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3&O with Zach Gartin: How can the Broncos rebuild their defense in the 2021 Draft?

Which defenders makes the most sense?

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While the Broncos search for a new GM hangs over everything, at some point the front office is going to need to turn their attention to the 2021 draft. Thanks for some bad breaks, poor play, and injuries, the Broncos currently have the ninth pick in the first round. With glaring needs on defense as well as questions about the starting quarterback, Denver could go a number of directions.

To get a better handle on some of the decisions the new general manager will face, I’ve been keeping an eye on every mock draft under the sun for awhile now. One scenario I’ve been very intrigued by is what the Broncos will do if four quarterbacks go before their first selection. When Blitzalytics’ Zach Gartin explored the a scenario, I had to pick his brain.

1st and 10

I see in your latest mock draft you gave the Broncos Patrick Surtain II. Could you elaborate on how he wins? How does his tackling look?

Gartin: Patrick Surtain II (or PS2 as I affectionately call him) won’t wow you with his athleticism or how he fills the stat sheet, but he is probably the most consistent corner in this class. PS2 is rarely out of position and consistently is in phase with the WR. His length and patience at the line of scrimmage make him very good in press man, never really getting beat. He’s very well-coached and he never panics, no matter the situation. His ball skills are the weakest part of his game in coverage, and those are still decent at worst.

Surtain is also probably the best tackler at CB in this class. He fills off the edge against the run pretty well, and when he squares you up in the open field, you are going down. This can probably be contributed to Alabama putting Surtain in a lot of special teams situations. Overall, Denver would be getting a polished and consistent corner who I believe can come in on day one and be a solid contributor for Fangio and the Broncos.

2nd and 6

I noticed Jaycee Horn goes right after the Broncos pick. As someone who’s only just getting into this draft class, I’ve seen his name a ton this year. What makes him a lesser fit for the Fangio defense?

Gartin: It’s mostly a playstyle decision for the Broncos here. Jaycee Horn is an extremely talented corner, but South Carolina has been employing him as a pure man-to-man guy for most of these past two seasons. That has limited his development in zone and man-match coverages, especially as Horn’s eyes are concerned. They can be a bit undisciplined at times, especially when sitting in space. Another thing that I know about Fangio is that he loves CBs that can tackle, and PS2 edges out Horn in that category. While both are extremely talented players, I believe that Surtain’s experience in man-match zones and his tackling ability make him a better fit for Fangio than Jaycee Horn.

3rd and 3

Outside of corner, most agree that linebacker is the other big need for the Broncos defense. In your mock Micah Parsons isn’t available at nine, but I’m wondering if there’s any Day 2 guys that Broncos Country should be on the look out for?

Gartin: There are a couple of guys, especially in the second and third round, that the Broncos should be looking out for. One of them is UNC’s Chazz Surratt. The former QB has blossomed into a smart and capable LB over the past two years. While Surratt can struggle at the points of attack, he’s rangy and capable in coverage which is where the position is trending anyway.

I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Surratt so far.

Nick Bolton, a slightly undersized LB, is another guy to keep an eye on. The former Mizzou LB attacks downfield with a vengeance and is pretty quick on a line. Bolton also has a really good feel in shallow zones, where he can jump into passing lanes and make plays on the ball. His angles could use work and at times Bolton takes himself out of the play trying to shoot a gap whether then staying disciplined. Teams will love how much of a thumper Bolton is though because when he makes contact, he lays the wood.

4th and inches

There isn’t a first-round QB that really jumps out at me when the Broncos pick at nine, but I’m curious if you believe the new GM should consider the position? Do you think Denver would be wise to consider a trade up, or can they afford to give Drew Lock another year and look to 2022 if everything goes south?

Gartin: I don’t think the Broncos trade up to try and find a quarterback. While Lock hasn’t been great this year, this Bronco’s offense has been wracked with injuries and the short offseason certainly didn’t help him. If Vic Fangio feels like his job is safe (and it most likely will be if he gets to pick his GM) I would bet the Broncos stick with Lock. Now if somehow Trey Lance or Zach Wilson falls to nine, I’d expect the Broncos to have a long and hard conversation about who to select.

Now, I’m all for giving Drew Lock one more year or some late-round competition (i.e. Kellen Mond or Desmond Ridder). It not only gives Drew Lock one more year to figure it out, but it gives the new GM one year to evaluate the entire roster to determine if it’s time to restart. I don’t think the Broncos should be all that worried if they don’t get a QB in this class anyway. The 2022 QB class has some very intriguing names like Sam Howell, Spencer Rattler, Kedon Slovis, and others.

Extra Point

Outside of the big names, who are some other players that you’re high on in this class? Who are people sleeping on?

Gartin: Ambry Thomas, the corner from Michigan, is one player I really like and think Denver fans should keep an eye on. He’s not an astounding athlete, but if he is there in the 4th or 5th round, Denver could get an instant contributor on defense who can be a solid CB2 in the NFL for years to come. Two other names that Broncos Country should keep an eye on are Tyree Gillespie (if Justin Simmons isn’t resigned) from Missouri and Shaka Toney from Penn State.

Gillespie would give Denver a versatile Safety who can play at any level of the field at a good level, while Toney would give Denver’s EDGE group some depth and extra explosiveness. Victor Dimukeje an EDGE from Duke, is another name to keep an eye on, especially in the 4th and 5th rounds.