Denver Broncos Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama – Round 1
It was shocking when the Broncos took Surtain over Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, but perhaps they believed they would be able to pull off a trade for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps Denver still can still acquire Rodgers, but it looks like a scary proposition to go with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater as the starting options. The Broncos should have drafted Fields regardless of whether or not they could land Rodgers. If they were still able to get Rodgers, they could have traded Fields to another franchise for at least one first-round pick, if not more, and that would have helped to offset the cost of paying for Rodgers. At it stands, Denver took Surtain with the ninth-overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he looks like a safe choice to turn into a good NFL starter.

There is a lot to like about Surtain (6-2, 203) for the next levek, and he looks like he could be a quality starter quickly in his pro career. Surtain has excellent size, possessing a combination of height and length that make it very difficult to get passes around him. Along with height and length, Surtain has developed strength to fight off receivers and maintain good positioning for contested passes. Surtain’s height and length also helps him to have nice recoverability to narrow the space and close the window for completing passes.

Surtain has good feel, instincts, and advanced technique for cornerback. He plays the ball really well, showing impressive ball skills for a defensive back of his size. When Surtain is in close coverage, it can be a dangerous proposition to throw his direction, as he is very capable of getting his hands on the ball to snatch it away or deflect it away from the receiver.

Sources with multiple teams said Surtain has some limitations for the NFL, and his pro defensive coordinator would be wise to have him not match up against smaller speed receivers. Surtain is not a twitchy corner and has some change-of-direction problems. Thus, team sources said Surtain would struggle with receivers like Tyreek Hill, Calvin Ridley and Antonio Brown. Surtain is better suited to lining up on the outside against big receivers and is not a fit to move inside to the slot. Being an outside-only corner is not the end of the world, but it cuts down on Surtain’s versatility for his pro defense. His lack of twitch and change-of-direction issues are common with big corners, and those make him a better fit as a press-man corner.

With the Broncos, Surtain can move into a starting role on the outside across from Kyle Fuller while Ronald Darby lines up in the slot. Surtain’s limitations could keep him from being a boom pick, but he looks like a safe selection to turn into a quality starter.

2020: K.J. Hamler, WR
2019: Drew Lock, QB
2018: Courtland Sutton, WR
2017: Demarcus Walker, DE
2016: Devontae Booker, RB
2015: Jeff Heuerman, TE
2014: Lamin Barrow, LB
2013: Sylvester Williams, DE

Most Likely To Bust

Baron Browning, DT, Ohio State – Round 3
Browning has a great skill set, but he never played up to it at Ohio State, although some of that was not his fault thanks to the Buckeyes playing him out of position. Browning played inside and outside linebacker for Ohio State but NFL teams think he would fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Pro sources say Browning lacks the instincts to play traditional 4-3 middle or outside linebacker. He does, however, possess serious speed off the edge along with the strength and athleticism to rush. Thus, they think he will better off to transitioning to a 3-4. Browning has the skill set to be a starter, but he will need some developmental time while he learns a position.

Denver can give Browning a developmental year thanks to having Bradley Chubb and Von Miller locked in as the starters. Browning might used as a backup to inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson. It could take time for Browning to earn playing time, but more so than the depth chart, his lack of instincts and needing to learn a new position are the issues that make Browning look like the riskiest pick of the Broncos’ early-round selections.

2020: McTelvin Agim, DT
2019: Dalton Risner, OT
2018: Isaac Yiadom, CB
2017: Carlos Henderson, WR
2016: Justin Simmons, S
2015: Ty Sambrailo, OT
2014: Bradley Roby, CB
2013: Montee Ball, RB

Potential Boom Pick

Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina – Round 2
Clearly, the Broncos were in love with Williams to move up for him in the second round. Denver already had a good starter in Melvin Gordon and a 2018 third-rounder Royce Freeman still on the roster, but given the team’s actions, Williams is the running back of the future.

Williams (5-10, 220) is a physical bell-cow back who can be the engine of a tough rushing attack. He has three-down starting potential for the NFL and can overwhelm a defense. With his power, size, and tough rushing style, Williams is a downhill runner who can impose his will through sheer strength. Thanks to his strong build, knee bend, and ability to run behind his pads, Williams breaks a lot of tackles and picks up yards after contact. Defenders really struggle to bring him down at the second level, and it often took multiple tacklers to get him to the turf in college. Williams’ contact balance and strength make him a true power back who can wear out defense. His strength to smash through tackles and push the pile makes him an asset in short-yardage and goal-line situations, with his 2020 touchdown total illustrating his ability to produce in the condensed portion of the field.

Along with his power, Williams has the quickness to hit the hole and a second gear to accelerate to the second level. He is not a burner, but he has good speed for a big back and is capable of ripping off yards in chunks.

