The Broncos' 2021 rookie class has been outstanding so far, from first-round pick CB Pat Surtain II to seventh-round selection OLB Jonathon Cooper. Two of them in particular, though, have flashed star potential through the first three weeks of the regular season, and earned recognition on ESPN's rookie rankings, assembled by Jeff Legwold.
Surtain, who scored on a pick-six in the preseason and then recorded his first regular-season interception in his first start vs. the Jaguars, earned the No. 4 pick on Legwold's list.
"It's about degree of difficulty," Legwold said, "and Surtain was asked in training camp to be ready to play at either outside spot, in the slot and at weakside linebacker in the dime -- something coach Vic Fangio said 'was pretty rare' to ask of a rookie."
In addition to his knack for creating turnovers, Surtain has been lockdown in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, Surtain has allowed a 10.7 passer rating in man coverage through the first three weeks.
On the other side of the ball, Denver's second-round pick has made a splash of his own. Though he was not selected as one of the top 10 rookies, running back Javonte Williams did earn an honorable mention spot.
"Williams' 138 yards make him second among rookies in rushing [behind Elijah Mitchell], and his work in pass protection has been top shelf, earning him plenty of passing-down snaps as well," Legwold said.
Williams has been the bruiser back he was expected to be over the first three games, running angry and plowing ahead for extra yards after contact.
"The second-rounder has shown the physicality to close the deal on his runs," Legwold said. "His 86 rushing yards after first contact lead all rookies -- and his playing time should only go up."
Below the Fold
Despite leading the team in receiving touchdowns and sitting just behind WR Courtland Sutton in receiving yards for the Broncos, wide receiver Tim Patrick is often underestimated.
Patrick, who has hauled in two touchdowns and racked up 174 yards on 12 receptions through three games, came into the NFL as an undrafted player, and he knows that status will continue to cause some to overlook him.
"Undrafted," Patrick said. "I'm never going to get viewed as 'that guy' just because I wasn't drafted, so they think my ceiling isn't high. But I'm a different type of undrafted guy so my ceiling is pretty high."
Patrick's first opportunity to really come into his own came in 2020, when injuries propelled him up the Broncos depth chart.
"When Courtland Sutton’s season ended with a knee injury after just one catch last year, Patrick stepped up and set career highs with 51 receptions for 742 yards and six touchdowns," the Associated Press' Arnie Stapleton said.
Patrick's impact has been bigger than even his stats this season would imply; he has stepped up to make big plays in big moments and move the sticks time and time again. Even after all that, will Patrick's level of play stop being a surprise to people?
"Honestly, probably not," Patrick said. "But I like it that way. I'm just going to keep on doing what I have to do to help this team get some wins."
At least among his teammates and coaches, Patrick gets the respect he deserves. And none of them can understand why he is consistently underestimated.
"Tim's a damn good NFL receiver," Head Coach Vic Fangio said.
Patrick has always known that he was capable of playing at this level; he just needed someone to give him a shot.
"In college, I think almost every defense I played all their DBs got drafted, and I'm all of their bad tapes," Patrick said, "so I always had the confidence I just needed an opportunity."