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Mile High Morning: Justin Simmons picked as NFL's second-best safety by ESPN panel of execs, coaches and players


The Lead

The accolades speak for Justin Simmons. A second-team All-Pro nod in 2019 and a Pro Bowl in 2020 clearly indicate that he should be considered one of the best safeties in the league right now.

But if that's not enough, a panel of NFL executives, coaches and players assembled by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler just named Simmons the second-best safety for 2021, coming in behind only Minkah Fitzpatrick.

"He's a traditional free [safety] who will cover ground and also come down and hit you," an anonymous NFC executive told Fowler. "He might lack the elite athleticism of [Budda Baker or Jamal Adams], but he can play physically, too."

An AFC coach also told Fowler that Simmons excels with his tackling ability, ball skills and a ranginess that allows him to cover wide swaths of the field. And though Fitzpatrick took home the top honors here, several voters picked Simmons over him, Fowler said.

"Some who voted Simmons over Fitzpatrick — and there were more than a few — argue he covers more of the field," Fowler wrote. "They make the case that Pittsburgh's fire-zone scheme helps Fitzpatrick make plays downhill, while Simmons must play a post route as smoothly as a slant. The Steelers would argue Fitzpatrick does all that too, but the word 'complete' gets thrown around with Simmons a lot."

A year ago, Simmons ranked seventh in this list. Given his consistency and his year-over-year improvement, it should be no shock if Simmons is the first name printed on the next edition of this list.

Below the Fold

By the way, Simmons isn't the first Bronco to make one of these position-by-position top-10 rankings this year. Von Miller was No. 6 on the ranking of edge rushers, even in spite of the injury that ended his 2020 season before it began. "He's still the best when he's healthy," an NFC executive told Fowler. "He's No. 1 on my list. His ability to win off the edge with bend is still second to none."

Cornerback Kyle Fuller also earned honorable mention status from the panel. "Really productive in that off coverage, will come down and make plays," an AFC executive said. "He's waiting to take advantage of mistakes."

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