ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During one of the Broncos-produced docuseries that took viewers behind the scenes of George Paton’s draft preparation, the new general manager was shown standing up in the middle of the team’s auditorium and asking his coaches and scouts: "What would be the vision if we draft this guy? The first year, year one as a rookie, top 10 pick, how do we get him on the field?"
That’s what we’d like to know.
>>Video above: 9NEWS Broncos insider Mike Klis on what to watch for at Denver's 2021 training camp
Paton may or may not have been talking about Alabama cornerback Pat Surtain – the documentary was careful not to identify prospects who were getting evaluated - but his pre-draft statements sure do apply in the case of the Broncos’ No. 9 overall draft selection.
Paton selected Surtain even though the team had just signed free-agent cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller to a combined $19.5 million in 2021 dollars and another veteran cornerback, Bryce Callahan was returning with a $7.176 million scheduled payout. Surtain must be an incredible player for the Broncos to draft him so high at a position of no-apparent need.
Sure, NFL defenses employ three cornerbacks for about 70 percent of the snaps in this pass-happy era. But Surtain makes four. The four corners is usually only seen on basketball teams trying to slow the pace. And Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey, who played extensively as rookies last year, make six.
Which leads to our next question in the 9NEWS series of 9 questions the Broncos must answer as training camp opens for rookies and quarterbacks Saturday, with the rest of the team reporting Tuesday:
4. How will the crowded group of elite cornerbacks shake out for playing time?
Issue: Darby, Fuller and Surtain are all best suited as outside corners and a defense only needs two. Callahan is best in the slot. Darby and Fuller are paid like every-down starters and Surtain carries the top 10 draft slot of an every-down starter. As Paton asked in his pre-draft war room: “How do we get him on the field?”
Background: The Broncos went overboard with re-stocking their cornerback position primarily because they were forced to play a significant portion of last season without their top three corners in A.J. Bouye, Callahan and Bassey to injuries. Ojemudia, a third-round draft pick, was forced to play ready or not and the result was rookie growing pains. That left the front-office duo of John Elway and Matt Russell scrambling to sign cornerbacks off the street in the final month of the season. Cornerback depth shouldn’t be a problem this year.
Resolution: Fuller is on a one-year contract so it’s possible Surtain will break in slowly as a rookie, then step up as an every-down player in year two. But doesn’t the No. 9 overall draft pick have to play from the first snap?
Perhaps, Fangio can employ a higher percentage of dime defense with 4 corners and two safeties. Or maybe the Broncos eventually part ways with the injury-prone, well-paid Callahan, which would clear a spot for Surtain. Callahan is a terrific player when healthy but he’s missed an average of 7 games a season in his six-year career. Having said that, Fangio no doubt would love to keep four quality cornerbacks, especially after last year’s disaster at the position.
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