With the ninth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select...
... The answer varies depending on who you ask and is the relentless subject of speculation across the NFL landscape. Countless mock draft simulations are analyzed and evaluated by scouts, coaches, and fans alike.
Then there's the perpetual news cycle that features disgruntled Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson front and center. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Thursday that Seattle's Russell Wilson has also expressed specific teams that he’d prefer if the Seahawks traded him. With all these dominoes poised to fall, the draft comes on the heels of it, and the Broncos can ill-afford to swing and miss in George Paton’s first draft as GM.
With the Broncos sitting at pick No. 9, there are potentially three 'generational' prospects that could fill roster needs and feasibly be within Paton's striking distance. Let's break it down.
Zach Wilson | QB | BYU
The draft stock of BYU's 6-foot-3, 210-pound signal-caller has been red-hot. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah recently projected Wilson as not only the second QB off of the board, but the second player selected in the first round.
Prior to arriving at BYU, the Utah native was a three-star recruit with offers from California, Oregon State, Minnesota, Iowa, and Boise State. He was an honor roll student that also played varsity basketball and was runner-up for Utah's Mr. Football.
As a freshman at BYU, Wilson’s first start against Hawaii in 2018 made him the youngest QB to start for the Cougars. He went on to throw for 1,578 yards, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions, and scored two touchdowns on the ground. Wilson proved he has a powerful arm and is equally as dangerous on the ground with his quick feet.
At the end of his freshman season, Wilson had surgery on his right shoulder where he first sustained an injury to his labrum in high school that worsened at BYU. But just as he promised, Wilson returned to start nine games for BYU as a sophomore and threw for 2,382 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and three rushing touchdowns.
Even after surgery, he showed exceptional accuracy in all facets of the passing game (short, mid, deep). Wilson has the ability to not only buy time with his feet but throw receivers open demonstrating impeccable timing. As a Junior in 2020, Wilson dominated the college football landscape, finishing eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting and producing a career year with 3,692 yards passing, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions, and 10 rushing touchdowns.
In his final college game against UCF, Wilson showed NFL scouts and coaches that he’s the real deal. The highlight throw of this game was a go-route that exhibited his razor-sharp accuracy and undoubtedly revealed NFL caliber throws. It was also his pocket awareness and designed TD-run that earned him the MVP of the 2021 Boca Raton Bowl.
So why in the world is Wilson considered within Denver's reach at pick 9?
The answer is simple. Teams move mountains for QBs they love. There isn’t a price too expensive or a bridge too far if a team deems a signal-caller to be the leader of its NFL franchise, and check the box of the most important position in professional sports. The fact of the matter is, if the Broncos have the draft capital to become the favorite to land Watson, they can absolutely trade up in the first round.
For me, Wilson is the best QB not-named Trevor Lawrence in this draft class. There’s a reason that the scouting community is whispering elements of Patrick Mahomes to Wilson’s game. It was just a year ago at the Shrine Bowl that I learned teams preferred Justin Herbert to Tua Tagovailoa.
And yes, I can already hear the distasteful outrage some will have for including Wilson on this list of 'generational' talents. However, I’d challenge fans to try and remove their own personal draft preferences and instead try to imagine which prospect makes the most sense for the Broncos, even if it’s not a popular opinion.
Micah Parsons | LB | Penn State
At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, the Pennsylvania native is considered to be the premier linebacker in this year’s class. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. mocked Parsons to Denver due to the Broncos’ desperate need for a three-down linebacker.
After being recruited by perennial powerhouse Alabama and head coach Nick Saban in high school, Parsons chose to play for the Nittany Lions. As a freshman, he led the team in tackles with 82 tackles (47 solo), 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. His innate ability to accelerate laterally makes him a sideline-to-sideline linebacker with advanced diagnosis skills.
In his 2019 sophomore season, Parsons played even better and recorded 109 tackles (52 solo), 14 tackles for a loss, five sacks, five passes defended, four forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Prior to the cancellation of Penn State’s 2020 season, Parsons opted out amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parsons is an athletic, physical, and disruptive defender. His anticipatory pre-snap reads allow him to consistently be around the football and in the mix. Although his size allows him to emphasize his hard-hitting nature in the box, Parsons has exceptional closing speed in the flat.
According to Pro Football Focus, Parsons' rare combination of size and speed make him the closest prototypical 'backer since seven-time All-Pro Luke Kuechly out of Boston College in 2012. Parsons' versatility and willingness to crash into rushing plays, in addition to covering tight ends and running backs, will allow him to play in multiple defensive fronts. He leaves ‘Linebacker U’ as an All-American and Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year in the Big Ten.
Although he seems like a no-brainer his over-aggressiveness on the field has led to character concerns off the field. Multiple reports examine hazing incidents in addition to altercations. However, Parsons graduated from Penn State as a junior with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology and maintained a 3.0 GPA.
His preparation and study habits are continually echoed in the scouting community, and the film backs it up. If Parsons can be paired with the linebacker whisperer Vic Fangio, Denver could be an ideal landing spot for the dynamic defender.
Patrick Surtain II | CB | Alabama
Along with Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Surtain is considered to be at the top of his class in the defensive backfield. Experts like ESPN’s Todd McShay and NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks have recently mocked Surtain to Denver.
The 20-year-old Florida native played high school football for his father Patrick Surtain Sr. (three-time NFL Pro Bowler). As a freshman at Alabama, Surtain II saw immediate action in 2018 as he started 12 games and totaled 37 tackles (28 solo), seven passes defended, one interception, and one forced fumble.
His height and length make him an ideal perimeter corner, allowing him to prevent separation in coverage. In his sophomore campaign, Surtain earned 2019 All-American honorable mention honors with 42 tackles (32 solo), eight passes defended, two interceptions, one fumble recovery, and three forced fumbles.
He has natural instincts and uses his knowledge of the route tree to his advantage. Surtain has the ability to recover and close space, in addition to consistently contesting the ball.
In 2020, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year played exceptionally well amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Surtain II was the Defensive MVP of the 2021 Rose Bowl and concluded his collegiate career totaling 116 tackles (82 solo), six tackles for losses, 24 passes defended, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one scored touchdown.
Surtain is an exceptionally physical corner that makes it very difficult for WR’s to separate. He thrives in press-man coverage but still has a vast knowledge of zone coverage schemes.
As a large defensive back, he’s also a willing participant in the run game, something Coach Fangio demands from his corners on a 'non-negotiable' basis. Surtain’s exceptional football acumen and understanding of route concepts allow for supreme awareness and potential turnovers.
He is one of multiple prospects in this year’s draft class that are considered ‘legacy' players as the sons of fathers who once played in the NFL. But, Surtain II is undoubtedly the most NFL-ready among them.
His sticky coverage frustrates opponents, as he does not allow significant yards after the catch. However, Surtain doesn’t have top-end speed and film study shows that he can sometimes struggle while transitioning his hips.
The Broncos are dangerously thin at corner and with question marks surrounding the future of safety Justin Simmons, the most sensible move for Denver would be to draft Surtain at pick 9. A young player with loads of potential, there’s the perception in the scouting community that Surtain's professional approach and skills could lead to a long career in the NFL.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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