It’s no secret that Broncos country fondly reminisces over days of old. Peyton Manning‘s 55 touchdown season and Von Miller‘s Super Bowl 50 performance will live on in the minds of fans. The 2010s Broncos can’t be discussed without mentioning the “No Fly Zone.” The combination of Aquib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby at the corner spots with hard hitting safeties like T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart was magical. But those days are long gone, right? Well not exactly, over the past few years and particularly this offseason the Broncos have been building their secondary. Here is a look at how George Paton and John Elway rebuilt the new “No Fly Zone.”
Coming off of a Super Bowl winning season the direction for the Broncos was very unclear. They tried their best to make the draft work but most picks ended up being misses. However, one pick was a smash hit. At the end of the third round the Broncos took a safety from Boston College who would end up as a defensive cornerstone for the team. His name was Justin Simmons. Simmons took a little while to get started but is now regarded as one of the best safeties in the league. Simmons owns the longest active streak of consecutive snaps played (3,211) among NFL defensive players and was one of five players to play every defensive snap in 2019.
After multiple disappointing seasons the Broncos were due for a roster shake up. During that shake up two new players would be brought in that have made big impacts on this team. The first of those two being Kareem Jackson. Jackson Immediately made an impact and formed a formidable safety duo with Simmons. The second addition was corner Bryce Callahan. Callahan’s impact would have to wait a year as complications from a foot surgery kept him sidelined for 2019. That didn’t stop him from having a bounce back year though. Callahan, while overlooked in 2020, played tremendously. He was a solid bright spot on a fairly dark year in Denver.
The 2020 draft saw the addition of corner Michael Ojemudia who was a solid pickup with good potential. However, 2020 wasn’t the best year for the Broncos secondary. The cornerstone of the original “No Fly Zone,” Chris Harris Jr., departed from the team prior to the 2020 season. This loss was evident as new Broncos addition A.J. Bouye couldn’t keep up with the play of Harris. The Broncos cornerback room was viewed as a weak point and in desperate need of an upgrade, and oh boy did they get one.
The new “No Fly Zone” as we know it was born. First year general manager George Paton made multiple splash moves in free agency and the draft to bolster the Broncos’ pass defense. First the team started by retaining Justin Simmons via the franchise tag and eventually signed him to a long term deal. Next they signed Ronald Darby to a one-year contract after a solid season on the Washington Football Team. Then came the biggest move of the team’s offseason as they Signed pro-bowl corner Kyle Fuller to a one-year deal. Paton wasn’t done adding just yet. With the ninth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft the Denver Broncos selected Patrick Surtain a corner from Alabama. They also added two safeties, Jamar Johnson and Cade Sterns, in the sixth round. Both Johnson and Sterns have massive upside.
The future of this secondary is very up in the air right now. Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan and Kareem Jackson all have one year left before they’ll need new contracts. Jackson was already a surprise re-signing so don’t be shocked if this is his last year in the Mile High. As for the younger players on the team, each one of them has loads of potential. Specifically, Patrick Surtain who has reportedly wowed at training camp.
Head coach Vic Fangio had this to say about the budding star, “I think he’s got an NFL demeanor, especially the type of demeanor you need to play corner in this league. I think he has some versatility which we’re going to need to take advantage of. Everything has been good so far with Patrick, but we were expecting that.”
While future years with this secondary may be limited pay close attention this season. The new “No Fly Zone” is here.