One of the most underrated pickups of the entire NFL free agency signing period this spring was the Denver Broncos’ addition of Bryce Callahan. The veteran cornerback joined the Broncos on a three-year, $21 million deal.
It didn’t happen right away, as the Broncos focused first on signing defensive back Kareem Jackson and right tackle Ja’Wuan James in the opening days of free agency. Towards the end of week one of free agency, the Broncos inked Callahan.
But don’t mistake the delay as any sort of slight on Callahan. If anything, the only reason he lingered on the market was because of a foot injury that ended his 2018 campaign prematurely.
The Broncos signed a young nickel cornerback just hitting his prime. Callahan is coming off a dominant 2018 season. I don’t throw the ‘D’ word around lightly, but he was just that for Vic Fangio‘s Chicago Bears defense.
According to Pro Football Focus, Callahan ranked first among NFL cornerbacks last year in yards allowed per snap from the slot (0.69 yds/snp). Callahan’s idol of sorts — Chris Harris, Jr. — finished third in the same category.
The Broncos essentially signed a top-10 caliber cornerback on the relative cheap. The team now boasts the league’s top-two nickel corners — or at least the Broncos will, once Harris’ contract dispute gets resolved.
However, the Broncos don’t view Callahan as purely a nickel corner. He’ll get snaps on the outside this year, as evidenced by the reps he’s been getting during OTAs in 11-on-11 team periods.
“It’s been going pretty good,” Callahan said on Tuesday, following Day 2 of OTAs. “I’ve been playing on the outside more and I like it.”
Although Fangio utilized Callahan more as a nickel corner in Chicago, the fifth-year veteran does have experience playing on the outside and despite standing at 5-foot-10, 188 pounds, he relishes the opportunity to play more outside the numbers.
“No, I played some outside in Chicago,” Callahan said. “I was playing corner in college too, so I’m familiar with that background.”
The Broncos have played Harris outside in base defense dating back to 2012. Harris is also 5-foot-10 but he’s a little thicker than Callahan at 199 pounds.
As a former undrafted rookie out of Rice University, Callahan has modeled his game after Harris. For a no-name nickel corner trying to make it in the NFL, Harris is the epitome of success that guys like Callahan have lionized. For what it’s worth, Callahan hopes the Harris situation “gets resolved”.
One thing Callahan brings to the table that Harris, nor any other Broncos’ defender, is experience playing in Fangio’s scheme. Callahan is trying to use his knowledge to help his new teammates soak in the new system.
“Yeah, I feel like that’s one thing I can bring to the defense is kind of knowledge just being there for four years,” Callahan said. “I can kind of help some guys out and make it easier for them.”
Fangio has earned a few different nicknames over the years, depending on the team he’s coached. In San Francisco, he was known as ‘the Wizard of Football’ or ‘Lord Fangio’. In Chicago, Fangio’s players christened him as ‘the Godfather’.
In Denver, fans are hoping Fangio has assembled a ‘Mile High Mafia’ — with Italiano coordinator assistants like DC Ed Donatell and OC Rich Scangarello. Callahan talked about the mafioso mystique Fangio exudes and also why his players play so hard for him.
“I couldn’t even just nail it down,” Callahan said. “It’s just how he carries himself and he’s always straightforward with you. I guess he has a type of mafia background, I don’t know (laughing). I’m just kidding.”
Just because Fangio has a penchant for moving Callahan around the field like a chess piece on the board doesn’t mean the veteran coach doesn’t have a clear plan in place. That’s part of the point of the three-headed cornerback beast the Broncos have assembled.
Harris, Jackson and Callahan can play inside or outside, which is going to make it harder for opposing offenses to isolate matchups and predict what Fangio’s coverages will be.
“I always see him as a defensive mind,” Callahan said. “I kind of see him favoring the defense more. Compared to Chicago, he does have to walk around more and give other stuff attention.”
With Harris still holding out from OTAs, Callahan will have an even more expanded role. The Broncos have taken the training wheels off with regard to his recovery from his foot injury. He’s a full go.
Jackson has been playing more safety than corner, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be permanent. Callahan has a depth chart replete with young corners he can help bring along in the Fangio defense.