The Denver Broncos went heavy on the secondary in the 2021 NFL Draft and the result is that most pundits went from seeing Denver’s secondary as a major weakness to it now being viewed as a major strength. In back to back picks in the fifth round, the Broncos went safety with the first being with the 152nd pick in Texas safety Caden Sterns.
Caden Sterns’ profile
Weight: 207 lbs
Age: 21 years old
In our post selection polling, Broncos fans mostly liked the pick with 81% of the 2000 votes giving the pick an A or B grade.
According to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, Sterns has the traits necessary for more of a ‘downhill safety’ at the NFL level. Sterns has similar height and weight to T.J. Ward coming out of college and his athleticism is fairly matched.
Ward ran a 4.56 40-yard with a 34” vertical. He also benched 225 pounds a total of 19 times at the 2010 NFL Combine. Sterns was fairly similar running a 4.41 40-yard with a 42” vertical and benched 225 pounds a total of 14 times. While Ward was a little stronger coming out, Sterns beat him on the speed and agility tests.
Caden Sterns was drafted with pick 152 of round 5 in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.59 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 33 out of 778 FS from 1987 to 2021. https://t.co/RI6WVVy8jV #RAS #Broncos pic.twitter.com/kgGfcJNAos— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 1, 2021
Sterns has all of the athletic traits you could want from a guy playing safety. The question comes down to, then why did he go in the fifth round and not higher?
There are couple of issues that caused Sterns to fall into the fifth round. The first is his tackling. That is an area he improved upon steadily in 2020, but still has quite a ways to go and an area that Sterns himself has identified as an area of need.
“I have range, I make plays on the ball and I can cover,” Sterns said in his post-draft presser. “I think I’m really versatile as well. I can come down and play man, I can play one-high or two-high, and I can just be around the ball. An inconsistency of mine is tackling. That’s something that I’m definitely working on all the time. That is something that I need to clean up to become a complete safety.”
The other concern is one that may not be fixable and would require significant improvement on the intangibles that good coaching can help, but not entirely fix. That would be something Zierlein also mentioned in his pre-draft profile on Sterns.
The size, length and aggressiveness as a hitter are still intriguing traits, but Sterns has moments where he really struggles with diagnosing play design and staying ahead of what the offense is trying to do. He lacks optimal instincts to play single-high, and man coverage can get away from him.
A safety has be kind of had the read and react abilities of a quarterback and, frankly, if a quarterback has slow eyes and slow reaction times they just don’t work out in the NFL for very long. That might play out a bit differently for a guy playing safety, since the whole defense doesn’t flow through that one player. Sterns will just need to keep hitting the film room and working on that ability to identify the things he needs to see to play well in coverage.
I love the value of picking up Caden Sterns in the fifth round. Pairing him with Jamar Johnson who was taken a few spots later in the same round means there will be healthy competition between the two rookies.
In the context of value, I’ve always felt any Day 3 pick that works out in any kind of starter capacity is like hitting the jackpot. Typically, you are hoping for good reserve role type guys and special teamers at that point. I feel like Sterns would be able to contribute in both of those capacities early in his career. We’ll have to wait and see where things go from there.