In 2022, Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II followed up a promising rookie debut with a dominant sophomore campaign, culminating in first-team All-Pro honors and Pro Bowl recognition.
With that being said, ESPN's Seth Walder ranked the top 100 most valuable players of the 2022 season. Walder's picks are seen through the lens of reading through the entire list of 100 players to get the MVP award. Six of his top-10 picks were quarterbacks.
Surtain checked in at No. 28, which ranked him as the third-highest cornerback on Walder's list, behind James Bradberry at No. 19 and Sauce Gardner at 20. Broncos defensive captain Justin Simmons — a second-team All-Pro selection this season — came in at No. 64 on the same list, which ranked as the third-highest safety on the list.
Surtain ranked ahead of cornerbacks Darius Slay, Jaycee Horn, Tyson Campbell, Tariq Woolen, Jaire Alexander, DJ Reed, and Marlon Humphrey. Walder dished on his decision to put Surtain at 28.
Measuring defensive backs partly requires evaluating the absence of action because deterring targets is a skill. That's exactly what Surtain did. With a 12.5% target rate that was a league-low among corners, no one forced opposing QBs to look another direction more than Surtain.
While Surtain is a versatile piece and a blue-chip player any defensive coordinator can build a defense around, it can be argued that he doesn't quite fit the definition of a shutdown corner, and ranking so high may cause a few raised eyebrows, despite the All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition. While Surtain is not targeted often, he can improve by allowing fewer completions when he is the primary defender in coverage and challenging more at the catch point.
Surtain allowed 45 completions on 77 targets at a 58.4% completion rate. He allowed 468 receiving yards, with 360 of them being air yards, and was responsible for relinquishing four touchdowns. He had two interceptions, and quarterbacks throwing into his coverage had an 82.6 rating.
As a comparison, per Pro Football Reference, Bradberry allowed 39 completions on 86 targets at a 45.3% completion rate. He allowed just 382 yards and was responsible for one touchdown but had three interceptions. Quarterbacks throwing into Bradberry's coverage had a paltry 51.6 rating.
Meanwhile, Gardner allowed 46 completions on 86 targets at a 53.5% completion rate. He allowed 452 yards and allowed one touchdown but had two interceptions. Quarterbacks throwing into his coverage had a 62.7 rating.
Woolen allowed 34 completions on 66 targets at a 51.5% completion rate. He relinquished 419 yards and three touchdowns but had six interceptions. Quarterbacks throwing into his coverage had a putrid 48.7 rating.
It must be said that the value of a cornerback, and wherever they might rank on a postseason list, is more a product of the synergy of the pass rush and the ability of the coverage to hold up. It's no coincidence that Surtain's (relative) struggles toward the end of the season — following the trade of Bradley Chubb — were linked to a pass rush that did not generate pressure consistently enough down the stretch.
There were some plays where more of the blame can be attributed to Surtain, however. The Broncos' defense was designed to 'bend but not break,' so limiting those touchdowns and finishing next season strong will help Surtain climb these lists in the future.
Another aspect will be Surtain's performance against the receivers in a tricky AFC West — which includes the likes of Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams. That being said, it will be interesting to see how Surtain fares in Year 3.
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