George Paton deserves high marks for first draft class
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton entered the 2021 NFL Draft as the leader of an NFL franchise for the first time in his career. Paton heard the noise and was pressured to select a quarterback in the first round, but he decided not to. Instead, he went with what he believed as the safest pick in the entire draft, adding more depth the cornerback position by selecting Pat Surtain ll.
Paton and the Broncos believed he was the best defensive player in the draft. Since making the selection, Paton has been criticized by people outside the facility. “Surtain better be an All-Pro” has been used by the fanbase, along with certain members of the media, because many wanted a quarterback selected in the first round. Well let’s just say that, so far through two preseason games and a full training camp, the former Alabama corner has quieted that noise.
During training camp, Surtain has looked like a shutdown corner that’s been in the league for five-plus years. Going up against his former college teammate, Jerry Jeudy, Surtain shut him down multiple times. It’s mind blowing to say because of how great of a route runner Jeudy is, but he’s not getting any separation from Surtain.
In joint practices in Minnesota, Surtain made a highlight play by shutting down a Vikings receiver. The wide receiver tried putting a double move on the rookie corner but was shut down with no separation allowed.
Fast forward to Surtain’s first preseason action, in the second quarter the rookie jumped what looked to be a curl route and intercepted Jake Browning for a pick-six. Surtain also was rated as the best cornerback in the NFL after Week 1 of the preseason with a 94.8 grade from Pro Football Focus. In his first two preseason games, Surtain remains as one of the highest-graded cornerbacks in the league.
It might be safe to say that Surtain could be ahead of the curve and better than what a lot of people thought he would be as a rookie.
Even former elite cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Aqib Talib praised the rookie corner. Bailey said Surtian reminded him of himself, but Talib responded by saying, “People are like, ‘Oh, he reminds me of Champ. I’m like, hell, he reminds me of me too.”
On the offensive side of the ball, running back Javonte Williams has shined as well.
In training camp, it’s always hard to tell how great a running back really is because players can’t tackle as much as they used to in practice, but you could see some potential out of the rookie.
In his first preseason action, Williams got the start and didn’t disappoint. On his first carry, Williams rushed for 11 yards, followed by another big gain of 13 yards. The second-round draft pick that Paton traded up for would finish the game on five carries for 29 yards. That’s an average of 5.8 yards per carry.
In the second preseason game, Williams split time with running back Royce Freeman and only rushed for 20 yards on seven carries. The former Tar Heel also almost scored a touchdown before guard Dalton Risner ripped the ball out of his hands. Williams also played well in the pass protection, picking up a blitz on fourth down to allow a clean pocket for Teddy Bridgewater to complete a pass to Jeudy for a big gain. It’s fair to say that Williams will be pushing Melvin Gordon for the starting job as the season progresses.
Offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz has played as expected throughout camp and the preseason. Coming into the season, Meinerz became a fan favorite by hanging his belly out of his shirt, but the Broncos knew he was going to be a project.
Coming from a Division III school, Meinerz was going to have to learn more to develop into a starting guard or center in the NFL. Denver knew they would need to give him time to develop, and they have the right offensive line coach to do that in Mike Munchak.
On the defensive side of the ball, one rookie forced the Broncos to waive a veteran: Baron Browning. After he played well enough in the eyes of the coaches against the Seattle Seahawks, Denver was forced to move on from inside linebacker Josh Watson.
With the Broncos also looking for more depth at the safety position in the secondary, fifth-round pick Caden Sterns has lived up to his hype. Coming out of college, Sterns was identified as that hard-hitting, play-making type safety. Watching Sterns in training camp and the preseason, Sterns has done both of those things.
In training camp, Sterns has flashed while rocking that No. 30 jersey. It seems as if everyone that wears that number turns out to be an impactful player. In practice, Sterns made multiple plays, including one that stood out more than the rest. On a deep pass, Sterns ran across the field to break it up but ended up intercepting it in a diving fashion. This would also be the first turnover of training camp.
In the first preseason game, the former Longhorn led the team in tackles with six. Sterns also made a big-time play in the endzone by knocking the ball out of the receiver’s hands in a physical way. If not for Sterns making a play, it would’ve been a touchdown for the Vikings.
With Kareem Jackson playing on a one-year deal, Sterns is gearing up to take over that strong safety role next season.
Paton even had some bright spots come from his sixth-round pick Seth Williams. Williams has made a name for himself in training camp. Every day I was out there, I wrote down the No. 19 a lot. “Lock to 19” or “Bridgewater to 19” kept happening over and over.
In the first two preseason games, Williams has only been targeted twice but has caught both passes for a total of 46 yards.
Williams showed that he can compete and play in this league. The former Auburn standout might not make the 53-man roster because of how deep the Broncos are at the position, but he’ll likely end up back on the Denver practice squad. If it wasn’t for Trinity Benson, Williams might be competing for that final wide receiver spot.
There’s also another Ohio State stud making some noise, and that’s linebacker Jonathon Cooper. After having a huge performance in Week 2 of the preseason, Cooper graded out as the top defensive rookie, according to Pro Football Focus, with a 91.6 rating. Against Seattle, the rookie forced a fumble, had two sacks, had two quarterback hits, had a tackle for loss and a had pass deflection. In Week 1, Cooper also had another tackle for loss. With the Broncos having a depth issue at the outside linebacker position, Paton might’ve found a diamond in the rough in the seventh-round.
We knew Paton loves watching film and has a scouting background, but in his first ever NFL Draft that he was in charge of, it looks like he is going to get a very good approval rating.