Patrick Surtain II: Possible 2021 Denver Broncos Cornerback

Patrick Surtain II

With the Super Bowl now in the past, all 32 teams are full steam ahead on preparing for the off-season. Unlike many teams in the league, the Denver Broncos are keeping their coaching staff from 2020 for the upcoming season. This move is intended to provide stability for the young roster for the first time in many years. With a new general manager in place, George Paton, the Broncos are now fully turning their attention to the off-season. Most notably, free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Arguably, the most glaring personnel hole in need of an injection of life at the moment is at cornerback. There are three main names at the top of the position in the upcoming draft. Should Denver opt to satiate one of their most pressing needs in the first round this off-season, they could make Patrick Surtain II the first pick of the 2021 Denver Broncos draft class.

Contemplating Patrick Surtain II as a 2021 Denver Broncos Cornerback

State of the Secondary

Heading into the 2020 campaign, the Broncos secondary garnered great expectations from the front office, the fans, and analysts alike. With additions in the front seven, the arrival of veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye, and the healthy return of nickelback Bryce Callahan, this is unsurprising. In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Broncos also spent a third-round pick on rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia.

Unfortunately, Bouye’s play was nothing short of disappointing— when he was on the field, that is. Between injuries and the impending six-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, Bouye did not provide the level of play expected from a player with a contract as lucrative as his. Callahan, on the other hand, put together arguably the best season of his career— in only ten games. With Ojemudia’s surprisingly productive rookie campaign added to the mix, Bouye made himself the odd man out, likely in a literal sense this coming off-season.

Without the veteran presence of Bouye, however, the Broncos will need to add talent at the position if it hopes to compete with the speed and athleticism of the AFC West. To do so, they must utilize an early draft pick at the position for the second consecutive season. Of the rookie cornerbacks in the draft, three names stand out most as possible fits as possible 2021 Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn, and Patrick Surtain II. This installment will examine the lattermost’s fit with Denver.

Patrick Surtain II

Like Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II of Alabama is primed to become a second-generation NFL player. Over the course of 40 games across three years with the Crimson Tide, Surtain accrued 116 tackles, six tackles for loss, 24 passes defensed, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and an interception returned for a score. He received considerable playing time as a freshman at Alabama, which is typically unusual for the program. When one regards Alabama’s reputation as a true farm system for the NFL (44 alumni on opening-day rosters in 2020, more than any other school), Surtain’s achievement is even more impressive.

Strengths

Standing at six feet, one inch tall and weighing slightly above 200 pounds, Surtain is an above-average size cornerback. He shares this trait with both Caleb Farley and Jaycee Horn, however. Notably, he is a proficient tackler with elite athleticism. This makes him a good fit for a scheme where coaches place a premium on tackling. The Broncos and Vic Fangio absolutely fit this description.

His skills with press coverage suggest he would play more effectively as an outside corner on the boundary. He would thrive there because he would not need top-end speed as much as he would lateral quickness, physicality, and closing speed. Were Denver to draft Surtain, it would allow them to line Callahan up in the slot with Ojemudia and Surtain in the faces of receivers on the outside. That is, if Fangio finally relents on the ineffectual cushions.

His style of play suggests he would have projected better in Wade Phillips’s more heavily press-man-based scheme than he does in Fangio’s off-zone scheme. That said, his athleticism, lineage, and versatility would allow him to excel in any number of schemes, and Fangio’s creativity could help Surtain wreak havoc.

Concerns

Surtain’s struggles with Florida’s skill players helped illustrate some of Surtain’s more concerning issues heading into the draft process. Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney are certainly not the easiest players to cover, but it shined a light on Surtain’s more glaring shortcomings. While many pundits have professedly opted to ignore them, it is unreasonable to do so when they are this pressing.

Surtain lacks the top-end speed a defense like Denver’s needs desperately. When combined with his less-fluid-than-optimal hips, this drawback of his frame forces him to give up a number of deep passes. Unfortunately, he would face a seemingly endless onslaught of vertical passing in a division with Patrick Mahomes II and Justin Herbert under center.

Additionally, Denver inexplicably employs extensive cushions for their cornerbacks. This is a facet of the scheme Fangio stubbornly refuses to move on from. Schemes using these kinds of cushions require their cornerbacks to excel in backpedaling. That said, the University of Alabama does not often or effectively coach their defensive backs to backpedal the way other schools do. These shortcomings combine to suggest Surtain is not fully suited for the cushion-heavy zone scheme of Vic Fangio. This is especially arguable when considering the Denver defense’s needs and Surtain’s lack of top-end speed.

Surtain: 2021 Denver Broncos Cornerback

Sadly, there is no consensus whether Surtain is better suited for a man or zone-based scheme. Simultaneously, this gives him a versatility that helps make him a commodity. His physicality, size, and tackling skills make him an ideal Fangio corner. That said, the schematic concerns, lack of top-end speed, and stiffer hips mean his coverage precludes him from being a perfect fit.

Coverage is arguably the most important factor in evaluating a cornerback in a division with the skill players the likes of the AFC West. As a result, this is gravely concerning. He is probably the least fitting cornerback for the Broncos of all three of the top corners in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Last Word

That said, it might be interesting to see if the Broncos can develop him more effectively than Alabama did. If recent defensive backs coach hire Christian Parker’s work with Jaire Alexander is any indication, there is serious potential in this upcoming rookie. The questionable schematic fit still, however, presents a legitimate reason for hesitation, one equal to or greater than Surtain’s potential.

Should the Broncos elect to draft Patrick Surtain II in the first round this off-season, Fangio will need to be at his most creative. It will be his work with the secondary determining any return investment for the pick. His collegiate statistics and performances were certainly noteworthy. That said, a team in a situation like Denver’s is more likely to look elsewhere. Between Farley, Horn, and Surtain, it seems as if their most salient position of need is easy to fill come April.

If they choose to make Surtain a member of the 2021 Denver Broncos, Broncos Country would likely approve of the pick. While he is not the most scheme-fitting rookie corner, his athleticism and intangibles make him an intriguing prospect. Clearly, Paton, Fangio, and company will need to determine what they are looking for in a cornerback.

Then they need to make the moves necessary to acquire that cornerback. Only time will tell which of these three corners—if any—make the cut.

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