P.J. Locke has been a preseason darling and special teams ace for the Denver Broncos for the last couple of seasons. With a new staff in town and a new scheme in place, is this the year that Locke could find himself more involved on defense?
#37 P.J. Locke
Weight: 202 lbs
Experience: 3 years
How he fits with the Broncos in 2022
Locke’s role as a special teams ace feels safe and secure. He was one of two players to eclipse 300 special teams snaps (Eric Saubert), and the only other player who out-snapped him on kickoff coverage was the kicker, Brandon McManus. He and Nate Hairston (now on the Vikings) led the team in punt coverage snaps, and he was second on the team on kickoff return snaps. He’s been a reliable piece for Denver, and I don’t anticipate that changing.
The Broncos are shifting towards a more safety-reliant scheme on defense. The Los Angeles Rams were one of just three teams that kept 6 safeties on their 53-man roster (Titans, Saints; calling some of them “safeties” is a stretch but alas). Last year, the Broncos kept 5, but it certainly feels like the team will drop an ILB (and keep 4) to keep 6 safeties around. Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns, Kareem Jackson, and Delarrin Turner-Yell feel like certain locks, which leaves Locke fighting with last year’s fifth-round pick Jamar Johnson and free-agent acquisition from the Rams J.R. Reed-a primarily special-teams player with the Rams and someone who the new staff is familiar with.
Locke beat out and out-snapped Johnson last year, who was struggling with COVID and injuries and looked out of sorts all season long. Reed stuck on the Rams’ 53-man roster, but was dropped to the practice squad so the team could activate EDGE Obo Okoronkwo in week 4. Reed was poached by the Giants in October and was a special-teams standout there. There stands to reason that Locke and Reed will be in a competition for special teams snaps, but I fully expect Locke to be the frontrunner there.
There’s definitely a path forward for Locke to play more snaps on defense in 2022 after just 22 in 2021. The Rams utilized a fairly deep safety rotation. While Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller both played over a thousand snaps last year, the Rams rotated 828 snaps between Nick Scott, Terrell Burgess, and JuJu Hughes. I’d expect the safety rotation to look more like the 2020 Rams, where John Johnson III played 1,159 snaps, and Rapp (365), Scott (230), and Fuller (844) had a pretty healthy rotation of snaps. Simmons should receive the most snaps, but expecting Sterns to be ready to play a thousand snaps like that after just a little over 300 as a rookie is a significant leap. Kareem Jackson should play the same role as Rapp does as a dime “LB”, but expecting him to handle a high volume of snaps at his age is a stretch. With DTY needing to adjust to the NFL and Reed being primarily a special-teamer, there should be plenty of snaps available for Locke.
P.J. Locke has been a reliable player for the Broncos in preseason reps and has shown the ability to handle real defensive reps in the NFL outside of the preseason. With a new scheme in place and reps up for grabs, it feels like the stars just might be aligning for Locke to become a comfortable contributor for the Broncos’ defense.