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Broncos CB Patrick Surtain II & RB Javonte Williams Land on PFF's Top-25 Rookies of 2021

The Broncos have two of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the NFL.

The Denver Broncos are once again sitting at home watching the NFL playoffs. However, despite not making it to the big dance for a sixth straight season, things around Dove Valley feel like they're trending in the right direction. 

Denver does have uncertainty in many key spots like quarterback, head coach, and even ownership, but don’t fault Broncos Country for having some optimism entering Year 2 of George Paton’s tenure as general manager.

Perhaps fans are still somewhat in the honeymoon phase with Paton. Denver is without a solution at quarterback with questions along both sides of the line of scrimmage. 

However, with ample draft capital and cap space and not a lot of big-time, young contributors hitting free agency this offseason, there is reason to believe Denver is still very much the 'sleeping giant' Paton described shortly after he was hired a year ago.

Until the Broncos the quarterback position squared away, though, they will be hard-pressed to compete in a division that boasts high-caliber QBs like Justin Herbert, Derek Carr, and Patrick Mahomes. Even still, while Denver needs its signal-caller, winning it all in the league requires the overall talent of a roster. 

The best way to build a good team? Draft and develop.

After being ranked the No. 2 2021 rookie class from Pro Football Focus, the accolades for the Broncos keep on coming as the team finished with two of the top-25 rookies from this past season.

Checking in as the 16th-best rookie after his first season in the league, the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft — cornerback Patrick Surtain II — is a rising star in the NFL. Here's what PFF's Anthony Treash wrote

Making the jump from college to the NFL is tough for cornerbacks. Just ask Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, who went from allowing 901 yards as a rookie in 2020 to allowing just 200 yards in 2021.

Surtain was seemingly unaffected by the dreaded learning curve, though. After a few poorly graded games in the first quarter of the season, the Bama product has stepped up and been a legitimate CB1 for Denver. Since Week 7, he is one of the 25 highest-graded players at the position and has allowed more than 60 yards in coverage just once this season. He leads the rookie class in pass breakups plus interceptions with 12.

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Given the Broncos' struggles scoring points as well as how banged up and ineffective the pass rush was this season, 16 feels like a low ranking for Surtain especially based on how incredible he looked on tape. Expect the coverage grades to catch up as Surtain continues to grow and develop into one of the best defensive backs in football over the next few seasons.

While cornerback is typically a position that takes young players entering the league a few years to grow and master at the NFL level, the Broncos found another rookie on PFF’s top-25 list on the opposite end of the developmental curve.

No position is as plug-and-play from college to the league as that of the running back. If anything, running backs are as talented and valuable on their rookie contracts as at any point in their careers. 

Given how much of a physical toll playing running back takes on one’s body, it’s no wonder the younger, healthier running backs tend to hit the ground running. This was the case for Broncos’ second-round pick Javonte Williams, who earned the final spot on PFF’s list at 25 overall.

Williams is an angry runner. His 0.31 missed tackles forced per attempt as a rookie — the highest in the NFL — backs that up. While running back isn’t an overly valuable position, Williams made a substantial mark among his counterparts in Year 1 in the NFL by ranking 13th at the position in PFF WAR generated.

Williams came into the league after playing in a timeshare backfield along with Michael Carter at North Carolina, so arriving in Denver to split carries with Melvin Gordon was likely a good plan by Denver. With Gordon now a free agent, how Williams will handle a far larger workload is one of the key questions surrounding Denver’s offense entering next season. 

Can Williams be an efficient back on a down-to-down basis shouldering more of the load? That remains to be seen, but Williams is in his prime right now so the Broncos will need to make sure they can maximize their return on investment while Williams is on his rookie contract.

The Broncos will continue to meander around the league’s mediocre squads until the team finds a viable answer at quarterback. However, with how Paton drafted his first year, if and when Denver does gear up and make a splash at the quarterback spot, expect the Broncos to be ready to compete quickly — especially given the depth and talent Paton has added via his 2021 draft class.


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