Did the Broncos draft the next Champ Bailey when they acquired Patrick Surtain II?
It may seem far-fetched in the early days of his career, but there’s a definite possibility George Paton’s first draft pick has a similar impact for the secondary as Von Miller’s had for the front seven. With his combination of athleticism, instincts and technique, the Alabama corner could quickly become a dominant boundary defender. He was born for this.
To get a little more insight on the Broncos’ first round draft pick, I reached out to Parker Simmons, who had the pleasure of watching Surtain go from the best corner recruit in the 2018 class to the best defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft. A Broncos and Bama fan, Simmons gave us the lowdown on Jerry Jeudy around this time last year.
1st and 10
Do you think Surtain was a good choice for the Broncos?
Simmons: I understand why some in Broncos Country were a bit puzzled by using a top 10 pick on a corner when Denver had literally just signed both Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby this offseason. However, with Fuller and Bryce Callahan both becoming Unrestricted Free Agents after this season, it makes a lot of sense not to worry about the DB depth this year and just take BPA - Best Player Available. Which is exactly who Patrick Surtain II is.
As an Alabama/Broncos fan, this is the second year in a row I did a little dance in my living room on the night of the First Round of the NFL Draft, and it’s not just because Elway and company (thanks Paton!) finally started drafting ‘Bama players.
Surtain is that good. If you reference his stats, they simply don’t do him justice, although I don’t think anyone would scoff at 116 tackles, 24 pass deflections, and four interceptions in a three-year career playing the best of the best at the collegiate level. This past fall, nobody threw the ball in his direction.
He was the definition of a lock-down cornerback. I’ve seen some good corners come through Tuscaloosa recently - Kareem Jackson (shout-out), Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick - none of them took on the mantle of the No. 1 outside corner the way Surtain did this past season. Minkah was special because he played every position in the secondary at an ‘A’-level, but Surtain mastered the art of being the Guy on one side of the field.
The 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Jim Thorpe award finalist was a major reason why Alabama righted the ship defensively after a (relative) drop-off on that side of the ball the year before. The Crimson Tide, for all of its offensive glory in 2020, isn’t the undefeated, defending national champion without Patrick Surtain.
So yes, it was absolutely a good choice for the Broncos. Surtain is the best defensive player in this year’s draft class. Thanks for passing on him, Carolina!
2nd and 8
One thing that stood out to me about Surtain as a prospect is how he found his way to the field quickly and he quickly asserted himself as a shutdown corner. What else stands out to you about his time with the Tide?
Simmons: I guess I kind of answered this already, but really, what stands out the most about Surtain is that he didn’t stand out very often. By that I mean you never heard his name called on the broadcast, because no one was going to challenge him. Go to YouTube and watch any highlight of his, and you’ll find him in the pocket of every receiver that was thrown his way.
As you mentioned, Surtain was tossed into the deep end when he stepped onto campus in 2018, because the Tide had lost its top six DBs from the previous year’s National Championship team. Now, he wasn’t a shut-down guy immediately by any stretch (CeeDee Lamb really humbled him in the playoffs that year), but the talent and raw skills were obvious for a 19-year-old freshman. He put in the work to become the superstar corner that he is today.
And he is exactly that.
I fully expect Surtain to be an All-Pro cornerback in his prime. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Surtain is a big, physical corner that can play both the boundary and the field. He’s excellent at setting the edge in the run game when necessary. He has tremendous ball skills that erase the few foolish passes that come his way. The fact that he could be playing dime this year in Denver is insane. The Broncos’ secondary is loaded.
Watched some of freshman Asante Samuel JR early today. Now Bama freshman Patrick Surtain Jr putting his talents on display. 6’2” five star recruit, patient at the LOS. Nice little stab. Didn’t panic when WR had a half step. Got in phase, head around, knocks ball away. Not bad. pic.twitter.com/jQiwzhrocT— Crocky (@eric_crocker) November 4, 2018
3rd and 5
Is there anything you can tell us about Surtain off the field? Most know his dad played for the Dolphins and Chiefs, but I think most in Broncos Country would love to know more about the man behind the facemask.
Simmons: I don’t know a ton about his dad and who he is as a person, but I’d imagine he’s one hell of a stand-up guy because he raised his son the right way. Surtain is a “pro’s pro,” as people in the industry like to say. He’s as no-nonsense as they come at the age of 21. He’s mostly soft-spoken and definitely someone who prefers to lead by example. Not to the extent that Jerry Jeudy is, but certainly enough to illicit everyone’s attention if he does have something to say. Nick Saban has credited Surtain as having, “a maturity about him that’s beyond his years”. Former great players’ sons can go one way or another, usually either entitled or incredibly well-driven, and Surtain is undoubtedly the latter. He’s a good kid, and it’s no mistake that he has been as successful as he has in his career.
4th and Inches
The Broncos have quite a few corners, which makes the road to a starting job cloudy. Do you think Surtain can play in the slot? Could he contribute to the special teams?
The one area Surtain didn’t play a ton of in college was the slot, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out. With Fuller and Darby almost certainly manning the outside corner positions this year, Surtain may not make a huge impact in his rookie season. But who knows, maybe one of those two play inside in dime sets and let Surtain play on the outside?Maybe Surtain balls out in the slot as much as he has on the boundary or field. Hell, I thought Michael Ojemudia showed flashes on the outside this past year too, so it’s not like his spot in the rotation is even a given. I can’t state enough how loaded this secondary is.
Surtain will almost certainly play on every Special Teams unit the coaching staff can get him on if he isn’t going to be spending a ton of time on the field with the defense. Saban’s Alabama teams have always featured star players on the Special Teams units, and Surtain was no exception to that. He played kick cover, hands team, and, of course, punt and field goal block.
Heads up play by Patrick Surtain II. Smart football. pic.twitter.com/9Z5oDETHK9— Crocky (@eric_crocker) March 1, 2021
This is the second consecutive year I’ve spoken with you about a first round draft pick from Alabama, who do y’all have in the pipeline for 2022?
Let’s make this an annual tradition.
Two areas that the Broncos will likely be focusing on in 2022’s Draft will be the offensive line and linebacker, so keep an eye on OT Evan Neal and LB Christian Harris.
Neal is the next in line of Alabama’s strong lineage of massive tackles, and Harris is an inside ‘backer that is built perfectly for the modern game - he plays gaps well in the run game, can rush the passer, and has the speed/quickness to drop into coverage and run with today’s tight ends and slot receivers.
Both will be in the running for All-American status and should be first rounders next April.
Good to speak with you again, Joe. Go Broncos!