As Pat Surtain II continues to lock down top-tier receivers, the league is taking notice.
In its ranking of the top 10 shutdown cornerbacks in the league, Next Gen Stats placed Surtain at No. 3 — only trailing the Eagles' James Bradberry and Darius Slay.
"The second-year cornerback out of Alabama has made waves this season, leading a stout Broncos defense that has kept the team competitive in spite of having the lowest scoring offense in the NFL," the Next Gen Stats Analytics Team wrote. "While the Broncos have been in zone coverage 77 percent of the time this season (tied for fifth-highest usage in the NFL), a majority of that has been Cover 3 (42 percent, third in the NFL). As a result, the outside corner has still been left on an island on a majority of his coverage snaps this season."
Surtain's success this season has not come easy, as he has covered several of the top wide receivers in the league through the first six games. In covering players like Davante Adams, Mike Williams and DK Metcalf for a high percentage of their routes, Next Gen Stats noted that Surtain significantly limited their production.
"Surtain has shadowed some of the top receivers in the NFL this season, aligning across from DK Metcalf, Mike Williams and Davante Adams for at least 65 percent of their routes in those three games," the Next Gen Stats Analytics Team wrote. "Surtain shut out Williams on three targets and held his own against Adams and Metcalf, holding each of them under 6 yards per target. The shutdown corner has completely erased any other WR who has dared to challenge him this season, allowing just 61 yards on 21 targets to receivers not named Adams and Metcalf."
Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner also made the list at No. 10, and the Broncos' wide receivers will have to find a way to overcome the rookie's coverage on Sunday.
"[Gardner] has already recorded nine passes defensed (pass breakups and interceptions), tied at the top of the NFL with Diggs and Bradberry," Next Gen Stats noted. "And while the Jets have mostly utilized zone coverage, Gardner has dominated when given the chance to man up on opposing receivers, allowing only one reception for 6 yards on six such targets."
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Facing Gardner on Sunday will be no easy task, and the Broncos have expressed tremendous respect for the rookie's talent. On Wednesday, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett noted that Gardner's versatility makes him a challenging defender to go up against.
"Sauce is playing at a high level," Hackett said. "He has so much confidence. You can see it on the tape. You can see how he's walking around, playing in both man coverage and off coverage, and all the different things that they ask him to do. You see he's making plays on the ball; he's challenging anybody and everybody. He's going to be a special player for them for a long time. He fits the mold of that kind of defense."
When asked about the Jets' defense on Thursday, KJ Hamler immediately brought up Gardner and the impact he's had for New York in his rookie season. Despite Gardner's early success, Hamler expressed confidence in Denver's ability to compete with them.
"[The Jets] have a good defense," Hamler noted. "My boy, Sauce — Sauce [is] from Detroit, same kind of area I'm from — that's my guy. He's been balling out lately. We've got to attack that defense; we've got to make plays. I think we've got a lot of playmakers on this offense that can go out there and execute on every down."