The Broncos appear to have hit it out of the park with their 2021 draft selections, as many members of their rookie class have already made significant contributions for Denver.
But it's the Broncos' first- and second-round picks who have impressed the most, with cornerback Patrick Surtain II and running back Javonte Williams both flashing the potential to become starters for years to come. Their impressive first-year campaigns have earned Surtain a spot on NFL.com's defensive all-rookie team and Williams a place on the offensive all-rookie team.
Surtain, selected at No. 9 overall in April, has already become one of the biggest playmakers in Denver's secondary, which houses a bevy of talented veterans. The rookie corner has hauled in four interceptions (including a pick-six) and 12 passes defensed in his first season, putting him nearly on par with star safety Justin Simmons, who has five INTs and 12 passes defensed.
"Surtain earned his spot here not just by outplaying other rookies but by standing out among veterans," NFL.com's Gil Brandt wrote. "Surtain's targeted EPA (-20.0) ranks fifth in the league, per NGS, among those with a minimum of 50 targets, and his four interceptions put him in the same neighborhood as proven pros like Xavien Howard (four) and Jalen Ramsey (three). If Surtain can nab one more pick, he would have the most interceptions by a rookie cornerback since 2015, when Marcus Peters had eight."
Williams, who was drafted at No. 35 after the Broncos traded up in the second round, has wreaked havoc on opposing defenses throughout his rookie campaign. Williams has powered his way to 827 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, with an additional 296 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.
The rookie rusher has spent his first season in Denver splitting carries with RB Melvin Gordon III, but he still shares the league lead in forced missed tackles with Pro Bowl RB Jonathan Taylor.
"Williams has been the perfect complement to Melvin Gordon in the Broncos' backfield, with the rookie pacing the pair with 4.7 yards per carry," NFL.com's David Carr wrote. "The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Williams has made defenders pay with his strong, physical running style, as evidenced by his 59 missed tackles forced on runs (tied for the league lead with Jonathan Taylor), per Pro Football Focus."
Williams and Gordon have formed a formidable tandem out of Denver's backfield this season, but splitting carries with Gordon has also served to highlight exactly how special Williams is — he sits at 10th in the league in rushing yards (827) but is 15th in attempts.
"Williams has proven he can be Denver's RB1 for years to come," Carr wrote.
Below the Fold
Through 16 weeks, Denver's defense is among the league's best in several categories, including scoring defense (tied for first with 17.3 points allowed per game), passing defense (tied for fifth with 210.7 yards allowed per game) and total defense (sixth with 320.9 yards allowed per game), and this week, the group earned the No. 5 spot on Pro Football Focus' defensive rankings.
"Any defense with Vic Fangio involved as a coach is going to be good, and the Denver unit has had some elite performances this season despite lacking quality personnel in some areas," PFF's Sam Monson wrote.
Denver has been hit by injuries this season; starting inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson have been sidelined with season-ending injuries since early in the year, and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb missed about 10 weeks as he recovered from an ankle injury. But Denver's defensive depth has stepped up and helped the unit to remain one of the most dominant in the league.
"The Broncos have been forced deep into contingency plans at linebacker, with both starters lost for the season to injury, but players like Jonas Griffith are still performing well in relief," Monson wrote.
Denver's defense has been especially successful against the pass, thanks largely to one of the league's best secondaries and outstanding play from Simmons and Surtain.
"Denver ranks third in the league in touchdown drive rate and seventh in successful play rate as a defense," Monson wrote. "The team's stable of impressive defensive backs gives it strength in vital areas to defend the pass."