Will Kareem Jackson be the Broncos’ starting safety next to Justin Simmons?

That is the question.

This is the debate.

The Situation

The past four seasons, Kareem Jackson has been a staple in the Broncos’ secondary, teaming up with Justin Simmons to make one of the best safety duos in the NFL.

The past two years, Jackson has re-signed with the team after testing free agency.

Jackson and the Broncos decided to do that at least one more year when the two sides agreed on a one-year, $2.6 million contract for the 2023 season.

The Broncos re-signed the 35-year-old safety just a week after selecting rookie safety JL Skinner in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Additionally, the Broncos also have promising young safeties Caden Sterns, P.J. Locke and Delarrin Turner-Yell all on the roster.

Before the team brought back Jackson, it was believed Sterns was going to be given the opportunity to start alongside Simmons after playing sparingly his first two seasons in the NFL.

But with Jackson back in the mix, will Sterns still be given that opportunity or will he once again be behind the veteran safety for another year?

The Cases

Kareem Jackson WILL be the Broncos’ starting safety alongside Justin Simmons — Zac

Before the Broncos re-signed Jackson, I thought it was time for the young safeties, primarily Sterns, to have their opportunity to shine.

For whatever reason—whether that be the hip injury Sterns had last year or they don’t think he’s ready to start yet—re-signing Jackson is not a good sign for how the Broncos view the young safeties.

If the team truly believed in Sterns, or another young safety, was ready to become a full-time starter, then there would have been virtually no reason to bring back Jackson. In an ideal world, Kareem would be an excellent veteran backup to mentor the three young safeties.

But one year ago, Jackson made it clear he re-signed in Denver to be an every-down safety, not a mentor. When he re-signed with the team last year, Kareem scoffed at a question (asked by yours truly) whether he expected, or wanted, to be an every-down safety. His answer was clearly yes.

After playing the most snaps of any Broncos defender last year—over 99.5 percent of the defensive snaps—I highly doubt Jackson’s mindset of being a full-time starter has changed.

Whether it’s due to Sterns’ availability or ability, it doesn’t seem like the team is fully confident he’s ready to be the team’s starting safety.

That’s why, for a fifth year in a row, Kareem Jackson will be starting alongside Justin Simmons in Week 1.

Kareem Jackson will NOT be the Broncos’ starting safety alongside Justin Simmons — Henry

The last time we saw Caden Sterns he picked off two passes and got a hand on another in a 12-9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in early October. Then a hip injury sidelined him for the final 12 games of the year.

If Sterns had played out the season, he would probably be a lock for the starting strong safety job in 2023. But because of the injury concerns, the Broncos had no choice but to bring back Jackson, their starter from the past four seasons.

Sterns and Jackson will compete for the starting job in training camp, and my money is on Sterns to win out. Jackson, while still plenty productive, lost a step in his age-34 season. He lacked some of the recovery speed he needed to make plays downfield in the passing lane. Sterns’ athleticism will pop in camp and the new coaching staff will give him the opening-day starting job and an opportunity to show what he can do in a full-time role.

But Jackson won’t be out of the picture. He’s a physical presence in the box, where he can play the run game and handle more favorable coverage matchups. Jackson will hold down an important role in sub-packages.

Plus, if Sterns is hurt again, Jackson will be waiting to hold down the job.


Zac Stevens was born and raised in Denver, went to the University of Denver and now covers the Denver Broncos. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from DU in 2014, Zac worked for the Cleveland Browns as a remote scout. He then jumped straight into the journalism industry at the beginning of 2016 covering the reigning world-champion Broncos and joined DNVR soon after. Catch him on Twitter @ZacStevensDNVR and daily on the DNVR Broncos podcast as the co-host.

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