The Denver Broncos took Patrick Surtain II with the 9th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Surtain was seen as a top ten pick and the most polished and NFL ready cornerback in the draft. The question for the Broncos is: when and where will Surtain see the field?
The Broncos defensive secondary is stacked already. This offseason George Paton, the Broncos new GM, worked to acquire Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and retain Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. Also, Bryce Callahan, one of the best slot corners in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus, is back to “one-hundred percent” according to Coach Fangio, after missing the end of last season with another foot injury. Not to mention, Michael Ojemudia, the Broncos 2020 third-round selection who started 11 games last season at corner, is still on the roster. This is a talented and experienced secondary, so it will be tough for a rookie to see any playing time in 2021. Now, for the future, it is easy to see playing time and a role for Patrick Surtain II. Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller are both on 1-year deals and the Broncos most likely will not bring both aging corners back, so Surtain will certainly take one of those starting spots starting next year. However, there are a couple ways in which the young and talented defensive back could see the field in 2021.
As previously mentioned, this group of cornerbacks is talented, but they also have had injury issues in the past. Ronald Darby just played his first full season in his six-year career in 2020, and Bryce Callahan has never played a full season healthy in five years. Even Kyle Fuller, who has mainly been healthy throughout his career, did miss the 2016 season after having arthroscopic knee surgery. So, there is a strong chance that one, or multiple defensive backs miss games this season. That would leave a spot open for Patrick Surtain II to start.
The Broncos play in the same division as six-foot, five-inch Travis Kelce and six-foot, six-inch Darren Waller – two of the best receiving tight ends in football. The Broncos have had trouble facing athletic tight ends for years now. The last time the Broncos defense played the two tight ends in 2020, Kelce had 8 receptions for 136 yard and a touchdown, while Waller had 9 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos clearly struggled and now need an answer for their division foes that they play four times a year. Patrick Surtain II could be the answer. Surtain has good size for a corner at six-foot, two-inches, so he matches up fairly well against the big receiving tight ends size-wise. He also possesses the technique in his game to cover the tough tight ends in one-on-one situations. Fangio does not normally play man coverage very often, but the tight end matchups could allow Surtain to see the field in those one-on-one situations. Like Vic Fangio said when they drafted the Alabama corner back, “As you guys know, we are playing a lot of five defensive backs. A good bit of the time, we play five or more—75 percent to 85 percent of the time.” This could be alluding to using the dime package more often. Fangio also said this of the talented defensive back just Monday, “I think he has some versatility, which we’re going to need to take advantage of.”
Win the Job
There is also a chance that Patrick Surtain II just flat-out wins the starting job at cornerback. It’s tough to know where that would be, and who he would take the job from though. It would be tough to beat out Kyle Fuller, who was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro last time he played under Head Coach Vic Fangio in 2018. Bryce Callahan is also comfortable in Vic Fangio’s scheme after playing in it for the past five seasons and plays extremely well in the slot. Surtain’s best chance would be beating Ronald Darby out for the remaining outside corner position. It would be tough because Darby is an experienced veteran in the NFL and just signed a 3-year, $30,000,000 contract with the Broncos, but there is a possibility that Surtain can show the coaches why George Paton selected the young playmaker with the ninth overall pick.
At Cornerback Depth is Key
Even if Patrick Surtain II does not see the field in a big way in 2021, there is still major value in having him on the roster. You can never have too many cornerbacks in this league. The Broncos saw this first-hand last season. Both A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan were in and out of the lineup all season in 2020. The Broncos were down to signing De’Vante Bausby and Parnell Motley off the practice squad to make starts toward the end of the season. Another reason to have depth at cornerback is that teams are using more and more three and four wide receiver sets, and teams are passing more as well. This means that having more and more cornerbacks on the roster who can cover well is becoming a bigger advantage. Of course, Vic Fangio, possessing one of the smartest defensive minds in the game, understands this well and will most likely find a way to play all of his cornerbacks in 2021.