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Finding his 'why': How Justin Simmons' has changed on and off the field


After wins and — perhaps more impressively — after losses, safety Justin Simmons almost always knows the right thing to say.

That's one of the reasons Simmons was named the Broncos' 2017 Darrent Williams Good Guy Award winner, an award voted on by the media to honor a player who demonstrates enthusiasm, cooperation and honesty when interacting with the press.

Dealing with the media, though, is only a recent application of Simmons' knack for words. It's a trait he's prided himself on since he was a young kid.

Adults who couldn't express themselves the same way? They just aggravated him.

"I always hated it when I was growing up and parents and family and friends even would tell me there's no words to describe what it's like to be a parent when you hold your child in your arms for the first time," Simmons says. "'Cause I'm a guy that's always believed you can put some type of meaning on any situation." 

Guess who was wrong.

On May 11, Simmons and his wife, Taryn, welcomed their first child — and Laney Rae quickly taught Simmons that some parts of life are harder to quantify than the number of interceptions or tackles he could record in a game.

"You truly can't put it into words," Simmons says. "I was holding my daughter for the first time, and my life changed instantly." 

His football career has, too.

Darian Stewart, who starts alongside Simmons in the defensive backfield, has seen Simmons mature firsthand — and it's for good reason.

"Having a little one," Stewart says, "just gave his why."


Ahead of his second season with the Broncos, Simmons found his words just fine.

As rumors swirled around training camp in 2017 regarding former safety T.J. Ward's potential release, Simmons deferred to the veteran, credited Ward for the help he'd offered and stayed away from any bold statements.

In his first true test in front of the media, Simmons appeared unfazed.

But it was Simmons' play — more so than his words — that gave the front office the confidence to make the move.

As a rookie, the 2016 third-round pick saw limited time until Ward suffered an injury late in the season, but he quickly showed flashes of his potential. 

Simmons started the final three games of the year, recorded two interceptions and showed the front office enough to give them the confidence to move on from Ward before the 2017 season. 

He didn't disappoint. The second-year player started the Broncos' first 13 games of the year before he went on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Simmons maintains that, had the Broncos' been in the playoff hunt, he could've fought his way through the pain. In the minutes he did play, he recorded another pair of interceptions, including a 65-yard pick-six against Miami.

That wasn't good enough for Simmons.

He expects more from himself as he enters his third season, and a Pro Bowl nod is as good a barometer as any for a successful year. 

"Obviously as far as my personal goals, that's at the top of the list," Simmons says. "I want to be a Pro Bowler and I want to stand out individually and make sure I'm doing the right things on the field. With that just comes all of the statistical goals that I had for myself. I need to be a 20-plus ball production guy. So whether that's interceptions, pass breakups, sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries — just being around the football. I just need to be around the ball, and I need to get the ball. That has nothing to do, most times, with anything but effort. There's some interceptions and other things that happen where you're just at the right place at the right time, but nine times out of 10, getting the ball is about effort."

Simmons makes the task sound simple.

Stewart, a 2016 Pro Bowler, makes it sound even simpler.

"He just [needs to] make the plays that come to him," Stewart says. "It's all about everybody doing their job and you making plays in the process. That's how you get there."

Stewart certainly sees the potential for Simmons to make the leap from solid starter to elite player.

"Just playing with him for three years now, I feel like the game has slowed down for him. He's learned from all his mistakes," Stewart says. "I see all the growth, especially from the first year. He's continued to get better, and he's going to be special for a long time."


Simmons is certainly determined to make the most of his opportunity in the NFL.

To hear him tell it, that's what he owes to his family.

He knows the long hours at the facility are a sacrifice — but they're done with his wife and daughter in mind.

"Sacrificing now and playing 10-plus years — which is still a short career — would be amazing to set my family up and be able to provide in that way," Simmons said. "So it's that give and take. My family is obviously way more important, but this is an amazing opportunity for me to provide for them for longevity, not just for the now. I'm super excited to get that done for my family."

That means a better diet and more time in the film room. He's studied the behavior of the team's veterans, and he's applied several of their habits.

One of the biggest lessons? Being a starter doesn't mean he can relax. Quite the opposite.

"I'm still the same guy that approaches the game the same way," Simmons says. "Now that I actually have the spot, it's even more so. Now it's more preparation, now it's more on top of my film. Last year I felt like I was prepared, but I could've been even more prepared had I done a better job of being in my playbook a little more, recognizing things a little bit better. All that comes with experience, and I got that experience. And now, going into Year 3, where things are starting to slow down, it needs to pick back up."

The added work shouldn't be an issue for Simmons. He's fought hard over the better part of a decade.

As a high schooler, Simmons was a three-star player who received just three Power-Five scholarship offers.

He signed his letter of intent with Boston College and battled through a pair of seasons with three wins or fewer. Simmons did make a bowl game as a sophomore and junior, but he never enjoyed the glory that players at Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State enjoyed.

If that mattered to him them, it certainly doesn't now.

"I've never really been one to demean my progress and my process of where I've gone and what I've done," Simmons said. I was very blessed to be able to go to Boston College. Granted, the Alabamas and the Ohio States would've been awesome, but those were schools that weren't looking at me. So yeah, that definitely gave me that chip on my shoulder, that motivation to work harder. It's the same thing in the NFL. I kind of like being the underdog or the guy that's under the radar. Like most guys talk about, you always like betting on yourself and I'm a guy that likes to bet on myself."

When he bets on himself this time, the results will matter much more.

That's the Laney Effect.

And there's no better way to put it.


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