Editor’s note: Seventh in a series previewing each Broncos position group entering the start of training camp on Tuesday.
When the Broncos lost to Las Vegas in last season’s finale, Michael Ojemudia and Parnell Motley played all 67 defensive snaps and Will Parks saw 53 plays of work.
Translation: Something needed to be done to address a cornerback position riddled by injuries, suspension and ineffectiveness and new general manager George Paton went to work.
In are veterans Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller and first-round pick Pat Surtain II.
The three cornerbacks from the Raiders game? Ojemudia will start camp at No. 4 or 5 on the depth chart, Motley faces a tough climb to make the roster and Parks is in Kansas City.
“(The front office) went out and hit the ground running to dress up our whole secondary and give us great depth,” defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. “We’re delighted to have some veteran cornerbacks (Fuller/Darby) and then a Top 10 pick (Surtain).”
The new cornerbacks join the formidable safety duo of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. Simmons is the game’s highest-paid safety in terms of average salary ($15.25 million) and Jackson was re-signed shortly after his contract option was declined.
S Justin Simmons (third round 2016), S Kareem Jackson (free agent ’19), CB Bryce Callahan (free agent ‘19), CB Essang Bassey (undrafted free agent ’20), CB Michael Ojemudia (third round ’20), CB Duke Dawson (trade ’19), S Trey Marshall (undrafted free agent ’17), S P.J. Locke (free agent ‘19), CB Nate Hairston (free agent ’20) and CB Parnell Motley (free agent ’20).
Simmons has played every defensive snap the last three years and totaled 97, 93 and 96 tackles and a combined 12 interceptions. Franchise tagged for the second consecutive offseason, he signed a four-year, $61 million contract in March.
Jackson was released with one season remaining on a three-year, $33 million deal, but after testing the free-agent market, returned on a one-year, $5 million contract.
Callahan was playing well until a foot injury shut him down in early December. The cornerback additions will likely move him into a full-time nickel role.
Ojemudia missed a team-high 15 tackles and, well, if he’s playing a lot this year, it’s because the position group has again been decimated by injuries.
Locke and Marshall could be fighting for one roster spot as a reserve safety/special teams ace.
CB Ronald Darby (free agent), CB Kyle Fuller (free agent), CB Pat Surtain II (first round), S Jaden Sterns (fifth round), S Jamar Johnson (fifth round), CB Kary Vincent (seventh round) and CB Mac McCain (undrafted free agent).
The 27-year old Darby signed a three-year, $30 million deal after he played all 16 games for the first time in his career. He has eight interceptions in 73 games, but five seasons of at least 10 pass break-ups.
Fuller signed a one-year deal with the Broncos literally hours after being cut by Chicago. He played for coach Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell with the Bears. Fuller has 19 interceptions in 96 games.
Wait, there’s more. Surtain was available at No. 9 in the first round when Carolina chose cornerback Jaycee Horn eighth overall. Surtain intercepted four passes in 41 games for Alabama.
Sterns and Johnson will provide safety and special teams depth.
CB De’Vante Bausby (Las Vegas), S Alijah Holder (Detroit), S Will Parks (Kansas City), CB Kevin Toliver (free agent), CB A.J. Bouye (Carolina) and CB Chris Cooper (free agent).
The motive of the cornerback overhaul is two-fold: Build depth so a repeat of last year doesn’t happen when the Broncos were forced to bring back Parks and immediately make him the nickel, and create more turnovers.
During their five-year playoff drought, the Broncos are 18th with 105 takeaways (105) and tied for 21st with 61 interceptions. In coach Vic Fangio’s two years, they are tied for 27th with 33 takeaways and tied for 25th with 10 interceptions.
The cornerback depth will allow Fangio to play more dime (six defensive backs) and have four true cornerbacks on the field with Simmons and Jackson.
Number of note
Interceptions the last two years by Broncos cornerbacks — one by Chris Harris in ’19 and one by Essang Bassey and two by Bryce Callahan in ‘20
Friday: Tight ends.
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