After Week12 , ESPN's Jeff Legwold has rolled out his third rookie ranking of the year. While one Broncos rookie madethe top three, another narrowly missedthe top 10, earning an honorable mention nod.
At No. 3 on Legwold's list is CB Pat Surtain II, who is coming off the best game of his NFL career, hauling in an interception and returning another 70 yards for his first career pick-six vs. the Chargers. Through the first 12 games, Surtain, who wasselected at No. 9 overall in April's draft, has racked up three interceptions, 11 passes defended and one touchdown.
"Surtain is tied for sixth in the league among all defensive backs with 11 passes defended, and Broncos coach Vic Fangio said this week that Surtain should be in the conversation for the Defensive Rookie of the Year," Legwold wrote.
Surtain, who earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors following his game against Los Angeles, has been excellent in coverage and a problem for opposing quarterbacks.
"His pick-six in Week 12 was the first of his career, and he has consistently played with discipline in the variety of the Broncos' zone looks and matched up in man coverage," Legwold wrote. "Surtain has surrendered just 5.7 yards per target this season."
RB Javonte Williams, who has been a physical, angry runner for the Broncos this season, just missed the top 10 but was highlighted for contending for a spot. A dual-threat back who has contributed to the run and pass games, Williams has plowed his way to 568 rushing yards and two rushing TDs, along with 193 receiving yards and a receiving TD, leaving a trail of highlight-worthy plays behind him.
"Williams pulls, pushes and drags tacklers on his runs," Legwold wrote. "He's second among the league's rookie backs in rushing yards (568) and is tied for the lead among the rookie backs in yards per carry (4.9). And his role is growing in the passing game; he has been targeted at least four times in three of the past five games."
Legwold also gave a nod to Denver's rookie defensive class. The Broncos defense has been supported by several rookie playmakers this season.
"The Broncos, at 6-5 and on the fringe of the AFC's playoff race, are No. 3 in the league in scoring defense, No. 9 in total defense and No. 10 in red zone defense with four rookies currently in the defensive lineup," Legwold wrote. "Surtain has started since Week 2, while Baron Browning (third round) has started the past four games. Linebacker Jonathon Cooper (seventh round) has started three games, and safety Caden Sterns (fifth round) started against the Chargers in Week 12 and has played in the dime for much of the season."
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The Broncos have lost 11 straight matchups to their division rivals in Kansas City, stretching back six seasons. But this Sunday, they will have a shot at redemption as they head to Arrowhead to battle the Chiefs for the top spot in the AFC West.
And every player in Denver's locker room knows how important this game is to their season.
"For us, it means a lot," safety Justin Simmons said. "It's going to be a really good game. Another statement game. No matter what happens, we have to find a way to leave Arrowhead with a win."
A win on Sunday in Kansas City would mark the Broncos' first win over Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and the first time any active Broncos player outside of K Brandon McManus has beaten the Chiefs (while wearing a Broncos uniform). That makes this game personal for many of them, including Simmons, who is determined to come away with a win, no matter what.
"Yeah. It's extremely personal," Simmons said. "... You have to go deal with it. No one cares what it looks like. All anyone cares about is that win-loss column. That's what we have to do -- find a way to win."
According to Legwold, the key to a win might come from the Broncos rookie class, who have yet to lose to Mahomes and the Chiefs.
"In the end, perhaps the team's rookies, who have no history in the rivalry and an increasing role in the fortunes of the current Broncos, can simply play because they don't know what they don't know," Legwold wrote. "That might be the only way to end the skid."
According to Surtain, the Broncos' rookies are here to help push Denver into the postseason, and they know that this game will be key to the Broncos' playoff hopes.
"It means a lot," Surtain said. "We feel like as a whole rookie class, we got drafted to this team to play in big-time games, especially at the end of the season in big-time division matchups. We know that these are big, key games going forward toward our playoff run."