Not too long ago, the Denver Broncos’ roster was a serious work in progress and unlikely to be considered desirable to the outside world.
The post-Peyton Manning era hasn’t been kind to the Broncos in the standings, but management has been pretty judicious in stacking solid draft picks in consecutive seasons. Former general manager John Elway had a spotty track record during his time as shot-caller (2011-2019), as for every Von Miller first-round choice (the pinnacle of Elway’s draft ledger), it was matched by five Paxton Lynch-type picks.
Finishing With a Flourish
Elway’s final few seasons featured some great hits, though. The current foundation of the Broncos is sturdy, thanks to some high-round selections, like free safety Justin Simmons (third round, 2016), left tackle Garett Bolles (first, 2017), outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (first, 2018), tight end Noah Fant (first, 2019) and wideout Jerry Jeudy (first, 2020). Wide receiver Courtland Sutton (second, 2018) and left guard Dalton Risner (second, 2019) were also recent gems. Simmons, Bolles, Chubb and Sutton have all blossomed into Pro Bowl players, of course, while Fant, Jeudy, and Risner are rising stars at their respective positions.
Enter George Paton
Elway stepped down from his post in January 2021, and soon after tabbed former Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager Paton as the new man in charge — free of any Elway meddling, although the Broncos legend will still be considered the boss as president of football operations.
Paton immediately put his imprint on the roster, taking off where Elway left off, as his 2021 draft has all the makings of something special. Patrick Surtain II was taken with the ninth pick and had an impressive summer for the Broncos. Surtain, whose nickname is “PS2,” has squelched some of the noise from Broncos Country lamenting the selection because of their desire to instead draft a quarterback. The murmurs will likely never go away, but if Surtain II keeps ascending — and Hall of Famer Champ Bailey continues to preach the rookie’s on-field virtues — then there’s not much more dissenters can say.
Paton wasn’t done with just the Surtain pick, however, as he traded up in the second round to select running back Javonte Williams. The former University of North Carolina star could very well unseat incumbent Melvin Gordon, and has garnered some high praise from teammates.
And there’s even a mid-round pick (guard/center Quinn Meinerz) and a late-round pick (edge rusher Jonathon Cooper) who are more than just interesting backstories — they’re legitimate ballers who can provide immediate help if their numbers are called. Meinerz is a Division-III draftee with a catchy nickname, fun persona, and viral pre-draft workout video, while Cooper has overcome a heart condition to become a legit pass rusher for the Broncos one day. The former Ohio State star discovered he had an irregular heartbeat as a high school freshman and had two cardiac ablations before even stepping foot on the OSU campus. He’s overcome a lot to reach this level, and now he’s making Paton look like a genius by taking a flier with the 239th pick.
Poachers Are Lurking
The draft hasn’t been the only way Paton has stockpiled the roster, as he’s also made some shrewd moves via free agency. The secondary, in particular, has been rebuilt. Paton has not only added Surtain, but he also brought back valuable strong safety Kareem Jackson, and added cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. Darby, for one, thinks the Broncos can bring back a 2.0 version of the “No Fly Zone,” saying in a June 16, 2021, interview that his unit can “definitely be the best [secondary in the league].”
Paton has stacked so much talent that teams around the league are monitoring the Broncos’ transactions. Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post tweeted that the Baltimore Ravens should be of particular interest in Denver’s depth chart, considering their woes in the secondary.
Star cornerback Marcus Peters may have suffered a season-ending ACL tear during a September 9 Ravens practice.
Like O’Halloran noted, the Broncos particularly have a nice surplus in the secondary and backfield. And if teams do come lurking, the good thing is that the Broncos are finally in a position of power when it comes to negotiating deals.
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8