ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used a vast array of voters from the network’s many NFL platforms, as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, to rank the league’s top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense. In the end, 85 voters picked on defense, 90 on offense.
Today, players ranked No. 60 down to 51 are featured. And for the Denver Broncos, one of their newest players – safety T.J. Ward – checked in at No. 59 on defense.
The voters obviously appreciated Ward’s 112-tackle season for the Cleveland Browns in 2013, a total that included a double-take worthy 11 tackles for loss. But the Broncos were on the hunt for a more physical presence in their defense; guys who play with what executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway calls “that edge.’’
And one of the first targets they zeroed in on, in fact the first guy they signed, was Ward. And they signed him to a four-year, $22.5 million contract with $7 million guaranteed this year ($5 million signing bonus, to go with a guarantee on his $2 million base salary) and his 2015 salary is guaranteed on fifth day of the league year next March.
“All I can say is it was a great feeling, it is a great feeling to come in to a team that was already one of the best teams in the league,’’ Ward said. “... We’re working hard, trying to get that chemistry, but we’re not really going to know what kind of swag we have until we get into the season.’’
But the Broncos see Ward, especially after watching him in the contact work in training camp and the preseason, as a guy who can bring that swag.
The game video shows the Browns chose to use Ward as a down-in-the-box safety almost exclusively, attacking the line of scrimmage. The Broncos like that part of Ward's game to be sure, but have still chosen to broaden his job description some.
They still want him pounding away along the line of scrimmage, but they have used him in coverage as well, bringing that physical edge into the pass pattern. The Broncos' defensive coaches liked his speed and athleticism to do that and believe it gives them more options in how they use Ward.
So, at times he has covered receivers deep down the field and then moved down to weakside linebacker in some of the specialty packages.
“He’s going to do a lot of things for us,’’ said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “We’re always looking for what guys can do, what they can bring to the table so we can maximize everything.’’