Broncos' Justin Simmons Tops ESPN's List of Best Safeties Entering 2022 NFL Season

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJuly 9, 2022

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 28: Denver Broncos Safety Justin Simmons (31) reacts after a play during the NFL game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Broncos on November 28, 2021, at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ESPN has ranked the Denver Broncos' Justin Simmons as the NFL's top safety amid its annual preseason position-by-position rankings.

Per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, "more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players" voted on the list. The process worked as follows:

"Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions."

Simmons, 28, has played all six of his NFL seasons with the Broncos. The free safety amassed five interceptions, 12 pass breakups and 80 tackles for Denver, which allowed the third-fewest points in the league last year.

Opposing quarterbacks didn't find much success throwing in Simmons' direction. Pro Football Focus provided this note on his play in November 2021.

PFF DEN Broncos @PFF_Broncos

Justin Simmons has been ELITE the last month 😤<br><br>He has as many INTs and forced incompletions as he does catches allowed (5) ❌ <a href="https://t.co/BpEv2iLx0B">pic.twitter.com/BpEv2iLx0B</a>

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus also called him the most underrated player on the Broncos.

"Simmons is one of the very best safeties in the game. He posted a career-best 90.7 PFF grade in 2019 that really set the bar for how good he could be, and though he hasn’t quite repeated that season, he has been consistently impressive since. Simmons is an excellent free safety with the range to make plays in coverage, but he also impacts the run game far more than most at the position. He is averaging more than 25 defensive stops across the past three seasons, far more than a typical free safety."

Simmons is under contract through 2024 after the Broncos signed him to a four-year, $61 million extension (around $35 million in guarantees) in March 2021. He has the fourth-highest average-per-year salary in the game at his position, per Over the Cap.

As for the rest of the top 10, NFL reporter Dov Kleiman dropped the list.

Dov Kleiman @NFL_DovKleiman

ESPN poll for Safeties<a href="https://t.co/MIyd9RExWu">https://t.co/MIyd9RExWu</a><br><br>1) Justin Simmons<br>2) Minkah Fitzpatrick<br>3) Kevin Byard<br>4) Derwin James<br>5) Budda Baker<br>6) Jessie Bates<br>7) Harrison Smith<br>8) Marcus Williams<br>9) Antoine Winfield<br>10) Jamal Adams<br><br>*I think Mathieu, Diggs and Poyer should also be listed <a href="https://t.co/Lim7el2Kun">pic.twitter.com/Lim7el2Kun</a>

Touchdown Wire also thinks very highly of Simmons' work, as the Bronco defensive back is ranked second on that list of the top safeties behind only Jordan Poyer of the Buffalo Bills.

Simmons and the Broncos will be looking to bounce back from a 7-10 season. There's a new quarterback in town with nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson calling the shots, and ex-Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is the new head coach. They'll get going on Monday, Sept. 12, with a road game against the Seattle Seahawks.