In the passing game, Williams shows the ability serve as a receiving-down back. He has quality hands, runs solid routes for a big back, and shows vision and feel to find the soft spots in defenses. Williams will need some work as a blocker and identifying rushers for the NFL, like all college backs, but in time, he could be a good pass protector, helped by his size and strength, to take on blitzing defenders.

Gordon is hitting free agency after this coming season, so Williams will probably take over as Denver’s starter and bell-cow back in 2022. With his size, speed, and physicality, he could be a load. Williams could be a dominating runner in the second half of home games, as the air pressure at Mile High literally makes it hard for defenses to breath. Williams looks like he has real boom pick potential for Denver.

2020: Jerry Jeudy, WR
2019: Noah Fant, TE
2018: Bradley Chubb, DE
2017: Garett Bolles, OT
2016: Paxton Lynch, QB
2015: Shane Ray, LB
2014: Cody Latimer, WR
2013: Quanterus Smith, DE

Future Depth Player

Caden Sterns, S, Texas – Round 5
It would not shock me if Sterns exceeds this projection as a depth player and ends up becoming a starter to replace Kareem Jackson. Denver needs a long-term starter to go with Justin Simmons, and Sterns has the physical skill set to play in the NFL. Sterns put togehter an amazing freshman season and looked like he was going to be a star, but his second and third seasons were underwhelming as the Texas program descended into a dumpster fire with a bad coaching staff that ended up getting fired. The 6-foot, 202-pound Sterns has good speed and athleticism with an ability to cover. Even if Sterns doesn’t become a starter, he could be a quality backup and special teams contributor.

2020: Albert Okweugbunam, TE
2019: Dre’Mont Jones, DT
2018: Daesean Hamilton, WR
2017: Brendan Langley, CB
2016: Connor McGovern, G
2015: Max Garcia, C
2014: Corey Nelson, LB
2013: Kayvon Webster, CB

Walt’s 2021 NFL Draft Grades:

9. Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama – B Grade
The Broncos loved Justin Fields, so this selection might suggest that they’ll be trading for Aaron Rodgers – and perhaps Surtain will be part of the package. Cornerback isn’t a big immediate need for the Broncos, but they have Kyle Fuller signed on for just one year, so the position would need to be addressed soon. If Surtain goes to the Packers, it’ll be a huge upgrade across from Jaire Alexander, and I would boost the grade to an A-.

35. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina – C Grade
I’m not a fan of first-round running backs, as none of the picks over the past decade at that position have done well (see my study on the 2021 NFL Draft Day 2 Preview, and this is close enough for me not to be a huge fan either. I don’t hate this pick because there was some argument for Javonte Williams to be the first running back off the board, but the Broncos could have gotten a complement for Melvin Gordon in the next couple of rounds.

98. Quinn Meinerz, G, Wisconsin-Whitewater – B Grade
The Broncos will need to make sure the offensive line is pristine for Aaron Rodgers to give him the best chance to win the Super Bowl. Quinn Meinerz should help in that regard. He had an amazing Senior Bowl, showing that he can compete with the top athletes entering the NFL Draft.

105. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State – B Grade
I’ve had Baron Browning pegged near the bottom of the third round, so the range makes sense for Baron Browning, who is a high-upside player. He’s big, fast and athletic, but he lacks instincts and is raw. The Broncos have needed linebacker help for quite some time, so perhaps Vic Fangio can coach up Browning into becoming a quality starter.

152. Caden Sterns, S, Texas – A Grade
Caden Sterns is a great athlete who had a tremendous start to his Texas career, but an injury derailed his collegiate career. This is a great value pick because if Sterns gets healthier, he could perform like he did in his early days at Texas.

164. Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana – F Grade
Another safety? Why? I liked the Caden Sterns pick, but Jamar Johnson is not only redundant, but also a reach as well because I didn’t have him in any of my mock drafts.

219. Seth Williams, WR, Broncos – A Grade
The Broncos obviously didn’t need a receiver … unless Jerry Jeudy is part of the package to trade for Aaron Rodgers! If not, Williams is just a great value pick. He’s a big receiver with solid athleticism, and he should have gone a couple of rounds earlier than this.

237. Kary Vincent Jr., CB, LSU – A Grade
Bryce Callahan hasn’t been able to stay healthy consistently, so the Broncos did well to find a possible replacement. Kary Vincent Jr. was someone I pegged in the fifth round, so I’m a fan of this value.

239. Jonathon Cooper, DE/OLB, Ohio State – B Grade
I mocked Jonathon Cooper 10 picks later than this, so the value makes sense to me. The Broncos had to find edge-rushing depth, especially considering Von Miller’s off-the-field issues. Cooper could contend to start once Miller leaves the team.

253. Marquiss Spencer, DT, Mississippi State – B+ Grade
Marquiss Spencer makes sense to me as a seventh-round prospect. The Broncos needed defensive line depth after what occurred in November last year when Denver had a slew of injuries on the front. Spencer is a great athlete with nice upside.

2021 NFL Draft Team Grade: A-. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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