Measurables: 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.
2014 defensive stats: 19 combined tackles, a fumble recovery.
2014 return stats: 13 attempts, 429 yards, 33 yards per return, 77-yard long.
Omar Bolden missed the entire 2011 season at Arizona State with a torn ACL. And yet, he still managed to get drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Although he didn’t run at the Scouting Combine, he did clock a 4.6 40-yard dash time at his pro day.
Showcasing his work ethic and commitment to overcome the setback to his health, Bolden cranked out 25 reps (225lbs) at the Combine, leading all cornerbacks. With his history as a leader in college, his raw athletic ability and the grit he displayed in overcoming his injury, John Elway felt confident in pulling the trigger that would bring him to the Mile High City.
I wish I could say that from there it was all smooth sailing for Bolden, but it hasn’t been. He’s yet to truly flash in any way that would make one say “wow”. However, he has suffered from depth chart politics, being bounced from cornerback, to safety, to cornerback and now back to safety.
The silver lining in that rollercoaster is that he’s honed some versatility. This year, Bolden entered OTAs purely as a safety and will do the same in training camp. With his past experience playing the position and the stability of staying there throughout the offseason, it’s possible we could finally see Bolden turn the corner this year.
The biggest threat to Bolden making the final roster is rookie seventh round defensive back Josh Furman. Furman, a former Oklahoma State Cowboy, was drafted to be a box safety. The Broncos already have one of the league’s best in that department—T.J. Ward. But they’re looking for a developmental player to groom behind him.
The Broncos used a late compensatory pick to take Furman, so he’s no shoe-in to make the roster. Bolden has the inside edge on the competition, but there’s no doubt that between he and Ward, Darian Stewart, David Bruton, Bolden is the low man on the totem pole.
Even still, Bolden has seniority over Furman. One thing sure to help Bolden’s cause this season is what he brings to the table on special teams. Not only can he be effective in kickoff and punt coverage, but he proved late last season that he is an explosive kick returner.
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He provided a spark in that department late last season, just when it seemed that the Broncos were doomed to mediocrity. As stated at the top of this article, Bolden averaged 33 yards per return, which, if extrapolated over an entire season, would have led the NFL in 2014.
Compounded with his experience at safety, this gives Bolden a great shot at making the final roster, even as a backup, especially considering that the Broncos don’t have a go-to player to return kicks.
Last season, Bolden saw defensive snaps in four games. He earned positive grades in three-of-the-four via Pro Football Focus, showing that although he might not be exploding in his developmental curve, his performance has stabilized.
However, like the rest of his teammates, Omar Bolden is not immune to the process of having to impress a new coaching staff. All things considered, something tells me that in 2015, we’ll see the best season of this intense young defensive back’s career—in a contract year.