The early returns are providing vindication for Broncos GM George Paton
Heading into draft night 2021, there was hope in Broncos Country that recently hired general manager George Paton would be drafting the Broncos quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones.
The day before the first round of the draft, Paton underwhelmed fans by trading for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Bridgewater trade didn’t necessarily preclude the Broncos from drafting a quarterback, but it definitely created uncertainty.
As draft night unfolded, Ohio State’s stud quarterback Justin Fields fell to the Broncos at No. 9, but Paton passed on him to draft cornerback Patrick Surtain II. It was a gut punch to those hoping the Broncos would go all in and draft a quarterback the top 10.
Paton’s decision to pass on Fields was deflating. Flashbacks of John Elway passing on Josh Allen to draft Bradley Chubb raced through the heads of Broncos fans. While the rest of the AFC has spent the last four to five seasons landing their quarterback of the future, the Broncos have ignored going all in on the position.
Nobody ever disputed that Surtain would be a great player. The problem was that the Broncos didn’t have a need at cornerback and had an enormous need at quarterback.
The decision to take Surtain was not terrible, but Paton came off as intimidated by the enormity of drafting a quarterback. When a top quarterback prospect fell to him in the first round, Paton crumbled. Or so it appeared.
It’s only been two weeks, and yes the Broncos have played two of the weakest teams in the NFL, but so far, Paton’s draft night gamble (or lack thereof) has paid off.
Teddy Bridgewater has been a far cry from his “check down” Teddy reputation. Bridgewater has been the best player on the Broncos’ offense. The quarterback has thrown deep, spread the ball around, and converted third and fourth down. Thus far, Bridgewater has been the best player on the Broncos’ offense.
Bridgewater currently sits with a completion percentage of 77.1, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a QBR of 83.3 (second best in the NFL). The perception was that Bridgewater was safe and he wouldn’t put the Broncos in bad positions. He’s done much more. He’s gotten them out of bad positions and been very timely with his big plays.
Bridgewater’s elite play (not saying he’s elite, but he is playing elite) has given room for those critical of the Surtain pick to begin to warm up to the idea.
Surtain was thrust into the starting lineup after free agent signing Ronald Darby was placed on Injured Reserve (designated to return). At Jacksonville, Surtain was effective in coverage, never getting burned and making a highlight interception.
Surtain was targeted in a deep one-on-one pass and made a brilliant play on the ball. As Broncos head Coach Vic Fangio put it “not many corners can make that play.”
Again, it’s only two games, and the opponents at some point will get tougher, but as it stands now, Paton’s decision to go with Bridgewater and Surtain has paid off. Last week against Jacksonville, each player played a pivotal role in the Broncos victory.
With Bridgewater’s unshakeable demeanor and smart mind, there is no reason to see his play taking a nosedive. Surtain’s talent and mind of the cornerback position has proven he was every bit as advertised.
Nobody is ready to give Bridgewater a long-term extension. There are ways to go before we fully commit to the idea of Bridgewater as the quarterback of the future. He would have to continue this play for 17 weeks for the Broncos and their fans to feel comfortable that they’ve found their man.
This week, Bridgewater said he’s not going to “take the cheese” because it could be rat poison. Bridgewater is excited about the start, but he’s been around long enough to know he shouldn’t get too high on the 2-0 record. Bridgewater is well aware that two wins doesn’t mean he’s entered the top 15 quarterbacks in the NFL. Hopefully for the Broncos’ postseason aspirations, this focus stays with him and his teammates.
Surtain’s play and instincts on the field resemble that of a veteran not a rookie. As exciting as Surtain has been, he’s only played two games. As we’ve seen with Bradley Chubb, the “safest” pick in the draft doesn’t always work out. The rookie has an entire career ahead of him, and while exciting two games in, we’ll see how he does once opponents can watch film and game plan for his tendencies.
There is a long way to go in 2021 and beyond for the Broncos, but based on the results so far, it’s hard to criticize George Paton’s draft night decisions. We can only go by what we’ve seen and two games into the season, Teddy Bridgewater and Patrick Surtain II have been a major reason Broncos Country is once again excited to watch the orange and blue.