Thanks to their strong play during the 2022 season, two Denver Broncos defenders have again landed among the top 100 players in the league for the upcoming campaign.
On August 28, a panel of ESPN analysts dropped their rankings of the top 100 NFL players for the 2023 season which included Broncos corner Patrick Surtain II and safety Justin Simmons. Players on this list were ranked solely on performance expectations rather than career résumé or positional value.
Surtain found himself ranked as the 34th-best player heading into the season while Simmons was listed at No. 69. Coming off a 5-12 campaign, it came as no surprise that Surtain and Simmons were the only Broncos that received rankings.
Heading into his third professional season, Surtain is regarded as one of the top corners in football. ESPN senior writer Jeff Legwold who covers the Broncos for the outlet spoke very highly about the All-Pro defender.
“Surtain has the rare combination of size, length, speed and composure when he plays. He gives Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph plenty of options in coverage, and many DCs around the league believe having a player like Surtain at cornerback is the first building block to a great defense,” wrote Legwold.
Much like Surtain, Simmons is frequently discussed as one of the top players at his position. On July 20, he was also ranked in the top 100 by Pro Football Network analyst Dalton Miller. Legwold piled on the praise regarding the veteran safety.
“Simmons has been a mainstay, playing 100% of the Denver defense’s snaps in four consecutive seasons. He is durable, productive, a three-time second-team All-Pro selection and a leader in the locker room and in the community,” wrote Legwold.
Both players will be counted on to replicate the unit’s success from last season. Denver’s defense finished tied for 13th in scoring defense (21.1 ppg), No. 7 in total defense, No. 2 on third down and No. 7 in the red zone, according to ESPN.
ESPN Projections for Patrick Surtain in 2023
Aside from ranking an individual’s performance, ESPN analysts gave their stat projections for each player during the upcoming season. Surtain is projected to finish the year with 63 tackles and two interceptions.
Named a First-team All-Pro in just his sophomore campaign, Surtain started all 17 games in 2022 and had 10 passes defended according to Pro Football Reference. Andy Benoit of the 33rd Team ranked the best cornerbacks in the league on August 14 with Surtain at the top of his list.
“Patrick Surtain II possesses the league’s best combination of technique and physical talent. He can match up against all receiver body types, whether in press or off-coverage,” wrote Benoit.
ESPN Projections for Justin Simmons in 2023
Simmons is projected to have 93 tackles and three interceptions. Despite missing five games in 2022, Simmons was tied for the most interceptions in the league (6). His versatile skillset and intelligence have impressed Broncos head coach Sean Payton.
“He’s the player we knew he was back when we had to play against him,” Payton said at a press conference on August 2. “He’s certainly smart, he’s got really good length and good ball skills. He can block PATs.”
The last line in Payton’s comment was a reference to a November 2016 game against the New Orleans Saints. In that game, Simmons blocked the extra point attempt which was then run back for two points, capping a 25-23 win for the Broncos.
Simmons has been a Second-team All-Pro the last two seasons. His 27 interceptions since his rookie season in 2016 are the second-most in the NFL behind Miami Dolphins corner Xavien Howard (28).