In the 2019-2020 season Justin Simmons had a career year. The star safety finished the season as a second-team All-Pro and had some solid stats. Simmons racked up 93 total tackles and four interceptions while having the highest coverage rating for a safety in the entire league. That rating placed him at number three for coverage among all defensive backs. With stats like those, a case could be made for the defensive back of the year most seasons. So is it possible for Simmons to win DPOY this year?
In the 49 years that the defensive player of the year award has been handed out its only gone to defensive backs 11 times. The committee who chooses the winner always seems to prefer high sack totals over interceptions so this puts corners, safeties and even middle linebackers at a disadvantage.
Over the years the Broncos have had some great defensive players like Champ Bailey and Von Miller but neither won the award. The one and only winner from the team came back in 1978 when it went to linebacker Randy Gradishar. Gradishar was the leader of the “Orange Crush” defense of the mid-1970s till the early 1980s.
Simmons is a long shot according to sportsbooks to win DPOY. The consensus has him with the 55th best odds to win at +10,000. This is ridiculously low considering he’s arguably one of the best safeties in the league. Simmons is way lower than washed-up Richard Sherman and rookie Chase Young. There is hope though. Last year’s winner Stephon Gilmore started the season with odds of +8000.
The last safety to win DPOY was Troy Polamalu in 2010 with a fairly good season stat-wise. He finished with seven interceptions, 63 tackles and a sack. This is a good benchmark to compare with Simmons to see where he needs to be. In seasons where he’s gotten consistent playing time, Simmons smashed the tackle mark finishing with 90+ in each of his last two seasons. Tackles alone won’t even put you in the conversation though, so interceptions are key. Last year’s winner finished with six and got lucky on some of them. More than six interceptions should get voters talking. Finally, coverage percentage cannot slip this year which is a tall task, but Simmons has proven he’s worthy of the challenge.
The Broncos have an incredibly easy defensive schedule this year which could give Simmons a boost in numbers. In week 1 they take on the Titans who rarely pass the ball so there’s little chance of an interception. After week one the Broncos start to play offenses who lean on their air attacks. Week 2 brings Ben Roethlisberger who still has questions surrounding his health and ability to play. Week 3 the Bucs come to town with Bruce Arians and his notorious air raid offense. Tom Brady has played in a very conservative offense his entire career and might throw some interceptions if he’s pressured. Weeks four through six the Broncos take on the AFC East. The Jets are first and if Sam Darnold happens to see ghosts again look for loads of interceptions.
Cam Newton‘s Patriots should be a well-oiled machine by week five so there won’t be many errors to capitalize on. Week 6 brings the miserable Dolphins and whether it’s Tagovailoa, Fitzpatrick or Rosen at quarterback they will no doubt struggle. The rest of the out of conference matchups are played mostly against the NFC South. The Panthers, Saints and Falcons all look to have solid quarterback play so this could be a dry spell for Simmons in terms of interceptions, and his coverage numbers may drop if he has to guard Julio Jones on deep passes.
Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered chiefs passing game will be the only in conference matchup that could set Simmons back in the race. For a gunslinger, Mahomes doesn’t throw many interceptions and whatever matchup Simmons takes it’ll be a tough one. The rest of the schedule is a cakewalk for the secondary. Defending passes from Derek Carr and Justin Herbert (possibly Tyrod Taylor) could be a big numbers boost.
Many bettors, critics and even fans don’t know or don’t pay much attention to Simmons, but he’s in a prime position to shine this year. With +10000 odds and no eyes on him, Simmons could be the biggest dark horse in the DPOY race.