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Mile High Morning: Pat Surtain II makes list of top players guaranteed to 'level up' in 2022

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The Lead

In the words of Ciara, it's time to level up.

With the season on the horizon, NFL.com's Adam Schein is looking for players on the cusp of "becoming an integral starter for a competitor or emerging as The Next Big Thing," and cornerback Pat Surtain II comes in highly on his list of the top nine.

"The No. 9 overall pick was a stud in Year 1, picking off four passes and earning a spot on the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team," Schein wrote. "But that was only the beginning. I think the world of Surtain. He can be a first team All-Pro sooner than later. There's a reason QB-needy Denver passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in favor of the highly pedigreed cornerback. Now they have Russ[ell Wilson] at QB1 and a polished technician at CB1."

In the AFC West, which is poised to be the league's elite division with top-notch talent at quarterback, Surtain's skills could be paramount.

"Surtain's ball skills -- he also had 14 pass breakups -- are special," Schein wrote. "In Year 2, he's going to become a true lockdown cover man, which will be crucial for the Broncos, given the high quality of quarterback play in the AFC West."

And while the change at quarterback for the Broncos may change the Broncos' trajectory, Surtain's progress could be a game-changer in Schein's eyes.

"Future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson changes everything for a franchise in the midst of a six-year playoff drought," Schein wrote. "The Randy Gregory signing gives the defense an established edge menace opposite Bradley Chubb. But I think Surtain's development into an upper-echelon cornerback can make this team complete."

Below the Fold

The question just how good the AFC West's array of quarterbacks will be determined later, but in the hypothetical realm, it could be historic. ESPN's Bill Barnwell tried to provide an early answer by looking through divisions from throughout NFL history.

"When we've had multiple Hall of Famers in a division, there have been too many times in which one of them has been well past his prime," Barnwell wrote. "The lesser teams in the division have struggled through multiple replacement-level passers. To have both the ceiling of players such as Mahomes and a floor where all four starters project to be well above average is extremely rare, if not unprecedented altogether."

The Unclassifieds

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