Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson will soon be competing to make the Broncos roster.
But first, the two safeties congratulated each other. Sterns, from Texas, and Johnson, from Indiana, trained together in Arizona in preparation for the NFL draft. Little did they know they'd both be heading to Denver and selected only 12 picks apart — Sterns going at 152, Johnson at 164.
"We’re all close. I was happy for him," Johnson said. "We’re all in a group chat texting Caden congratulations. It's really good for me to go in knowing two rookies on the team already. We already had a brotherhood in Arizona, but we are about to take it to Denver now."
Taking a safety was a necessary move by the Broncos, with 32-year-old Kareem Jackson on a one-year deal and backups P.J. Locke and Trey Marshall hardly seeing the field. But few thought they'd take two, especially so close to each other.
The two will likely compete over the next year for Jackson's starting spot. Both were also quick to point out Jackson's counterpart, Justin Simmons, who became the highest-paid safety in the NFL this offseason.
"I look up to Justin Simmons and I watch his film all the time. To be able to learn from him is going to mean a lot," Sterns said. "The way that he makes plays out of the post. He has a lot of range and is versatile as well. He’s in the box a lot. You can just put him anywhere and he is going to be around the football. He’s a good player and I literally watch him all the time. He's somebody that I try to model my game after. I'm blessed to be able to have somebody in front of me like that to be a mentor to me.”
Sterns and Johnson are held in high regard. Sterns was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Texas out of high school and was named the Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. He totaled 173 tackles, eight passes defensed and five interceptions in three seasons.
Johnson wasn't as highly recruited, but grew into one of the best safeties in the Big Ten, earning first-team all-Big Ten honors in 2020. He totaled 69 tackles, five passes defensed and seven interceptions in three seasons.
Both, though, said their biggest weakness is tackling.
“I'm a ballhawk, but I need to clean up my tackling," Johnson said. "Everything else is see-ball, get-ball. As a DB, the ball is the most important thing. I'm just going out to get as many picks and to get the ball back for the offense. It gives our team a better chance to win.”
Coach Vic Fangio was happy about both picks, as he hasn't had almost any safety depth since his arrival in Denver.
Fangio said of Sterns: "Went in there and had a good season or two early in his career, not as good this past season. So he slipped a little bit. But we're hopeful we can get him turned back around and playing up to his potential and his ability."
Fangio said of Johnson: "He's a guy that play good, didn't tackle as well as he should have all the time, which I think he alluded to with you guys. But we like his talent, his potential and his ability."
Fangio has been a big advocate for adding defensive backs this offseason — they signed two in free agency and drafted four more. He got his cornerback in the first round in Alabama's Patrick Surtain II and he got his safeties in Sterns and Johnson.
"We'll see," Fangio said. "It'll be good competition between those two guys and the other safeties that are already on the roster."