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Broncos Film Room: Meet Denver’s best young defensive back

Andre Simone Avatar
December 24, 2018

We’ve talked about scheme a lot this season, analyzing the Denver Broncos play calling last week and coming to the conclusion that it’s become stale and vanilla.

The Broncos latest defeat against the Cleveland Browns showed how part of the problem is that Denver’s staff has had to simplify things. Even when Bill Musgrave got creative and put left tackle Garett Bolles out in space to block on a screen while lined up as a tight end—with TE Brian Parker lined up at LT—the play didn’t work as well as it could have.

A theme for the Broncos throughout the season, when they’ve tried to get creative and aggressive, the returns have been minimal. 

But we’re not here to talk about scheme for once. We’d rather stay positive and look at the emergence of Will Parks, easily Denver’s best young defensive back in the second half of the 2018 season.

Denver’s third-year safety out of Arizona has really come on as of late, showing impressive versatility and instincts, two key traits at the safety in the pass-heavy modern NFL.

While Denver’s offseason trade for Su’a Cravens has looked like a dud so far, Parks has picked up the slack in a big way and even outplayed Justin Simmons, who’s struggled to make the right play consistently.

As always, we went back to the tape to see how Parks has grown, polishing his all-around skills, and what that development means for the future of the safety position in the Mile High City.

Versatility and instincts on the rise

Parks has developed nicely in his three years as a Bronco, where he’s always shown intriguing skills as a playmaker close to the line. His ability against the run as an in-the-box safety, and his instincts to dissect short routes as a nickel have been his calling card, prompting us to feature him in a film room after a strong finish to the 2017 season.

The questions then were if he had the versatility and cover skills to be a full-time contributor or merely a sub-package defender.

As the 2018 season has come to a close, once again Parks has been forced onto the field due to injuries and has answered a lot of questions regarding his utility in a full-time role.

His ability to play as a single-high safety has been impressive, outplaying both Darian Stewart and Simmons.

His ability to limit big plays, flying downhill to make clutch tackles against both the run and pass, and improved ball skills have been a godsend for a defense that too often has given up big plays due to sloppy coverage by the deep defender.

When the play is in front of him, No. 34’s timing to come down and close on plays has been uncanny. His instincts, ability to read and react, strong tackling skills, and sideline-to-sideline speed have all been impressive. All that has made Parks look more and more like the full package at safety with the ability to play as the free safety, a position that’s lacked a natural fit since Stewart’s slow decline.

Just watch him here on the goal line, chasing down Kareem Hunt to keep the RB out of the end zone with a strong tackle.

Parks can look like a linebacker close to a line; when you add that to his ability to cover out the slot and close down on tight ends, his versatility is pretty intriguing.

When watching tape, this tackle on All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce really impressed, stopping Kelce short of the sticks on 1st-and-10. That stop actually proved to be vital in Week 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs, as the Broncos produced a negative play on second down and then got a stop on third down to force a punt.

That versatility to play in anything from a two-deep alignment, to being the single-high safety, or close to the line in the slot, or in the box make Parks the real deal.

He’s a hard-nosed tackler who’ll make plays against the run from anywhere, whether it be in the box…

Or a reliable last line of defense flying in as the high safety to stop the bleeding.

Add to that his developing skills in coverage, where he’s shown the ability to run across the formation with elite receivers like DeAndre Hopkins…

Or fly in when aligned deeper and punishing in-cutting routes, and there’s a whole lot to like.

The major concern with Parks is his ball skills, as he’s only produced three pass deflections this season despite appearing in 56-percent of the defensive snaps, and only has two career interceptions—zero in 2018.

His production in coverage has been excellent this season, holding receivers to 56-percent reception percentage for 144 yards on 14 receptions allowed.

The question still remains: what happens when he has to turn and run with receivers if isolated in man. Does he have the eye discipline, ball skills, and natural talent to make plays in coverage like this?

In 2017, when the play above occurred, that was still a question mark, and he hasn’t been tested enough to give a definitive answer this season. When the action’s in front of him, he’s been lights out, how good can he be when that’s not the case?

A winning combination

Parks’ growth as a deep-safety is really all that matters when paired with Simmons, who has the opposite problem. Simmons has been terrific in one-on-one coverage across the board, but he’s also been burned on big plays when having to play deep this year.

Now that he’s shown he can be a reliable force, Parks can play as the high-safety, and Simmons can be left to roam closer to the line where he can factor in against the run or play in coverage as a true slot defender. Those two combined together can become, at worst, a serviceable starting duo with the upside to be a lot more. 

They’re still young and need to iron out some key deficiencies, but the two compliment each other nicely and bring more closing speed than Stewartwho seems to have lost a step and has an out in his contract in 2019, where his dead cap figure is a reasonable $2.8 million.

In conclusion

In a season filled with disappointment and false hope, especially for the defensive back seven, Parks has been the one true bright spot with his never say die attitude and fast developing skillsetheck, we haven’t even mentioned his game-saving forced fumble at the goal line against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With a safety duo of Simmons and Parks added to a healthy Chirs Harris Jr., who was having a career year in 2018, the secondary can be rebuilt quicker than the 258 net passing yards allowed per game25th best in the NFLwould suggest. 

It all starts with Parks getting more playing time and his running mate, Simmons, being put in the best position to succeed.

The duo of young safeties has to keep developing in their weak areas. Assuming they can improve, a new “No Fly Zone” could be in the works if Denver can find a couple of corners this offseason to round out the DB group.


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