If the Patrick Surtain II pick at No. 9 was a bit of a surprise to many in Broncos Country - and around the league - it was perhaps most surprising to Surtain himself.
Because the Broncos had not made obvious publicity out of their interest in the elite college cornerback.
“I had some communication with the Broncos. It wasn’t a lot, but it was some communication through some parts,” Surtain acknowledged.
But GM George Paton’s interest in the cornerback was communicated very clearly.
After Broncos selected him as their first overall pick.
“We’ve been watching this kid for three years,” Paton said when he introduced the Broncos first overall pick to the media, admitting they tried to hide their interest. “I never spoke with Pat. I never zoomed with him. I told our coaches don’t call him. I told our scouts don’t call, don’t Zoom. I didn’t go to the Alabama pro day. This is a kid we targeted. This is a kid we wanted.”
Paton & Co. were a little surprised Surtain was still on the board with Carolina Panthers taking South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn just ahead of them on Thursday night.
But that gave the Broncos an immediate opportunity to add some weaponry to take on the AFC West’s offensive firepower.
“In our division, with these passing offenses ... you need guys who can cover, who can run, who are big, and they have ball skills,” Paton said just before welcoming Surtain to Broncos Country last Friday.
And it was absolutely Surtain’s size, speed and ball skills that lured Paton and Vic Fangio. As a cornerback at Alabama who started every game, he was targeted just 48 times. Paton noted “you can get bored because they never throw to him.”
“He’s long, he’s athletic. He fits everything Vic wants in a corner,” Paton said. “He can play man; he can play zone, and he can press. He tackles and he’s physical. “You love the movement. For a guy this big, he is always in phase. He’s hard to throw at for quarterbacks. That’s what really resonated.”
One of the critiques by Broncos’ fans not thrilled with the choice of cornerback over quarterback is the concern Broncos wasted their first overall pick on a player who won’t start.
Surtain has a different idea.
“I think that I can come in on Day 1 and make an immediate impact for the team based on my play style and my play traits,” he said. “I can come in and make an immediate impact.”
That’s exactly what Fangio and Paton are counting on. Fangio is famous for saying last year that you can never have too many corners, and then he was proved correct when Denver had to shuffle through 10 of them just to get through the 2020 season.
And given Surtain’s versatility in coverage, it’s likely he sees the field right away. And Surtain is counting on that.
“I think I fit well. I’m an all-around cornerback. I can play both man coverage and zone coverage,” he said. “I’m excited to dive into the playbook understand the scheme and go at it.”
He’s also assessed Fangio’s D pretty well already, calling it “stacked.”
“I can’t wait to compete with those guys at a high level each and every day,” Surtain said. “I’m very excited and I think when it’s all said and done, we are going to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL.”
Having gone against Alabama’s elite offense every day for three years won’t hurt his prep either. Being reunited with former Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy will bring back some friendly competition too.
“We matched up plenty of times when Jeudy was in college. We both had our fair share,” he said when asked who won the matchups more often. “We both competed at a high level. That’s the name of the game. We made each other better. Going against somebody like him, I’m grateful for that. You don’t get many chances to match up with someone like that in practice every day.”
Surtain had clearly done some Broncos homework prior to the presser, having some solid knowledge about Champ Bailey’s time in Denver as well as knowing the No Fly Zone.
“Champ, he was obviously a great corner and an all-time great. I’ve talked to him plenty of times before this. He’s a great person as well,” Surtain noted. As for the No Fly Zone, Surtain has some goals. “That was a great secondary, of course. ...Hopefully we can bring that same type of swagger and mentality back into the defense.”
No argument from Broncos Country there. And in addition to Broncos legends plus elite guys in his locker room to learn from, Surtain perhaps has the best example of all - his dad.
By now you know that Patrick is the second Surtain to play this position in the NFL. His father played corner 11 seasons in the NFL, for the Dolphins and later Chiefs. And Surtain the younger has definitely used his father as a resource and coach since he was a kid.
“Gaining his insight and perspective on things has helped me a lot on the field,” Surtain said in his initial conference call presser. “His game translates a lot into my game. Learning from him and having him teach me his techniques helped shape me up for the next level.”
And while he hears from people that he’s better than his father, Surtain plays it down.
“We talk about it a lot. I don’t try to be too cocky because he did his thing, and I still have to reach him. I’ve got to reach that stepping stone,” he said. “This is just the start for me. It’s a whole new journey and I’m just excited to start and compete.”