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Mile High Morning: Pat Surtain II, Jonathon Cooper top PFF's ratings of rookie defenders through first two weeks of preseason


The Lead

Denver's 2021 draft picks have already started to show their impact on the Broncos defense. First-round pick CB Pat Surtain II and seventh-round selection LB Jonathon Cooper have been disruptive on the field so far, with each already forcing a turnover in the first two games. Those standout performances have earned them Pro Football Focus' top grades among all rookie defenders through Week 2 of the preseason.

Cooper, who owns PFF's top grade among all rookie defenders at 91.6, had a huge game against the Seahawks on Saturday. The linebacker racked up three total tackles, a tackle for loss, two QB hits, two sacks, a pass defensed and a forced fumble in his explosive Week 2 performance. He also tallied an additional three tackles and a tackle for loss in Week 1.

Surtain, who earned a 91.3 rating, has recorded a tackle, two passes defended and a pick-six through the first two weeks of the preseason. The interception, which Surtain returned 30 yards for a touchdown, and both of the pass breakups came in his preseason debut vs the Vikings in Week 1 — a disruptive defensive display by the rookie.

While both Surtain and Cooper have flashed great potential through training camp and the preseason, they were selected at opposite ends of the 2021 NFL Draft. Surtain, No. 15 overall off the board in April, came in with the expectation of becoming a cornerstone at CB for Denver. Cooper, on the other hand, could be Denver's biggest steal of the draft, selected at No. 239 overall in the final round.

Both Surtain and Cooper will help to bolster a defense that invested heavily in its secondary this offseason and is looking to benefit from the return of both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb from injuries suffered in 2020. If Denver's bookend selections in this year's draft are any indication, the Broncos defense should be a force to be reckoned with in 2021.

Below the Fold

After missing the end of the 2020 season with an ankle injury and repairing that injury with offseason surgery, Chubb finally returned to the football field for Denver's Week 2 preseason bout with Seattle.

Despite playing limited snaps, Chubb quickly made his presence known, racking up a tackle, tackle for loss, QB hit and a sack before returning to the sideline. Though Chubb missed the offseason program and was limited heading into training camp as he rehabbed after surgery, it appears the fourth-year OLB has returned to form and is ready to make noise on Denver's defense in 2021.

Chubb's progress has been evident to viewers, including Head Coach Vic Fangio.

"I think Bradley's made a move here in the last seven to 10 days," Fangio said Saturday. "I think he's confident and ready to go."

Chubb's talent has also been clocked by his teammates and NFL peers, who voted him No. 40 on the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2021. This is Chubb's second appearance on the coveted list, first debuting in 2019 at No. 82 after an impressive rookie season.

Chubb's return will be a big boost to Denver's defense, especially if he continues to play at the level he displayed vs. Seattle. The Broncos' defense will also get Miller back after he missed the bulk of 2020 with an injury of his own, reuniting the dangerous defensive tandem for the first time in over a year.

Despite a shortened offseason due to his injury, Chubb is confident in his potential to be a big factor defensively this season. Following Saturday's win over Seattle, Chubb referred to his dominant performance as the beginning of a streak — one that he hopes will last all season.

The Unclassifieds

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