DENVER — DeMeco Ryans has emerged as the Broncos’ top target in their coaching search.

Denver has cooled on Sean Payton, whose candidacy has been marked by drama and leaks to the media, and Dan Quinn announced Thursday that he will remain as the Cowboys defensive coordinator to take care of “unfinished business.”

That leaves signs pointing to Ryans in Denver, though the Broncos will have competition from Houston, where he starred as a player. The Broncos cannot talk with the San Francisco defensive coordinator until Monday after the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. Denver first interviewed him last Friday, leaving impressed.

Ryans, 38, brings risk as a first-time head coach. The Broncos last three bosses — Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Nathaniel Hackett — fielded this resume and failed miserably, compiling a 35-63 record. And Ryans would have to create an offensive identity — perhaps by bringing back Gary Kubiak, who coached Ryans in Houston, or someone from the West Coast offensive tree.

Ryans was named the Pro Football Writers of America’s Assistant Coach of the Year after the 49ers ranked first in points allowed per game (16.3), interceptions (20), yards allowed and second in takeaways (30). The points per game represented the team’s lowest since 2011.

What would make Ryans different? I reached out to Broncos safety Kareem Jackson. He played one season with Ryans in Houston.

““He’s a great guy! Was a very smart player and a great leader,” Jackson told Denver7 on Thursday. “I think if they land him he would be a great coach! It is a great situation for both parties. I’d love to play for him.”

Ryans coaches with emotion. Throw on the 49ers highlights and he’s invested with his players, often celebrating on the sidelines. He addressed his style during his presser before the NFC title game.

“I am emotionally involved because I am excited when these guys make plays. I know the work they put in, I know how much effort, how much time, how much sacrifice they put in. And when we go out there on Sunday the whole world gets to see that,” Ryans said.

“I have been seeing it all week and I am just excited for everyone else to see who are guys are. Football is meant to be fun. That’s what football is about, so you have gotta have fun playing football. That’s what our guys do. You see them flying around. They enjoy playing with each other. And that’s what you are going to see on Sunday.”

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