With the Broncos in the midst of their bye-week break, it's a perfect time to look back on the first 10 weeks of the season. Today, let's put the focus on the young ones — the Broncos' 2021 rookie class.
CB Pat Surtain II (first round, ninth overall)
As we mentioned yesterday, the Broncos' first-round pick has done quite well for himself so far. Surtain has stepped into a starting role and quickly acclimated himself as perhaps the team's premier cornerback.
The rookie has allowed opponents to complete less than half of the passes thrown his way, according to Pro Football Reference, and he provided one of the team's most spectacular individual plays when he picked off Trevor Lawrence in Week 2. After Lawrence launched a deep pass down the left sideline, Surtain deftly out-positioned the receiver, walked a tightrope along the sideline and contorted his body to reel in the interception. As Surtain prepares to put the finishing touches on his first season, that play shows the potential he has for years to come.
RB Javonte Williams (second round, 35th overall)
Gifted with a unique blend of balance, physicality, agility and explosiveness, Williams has been nothing short of what the Broncos hoped he'd be. With 514 yards on 103 carries, Williams has averaged nearly five yards per carry, which ranks eighth in the NFL among all running backs with at least 50 carries. What's even more exciting is the Week 9 NFL Rookie of the Week and Week 4 Angry Runs winner appears to be on the cusp of becoming one of the league's top young players.
G/C Quinn Meinerz (third round, 98th overall)
Given that the 2021 Senior Bowl was Meinerz's only game action since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it appeared that the former Division III lineman was destined to learn as a reserve during his rookie season. But he's been thrown into the fire more than expected due to injury to Denver's starting guards. Meinerz played left guard in Dalton Risner's stead in Week 3 and 4, and later filled in at right guard for Graham Glasgow in Week 9 and 10. Against the Cowboys, Meinerz helped spark a big run by Williams, and more of that may be coming as he gets more comfortable.
ILB Baron Browning (third round, 105th overall)
Like Meinerz, Browning has been thrust into action because of injuries to starters. With Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell done for the season and Micah Kiser on injured reserve, Browning has been promising. In Week 8, Browning's first career start, he was Denver's leading tackler with eight, including one for a loss. While he has recently been sidelined with a back injury, his return will surely bolster the unit.
S Caden Sterns (fifth round, 152nd overall)
Though Sterns has largely played in a limited role in dime personnel (six defensive backs), he's undoubtedly made the most of his time. His first interception in Week 3 helped ensure a shutout against the Jets, and his second punctuated Denver's big win over the Cowboys in Week 9. He also has two sacks on the year — both against Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.
OLB Jonathon Cooper (seventh round, 239th overall)
After some exciting play in the preseason, Cooper has entered the spotlight in recent weeks. When Von Miller exited Denver's Week 7 game against Cleveland, Cooper filled in well with three quarterback hits and five tackles. And when the team traded Miller two weeks later, Cooper further showed his potential with two sacks of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. With three starts now under his belt, Cooper should continue to grow, though he will likely return to a reserve role when Bradley Chubb returns from injury at some point in the coming weeks.
S Jamar Johnson (fifth round, 164th overall); CB Mac McCain III, OLB Andre Mintze, ILB Curtis Robinson and ILB Barrington Wade (undrafted)
Johnson and McCain are the only other rookies currently on the active roster, but each has yet to play for the Broncos. McCain, who was previously on the Eagles' active roster, played 13 snaps on special teams in Week 3 for Philadelphia.
Robinson and Wade are currently practice squad members that have appeared in limited game action for the Broncos. Robinson has played 84 defensive snaps and tallied five tackles and one quarterback hit. Wade has played exclusively on special teams (37 snaps over three games) and made one tackle.
Mintze made the team's initial active roster after training camp but was placed on injured reserve in Oct. 19 with a hamstring injury. He appeared in five games and recorded two tackles.
Below the Fold
As ESPN NFL reporters picked each team's most heartbreaking loss, the Broncos come away better than fans may have expected. After all, the game picked Denver's own most heart-breaking loss had a happy ending.
"[T]his loss to the Jaguars, at home, by a Broncos team that had finished tied for the best record in the league and looked poised to get John Elway his first Super Bowl win stands alone," Jeff Legwold wrote. "As Shannon Sharpe once put it: 'That game made us promise ourselves, the vets on that team, we would never let that happen again -- and we won two in a row.'"
And more than that, Denver appeared a second time on the list — as the deliverer of Cleveland's heartbreak with "The Drive."
"The Browns held a 20-13 lead and seemed destined to go to their first Super Bowl," Jake Trotter wrote. "Denver had the ball at its own 2-yard line with 5:32 to play in the game. But that's when John Elway methodically guided the Broncos down the field. Then, in the waning seconds, he found Mark Jackson for a game-tying, 5-yard touchdown. The Broncos went on to win in overtime. Compounding the heartbreak, the following year, Cleveland's season again ended in the AFC Championship Game to Denver. This time because of 'The Fumble,' as Earnest Byner's turnover in front of the Denver goal line late in the fourth quarter kept the Browns out of the Super Bowl."