While the Denver Broncos are on their way to Dallas to face the Cowboys, general manager George Paton is on his way to Oxford, Mississippi to take a look at what the future may hold.
Paton, the first-year general manager, said that even though he traded legendary linebacker Von Miller, November 1, the franchise was still playing for the now, and still believes the Broncos are “in the thick” of the playoff race.
ALL the latest Broncos news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Broncos newsletter here!
Still in it
The Broncos (4-4) are indeed still in the thick of postseason contention, not only in the Wild Card chase, but for AFC West supremacy, as well. Denver — along with a handful of other teams — is just a half-game out of the final Wild-Card spot, trailing the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3), the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3), and the Broncos’ AFC West rival, the Los Angeles Chargers (4-3). And they’re only 1.5 games out of first place in the AFC West, so Paton’s hopes and expectations are valid.
The remaining 2021 schedule also favors the Broncos, as they have everything still right in front of them. Denver gets to host the Bengals, December 19, and have two games against the Chargers, November 28 and January 2, 2022. The Broncos also get one more crack at the division-leading Las Vegas Raiders (5-2), December 26.
More fortune that favors the Broncos is that of its remaining nine games, five are at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium, so if they can get to nine wins on the 2021 season, there is a good chance to be, as Paton claimed, still in the thick of it down the stretch, and nab one of the wild-card slots.
Eyes on the Future
Paton may still have the 2021 season fully on his radar, but as a roster architect, he also needs to have an eye on the future.
The rookie lead executive will be in attendance when Liberty University visits the University of Mississippi. According to a tweet by Denver Post’s Ryan O’Halloran, it’ll be for two very good reasons — Liberty’s magical dual-threat quarterback Malik Willis and Ole Miss’ Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Matt Corral.
That’s definitely food for thought, considering current starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been solid, but not special, and backup Drew Lock has only seen limited action in 2021, but was spotty at best. Bridgewater is also in the final season of his contract, so Paton needs a plan going forward — even if Lock still has 2021 and 2022 remaining on his current rookie deal.
Broncos Country may have been skeptical about Paton trading Miller, but there’s no denying the general manager’s drafting skills. The 2021 NFL draft was Paton’s first as a shot caller, and he knocked it out of the park with his selections.
Of Paton’s 10 selections, six have been either immediate contributors or seen significant action during the first eight games. Leading the way is the No. 9 overall pick, Patrick Surtain II. The cornerback and Alabama product is having a stellar season that will undoubtedly earn him postseason recognition.
Pro Football Focus’ college twitter account has certainly taken notice of the rookie cornerback’s skills.
That’s tops in the league among rookies at the position, including the Los Angeles Chargers’ own stellar rookie, Asante Samuel, Jr., who was tabbed the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for September, 2021.
Surtain II, like Samuel, Jr., comes from great NFL pedigree, as both players’ fathers had distinguished pro careers. But it’s been Surtain II who has separated himself from his 2021 classmates. Surtain II has allowed fewer than 40 yards in coverage in seven of his eight career games this season. He’s recorded seven passes defensed, an interception, and 26 total tackles so far, and according to Pro Football Reference, he’s allowed a passer rating of just 68.4 when targeted.
Like Samuel, Jr., Surtain II is also earning honors, as he was named to The Athletic’s Mid-Season All-Rookie Team.
Impressive, considering Surtain II wasn’t inserted into the starting lineup until Week 2 — and that was only because the team found itself in a pinch when starter Ronald Darby was injured in the September 12 season opener. But the rookie has now solidified his spot as the Broncos’ CB1 and shows no signs of relinquishing that role any time soon.
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8