Out with the old, in with the new. The Denver Broncos experienced something of an exodus at safety this past March, losing three contributors from their magical 2015 campaign, including a heart-and-soul player—David Bruton.
Down the stretch in 2014, Bruton proved that he had developed to a point in his career where he could be counted on to make an impact on defense. He followed up on that in 2015, notching 49 combined tackles (37 solo), a sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Before he broke his leg in Week 15 at Pittsburgh, the Broncos often relied on Bruton to cover big, pass-catching tight ends. His 6-foot-2 length and physicality served the team well in this department.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681991-state-of-the-broncos-corn... His departure left a vacuum the Broncos hope will be filled by rookie third-round pick Justin Simmons. Simmons is also long (6-foot-2), and physical, but doesn't yet have the bulk to contend with the big-time safeties in the NFL snap in and snap out.
Simmons will need to hone an NFL body and that will come with time. However, he is an extremely gifted athlete and has a football IQ that's off the charts. And he has the skill-set to play centerfield.
The Broncos took another safety later in the 2016 Draft by the name of Will Parks. A sixth round pick, Parks is best suited to a role similar to the one Ward currently fills in Denver—a downhill enforcer, and bonafide torpedo in the box.
With Ward and Stewart, the Broncos are set atop the depth chart. It is the team's hope, however, that the Simmons and Parks can take the torch and run with it, becoming the future starting safety duo in Denver.
Ward has two years left on his deal with the Broncos, and Stewart is in his final year. It wouldn't surprise me if Denver brought Stewart back on another short-term deal, but that will be dependent on what the player wants and how he performs in a contract year.
Projected Depth Chart
Strong Safety: T.J. Ward, Will Parks, Shiloh Keo
Free Safety: Darian Stewart, Justin Simmons
Before the Draft, the Broncos re-signed Shiloh Keo on a one-year veteran minimum. He contributed down the stretch and into the playoffs last year and is experienced in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' system.
Keo's spot on the roster is far from guaranteed, however. If Parks proves he can weather the rookie learning curve well, and out-performs Keo in training camp, there is a chance the Broncos keep just four safeties.
RELATED: State of the Broncos: Offensive Line
Due to the youth in the group, however, I see the Broncos carrying five safeties in 2016. The Broncos also signed former Oakland Raider Brandian Ross—a veteran—and also college free agent out of Georgia Southern Antonio Glover.
These two will push the bottom of the depth chart, with Ross serving the type of role Josh Bush did in 2015 as a veteran failsafe. Ultimately, the Broncos are well-positioned at safety.
They have a good blend of proven veterans and developmental talent. If things go as planned, we likely won't see much of Will Parks as a rookie. But in the NFL, things rarely go as planned. The injury bug is no respecter of persons.
Free Agent Options
Josh Bush remains Denver's best free agent option. He played very well when called upon last year and although he rarely does something to "pop" off the field or screen, he can be counted on to bring 100 percent effort and be smart.
Bush contributed 13 combined tackles, with one interception and one forced fumble last year. For the amount of snaps he received, he was quite effective. If things go sideways in training camp, the Broncos will waste little time bringing him back.
RELATED: State of the Broncos: Quarterbacks
RELATED: State of the Broncos: Running Backs
RELATED: State of the Broncos: Wide Receivers
RELATED: State of the Broncos: Tight Ends
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.null