With the 2021 NFL regular season behind us, most teams are now looking ahead to and preparing for the 2022 season.
In looking at each team to identify the most likely breakout candidates for 2022, Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash selected the Broncos' 2021 first-round pick, cornerback Pat Surtain II, who excelled as a big-time playmaker for Denver's defense throughout his rookie season.
"Making the jump from college to the NFL is tough for cornerbacks," Treash wrote. "Just ask Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, who went from allowing 901 yards as a rookie in 2020 to just 200 yards in 2021. Surtain was seemingly unaffected by the dreaded learning curve, though."
Surtain earned a starting spot in Week 2 when injuries in the secondary propelled him up the depth chart, but the first-year standout held on to his starting spot until the final week of the season, when an injury sidelined him for the Week 18 matchup. Surtain's play had impressed enough to make him a permanent starter, and he continued to improve as the season progressed.
"After a few poorly graded games in the first quarter of the season, the 'Bama product stepped up and became a legitimate CB1 for Denver," Treash wrote. "Since Week 7, he is one of the 25 highest-graded players at the position and has allowed more than 60 yards in coverage just once this season."
According to PFF, