He may now be an established All-Pro veteran, but safety Justin Simmons started his professional football career just like everyone else: as a young rookie thrown into the deep end, fighting to keep his head above water in the much bigger, faster and more complex NFL.
Fresh out of Boston College in 2016, Simmons joined a Broncos team that had just won Super Bowl 50 a few months prior. The rookie's first glimpse at the NFL was a locker room full of champions basking in the glory of their recent victory.
Simmons was among the newest faces on a defense that was headlined by All-Pro honorees including safety T.J. Ward, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. and outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. It was a group full of brilliant defensive minds who knew what it took to win at the highest level, and Simmons got to jump right in the middle of it.
As a new kid coming in, Simmons knew that older players approaching contract years will sometimes withhold their knowledge if they view you as a threat to take their job. This wasn't the case with those around Simmons; even though the 2016 third-round pick's potential was clear from the beginning, the Broncos' veteran defensive backs guided him without hesitation, teaching him everything they knew.
"[Learning from them was] really what kind of changed my perspective on what the NFL looks like, what leadership looks like, how you're supposed to lead," Simmons said earlier this season. "They invited me over to watch film constantly, helped me with film study, just helped me from top to bottom on what it looks like to be a pro. That meant a lot to me, because they did it the right way."
The leadership from Ware and the other accomplished defenders on the 2016 Broncos was the blueprint for how Simmons has approached his own leadership style. Now in his seventh year, Simmons is one of the most highly respected and admired players in the organization. The two-time team captain is following in the footsteps of the leaders who came before him, sharing his expertise with every young player that joins the Broncos' defense.
"They did it the right way, and I'd be doing them a disservice if I didn't do that to the younger guys that keep coming into the locker room and I get to play with," Simmons said. "That's just how it's supposed to be."