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Mile High Morning: Broncos 'hit the jackpot' as NFL.com grades 2021 draft classes

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The Lead

Now that the season is fully in the books, NFL.com's Nick Shook is taking a closer look at each team's 2021 draft class and grading how the season played out for the rookies.

The Broncos earned an A-minus, good for No. 2 in the division, as they got particularly impressive contributions from first-round pick Pat Surtain II, second-round pick Javonte Williams, third-round picks Quinn Meinerz and Baron Browning, fifth-round pick Caden Sterns and seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper.

"Well, the Broncos certainly knocked their first two picks out of the park," Shook wrote. "Surtain quickly validated Denver's selection with his first career interception in Week 2. He finished with four picks, made the PFWA All-Rookie Team and was PFF's 41st-graded corner in 2021, just behind Colts Pro Bowler Kenny Moore. Williams is Denver's long-term answer at running back, having averaged 4.4 yards per carry while scoring seven scrimmage touchdowns and breaking 1,200 scrimmage yards."

Those two have earned the most accolades of the bunch, as Surtain and Williams each won NFL Rookie of the Week honors once during the season and were later named to the PWFA's All-Rookie Team.

But the Day 2 and Day 3 picks also shined, as Shook notes.

"Meinerz has a promising future ahead of him after appearing in 15 games (nine starts) and earning a top-40 PFF grade among guards," Shook wrote. "Browning was an effective player, transitioning from a special-teams contributor to a starter from Week 8 onward. Sterns figures to replace Kareem Jackson (33 years old and headed for free agency) going forward, and he showed potential with a couple of interceptions in 2021. … Cooper was a nice Day 3 discovery, tallying 38 tackles (four for loss) and 2.5 sacks as a rotational player while also filling a special teams role."

Below the Fold

During a recent appearance on Marty Smith's podcast, Justin Simmons spoke with the ESPN reporter about the outlook for the season, and it's clear that while the Broncos are starting anew with Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, there will still be a sense of urgency.

"We've got to hit the ground running," Simmons told Smith. "And so, just buying in and accountability are the two things that I think are really going to kind of flip this thing around for us as an organization. Obviously it's my job as one of the leaders to make sure those things are being done. That's what I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to almost like a fresh start, but no time for almost like a rebuild [to] kind of feel things out. It's all in on this year."

The Unclassifieds

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