The Denver Broncos need to do some work to shore up their defense, and upgrading at safety could help to give them the teeth that they need on the back end of the defensive formations. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent options for them in both the draft and free agency, so fans should expect to see changes at some point during this offseason.
It's not that the safety play was bad, per se, but that it simply looked like it needed help. It certainly did not frighten anyone, and the safeties far too often looked nothing more than adequate. As Kam Chancellor proved in the Super Bowl, having a safety who is a force to be reckoned with is far better for the team.
Duke Ihenacho was an exciting young player at times, but he had his ups and downs, going from being a full-time starter to just playing on select downs. He had more than 70 tackles, but he has yet to record an interception.
Rahim Moore was actually playing pretty well before being diagnosed with lateral compartment syndrome, but that disorder shut him down for the year.
Mike Adams is getting older, at age 32, and he only recorded one interception. It's not like he was getting beat on every play, but an upgrade at the position would help the Broncos compete at a higher level, rather than merely getting by.
Here's how they can do it:
This one is a long shot, but it would also be a home run. Ward is one of the best safeties in the game. He's young and fast. He's developed quickly. He would be an instant upgrade, and he could be a leader on the defense.
The best thing about Ward is that he likes to hit. He's been brought up in the league going against teams that are known for hitting—the Steelers and the Ravens—twice a year. He's adopted that mentality.
He's the type of guy who makes a receiver think about coming over the middle, who can knock him out of his cleats if he decides to do it.
The Broncos could use someone on the defense who wants to go light up the other team. He wants to put you on your back so that you don't know how you got there.
While he doesn't get a ton of interceptions, he'd be an enforcer on the field.
The Detroit Lions just parted ways with Louis Delmas, so he's unexpectedly dropped into the free-agent market. This wouldn't be as good as getting Ward, but Delmas is another player who is sort of cut from the same mold. He flies around the field. He loves to hit when he gets the chance to line it up.
He's still fairly young, though a bit older than Ward, so the Broncos could be getting him in his prime.
The downside with Delmas is that he's been a bit injury prone. It hasn't always kept him out of games, but he's had some nagging injuries. These might prove just a bit too frequent for the Broncos, a team that had plenty of its own injuries to deal with in 2013.
Does Denver really want to give him a big contract if he's only going to be on the field for half of the games?
On the other hand, if he can put the injuries behind him, could he flourish with a new team? He never really lived up to expectations in Detroit, with only six interceptions, but maybe he just needs a new environment.
If the Broncos decide to draft for the position—a risk, but what isn't in this league?—they could decide to go after Calvin Pryor. Often considered to be the second-best safety in the draft, after Alabama's Haha Clinton-Dix, the Broncos might have to move up to get him.
Pryor brings a lot to the table. He had seven interceptions and over 200 tackles at Louisville. He ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard-dash at the combine. He has the speed and athleticism to run with anyone, and he can throw a hit.
You just get the sense, when you watch tape, that he's a playmaker. It's the same way that the Lions felt about Louis Delmas, who also played at a small school—Western Michigan. He stands out on tape as being better than the rest of the players on the field.
When he hits, he's explosive. He runs people over. He could bring the same sort of mentality that T.J. Ward would, just in a younger body.
The question is whether or not that will translate to the next level. He did not face top-flight competition at Louisville the way that Clinton-Dix did at Alabama.
Then again, you can only play who you play, and he dominated when he was on the field.
Champ's been pretty decent, so why not bring in another Bailey?
All kidding aside, Dion Bailey could be a great addition for the Broncos, especially because they wouldn't have to trade up to get him. He's projected as a fourth-round pick by NFL Draft Scout.
Since he's going to go in the later rounds, there wouldn't be the same expectation for him to start immediately, but he could step into that role quickly.
He already has the athleticism to run. It would just be about how quickly he can pick up the pro game.
Bailey has some experience at linebacker, but he's really more of a speed player in the college game, so he'd project as the same in the NFL. Still, that background means he knows how to hit, giving him a bit more stopping power than some speed-oriented defensive backs.
Dion Bailey would not be the ideal choice for the Broncos, but he could have huge value if they address other needs in the first two or three rounds and still want to get a potential starter later in the draft.
Sometimes, the best place to start is right at home.
No disrespect to what he's done in his career—he's a lock for the Hall of Fame, one of the best players to ever grace the Mile High city—but Champ today is not the same as Champ from 2005.
He's a bit slower. He's not as athletic. He doesn't have the same ability to catch up if he makes a mistake.
The beauty of it, though, is that he's only getting smarter. He's only learning more with every snap of the ball.
If he moved back to safety, would it help him keep plays in front of him so that speed would not be so much of an issue? He's already said that he's open to the idea.
He wouldn't be a hard-hitting safety like some of the others on this list, but he's never been a slouch when it comes to making tackles. He's been brilliant. His age may have robbed him of his explosiveness, but he's never been afraid to make a hit.
Champ could still be a leader in the defensive backfield. Moving him and restructuring his contract would give the Broncos the chance to draft a young corner early, rather than a safety, but they could still upgrade the position.
If this is the route they decide to go, expect it to happen after the draft, when they know how everything else fell.