Today’s roster review is for one of the original, perhaps unsung, members of the No Fly Zone.
Name: Darian Stewart
Experience: 9th season
College: South Carolina
All the previous members were on the team in 2014, but Stewart coming over to man the free safety position just clicked into place. He provided the glue Denver was missing at the position, punctuating his arrival with a game sealing interception to open the 2015 season against his former team.
Now, after flirting with strong safety for a year, he is back to his natural position and looking to pass on the legacy of the ‘No Fly Zone’ to the younger members of the team.
Darian Stewart is perhaps the NFL’s most underrated safety. Does a lot of things well, especially in 2-deep coverages.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) July 30, 2018
Benoit is correct in that Stewart does a lot of things well. He is skilled at nearly anything you would ask a traditional free safety to do. He tackles well, has good instincts, exhibits discipline and veteran savvy when reading the QB and developing routes, and fills willingly and swiftly against the run.
I wrote a few months ago that Darian Stewart has everything you want in a prototype single-high safety. That was in a response to a piece by Pro Football Focus laying out the parameters for the position.
Here’s what they said: “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.”
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
One of Stewart’s greatest strengths is sitting back, reading the play, and showing excellent speed/quickness to break on the ball (or ball-carrier).
Stewart also bring veteran leadership to a young safety group, and really a young secondary group in general, and is a great locker room presence.
#Broncos have a legion of quiet stud run defenders: Wolfe, Gotsis (if available), Peko, Todd Davis, Darian Stewart.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) July 30, 2018
Stewart was a bit miscast last year at strong safety. I was one of the ones really pushing for the switch at the beginning of the season because a lot of Stewart’s traits translate well into the box. However, he struggles in 1-on-1 matchups, and was exposed a few times when he had to split out on a tight end or running back in man coverage. I wrote about this earlier this year as Stewart was directly responsible for three touchdowns given up to running backs and tight ends.
Stewart noted this about the secondary heading into this season.
“It’s younger. We’re young, and I know that it’s on me and [CB] Chris [Harris Jr.] just to get these young guys going.”
There has been talk this off-season of Stewart being on the chopping block, and Su’a Cravens replacing him this year as the starter. I think both those lines of thinking are way off. Stewart is still an excellent safety and jettisoning one of your few veteran players in the secondary would be a massive mistake.
As for Stewart losing his starting job, that’s not happening either. Stewart is locked in at the free safety spot, and will be back in his element patrolling the back-end and keeping everyone on the same page.
I think we see a much improved Darian Stewart this coming year.