State of the 2016 Denver Broncos: Cornerbacks

Mile High Huddle brings you State of the Broncos—a position by position evaluation of the roster. Today's edition focuses on the cornerbacks. Analyst Will Keys breaks it down.

The great defenses of NFL lore have almost always featured a pair of talented cornerbacks on the outside. But now for the third straight year, the Denver Broncos will trot out three corners with shutdown ability. 

The Broncos cornerback trio has been so effective in the past two years primarily because they can each offer a different set of skills.  Aqib Talib thrives against taller receivers and serves as the ball hawk of the defense, Chris Harris, Jr. matches up well against quick wide receivers, and Bradley Roby has the size and speed to play either the slot or the outside. 

Another distinguishing feature of the Broncos star corners is their willingness to hit.  Harris seemingly inherited his tackling ability from Champ Bailey and, in turn, passed it on to his teammates to create a beautiful cycle of sure tackling.  Their nose for the ball accounts for a big part of Denver’s stout run defense, and also limits the yards after catch that are crucial to the success of a team like the New England Patriots.

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Talib, Harris, and Roby each have a penchant for getting their hands on the ball as well, totaling 29 pass breakups and six interceptions between the three of them.  They also combined for four defensive touchdowns; each providing the crucial difference in a one-score game. 

Because of their depth at corner, the Broncos almost never find themselves in an unfavorable matchup on the field.   No wide receiver had their way with the Broncos corners until Week 15 at Pittsburgh, when Antonio Brown became the first player to score in front of Harris in over two years.  Even then, Brown was the only wide receiver to catch multiple touchdowns against Denver last season. 

The only trouble the Broncos face at the cornerback position is the uncertainty that the trio will be intact to begin the season.  Talib stands to face a possible suspension after a nightclub incident in Dallas that left him shot in the lower right leg, a wound that fortunately required just stitches.  The true depth of the position will be tested if Talib has to miss a significant portion of the season.

Projected Depth Chart

Left Cornerback: Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby, Lorenzo Doss

Right Cornerback: Chris Harris Jr., Kayvon Webster, Taurean Nixon

The man with the most to gain from Talib’s absence would be fourth-year corner Kayvon Webster.  Webster’s been a reliable reserve cornerback in his three years with the team, but the biggest impact of his career came in punt coverage in last season’s Super Bowl run.  On numerous occasions, Webster downed punts deep in the opposing team’s territory and kept punt returners like Ted Ginn Jr. from finding return lanes. The configuration of the starting lineup will be intriguing to see if Talib is indeed suspended.  The most likely scenario would include Roby and Harris playing the outside in the base defense and Harris kicking inside as the slot corner in the nickel defense.  Roby also has the quickness to move inside, depending on the matchup that particular week.   

Also moving up in Talib’s absence would be second-year corners Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon.  Both Nixon and Doss were taken on the third day of the 2015 draft after manning the secondary for the Tulane Green Wave.  Each played limited snaps last season but will get their chance after the departure of Omar Bolden and the aforementioned Talib incident.

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John Tidwell and B.J. Lowery round out the cornerback group heading into camp.  A push for the 53-man roster seems unlikely given the Broncos’ depth elsewhere, but look for one of them to land on the practice squad. 

Ultimately, the depth chart heading into Week 1 will hinge on the ruling handed down from the commissioner’s office.  If Talib is scheduled to miss more than four games, it could seriously alter how the Broncos handle the final cut to 53 and the composition of the practice squad

Free Agent Options

The decision to add a veteran at cornerback could come down to how many games Talib misses, if any.  Assuming he does, there are a few free agents that Denver might consider. 

Cortland Finnegan performed admirably last season for a Carolina Panthers team that was thin at cornerback behind Josh Norman.  Finnegan provides a lot of the same aggression and attitude that Talib does, but doesn’t have the same length to match up against lankier receivers. 

Another option might be veteran Brandon Boykin.  Boykin was mysteriously cut by the Carolina Panthers to make room to sign undrafted free agents just a couple of months after signing him in March.  There are rumors that he was cut due to a degenerative hip condition that seriously impacted his speed, but if that doesn’t hold water, he might be worth trying out.  

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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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