4 in the league in press coverage. In 63 press coverage snaps, Roby was targeted 23 times, and allowed six receptions for a 26% completion rate and only 67 yards allowed all year from press snaps.
He has the press man corner role locked down for Denver this coming year. Check out some plays I broke down of Roby’s a few months ago to see him in action.
BIG NICKEL/DIME LB
Here’s how PFF described the role:
Someone with the movement skills of a cornerback but the size of a linebacker and you have yourself a big nickel/dime LB. While there aren’t many in the NFL today, having one on your team can be the difference in any game against forward-thinking teams like the Patriots.
Before this year, Denver wouldn’t have had much of an answer for this position as they have been playing traditional strong safeties in this role, which has worked alright. But now, they finally have a true prototype at the position in Su’a Cravens.
We have talked a lot about Denver’s recent addition, and I have written about him several times, so I won’t belabor this point, but I’m confident Cravens has this position locked down for the Broncos.
This one may cause folks to be a bit surprised, but I believe Darian Stewart fits this role nicely for Denver. While he’s no Earl Thomas, he has shown great prowess as a single high safety for several years in Denver.
Some fans may balk at this and see Stewart as a strong safety, but that’s only because Denver tinkered with his role last year when TJ Ward left. Stewart has always played free safety throughout his time starting in the NFL, and it’s clear why - he has a nose for the ball and great instincts for route developments.
Here’s a quote from the PFF article that sums up what Stewart brings to this role:
Being effective as a single-high safety isn’t all about athleticism but more so about being able to diagnose the play in front of you and quickly react to that read.
One of the plays that embodies this the most to me is the 2016 matchup against the Saints, and Stewart robbing Drew Brees on a sideline go-route.
Look at when Darian Stewart breaks on this ball! Middle of field safety isn't supposed to make that interception pic.twitter.com/4CHDwT9L5f— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) November 15, 2016
Mike calls it perfectly above. Brees placed the ball well outside the numbers on a quick throw and Stewart is nearly on the other hash. 9 out of 10 free safeties in that position don’t make that play, but Stewart read it immediately and began moving before the ball even left Brees’ hand.
Lastly, this position belongs to Justin Simmons. In fact, I feel like he should have been listed in the article as an up-and-comer for this role league wide. He is that good, and is that versatile.
I have broken down his play several times over the last few years, and he is just fun to watch.
Simmons can line up as a single high safety, slot corner, box safety, blitzer, run stopper, and tight end cover guy, just to name a few.
Justin Simmons showing some flashes. pic.twitter.com/k147E2WyiF— NOFLYZONE (@broncodawg22) April 14, 2018
While they are still waiting for a corner to emerge as a 3rd starting corner, Denver’s secondary has become more versatile and has all the major positions and prototypes locked in and ready to go for 2018.
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