State of the Broncos: The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year

Jan 11, 2022, 6:00 AM
(Graphic by Johnny Hart/Bonneville Denver)...
State of the Broncos

The Broncos finished the 2021 season with a 7-10 record. It was the team’s fifth-straight losing season. It also marked the sixth-consecutive year in which the franchise failed to make the playoffs.

As a result, Vic Fangio was shown the door. The head coach was 19-30 during his three seasons in Denver. And more change is sure to come.

But that doesn’t mean all was lost. There were still some bright spots during the 2021 campaign.

During the first week of the “State of the Broncos” series, it’s time to highlight some of the good things. It’s a chance to take a look at the positives that a new head coach can build upon.



It goes without saying that the Broncos defense was the strength of the team. They were very good in 2021, allowing just 18.9 points (third in the NFL) and 326.1 yards (eighth) per game. On those fronts, the Broncos were a top-10 defense.

And they should’ve been. That’s where the spent the majority of their money, putting together a defense that entered the season as the most-expensive in the league. And it’s where their head coach placed the greatest emphasis, with Fangio being a long-time defensive coordinator in the league.

That said, not all was good on that side of the ball in 2021. The Broncos struggled to force turnovers, racking up just 19 on the season; that was just 21st in the NFL. And they struggled on third down, allowing a conversion rate of 44.9 percent; that was the 28th worst mark in the league.

So finding standouts, even on the side of the ball where the Broncos shined the most, wasn’t easy. There’s a reason the team didn’t have any Pro Bowl selections.

Shelby Harris had a nice season, leading the team in sacks with 6.0. He was also second on the team in tackles for a loss with seven.

Dre’Mont Jones blossomed in 2021, racking up 5.5 sacks and a team-high nine tackles for a loss. He looks like a long-term answer on the defensive line.

And Pat Surtain had a really solid rookie season, hauling in four interceptions. Surtain became a shutdown cornerback, giving the Broncos a lot of flexibility on defense with his ability to cover one-on-on.

Not surprisingly, though, Justin Simmons had the best season of any Broncos defensive player. When it came to Pro Bowl snubs, he had the best argument.

On the season, the safety notched a team-high five interceptions. He also had 80 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 12 passes defended. He was all over the field, making plays in both the passing and running game.

This isn’t surprising, as Simmons is one of the fixtures on the Broncos defense. In his sixth season, he’s blossomed into one of the best safeties in the entire NFL. This season, he certainly played by one.

In 2021, the best defensive player on the Broncos roster was Justin Simmons.



1. Justin Simmons
2. Pat Surtain
3. Dre’Mont Jones
4. Shelby Harris
5. Kareem Jackson


(Graphic by Johnny Hart/Bonneville Denver)...
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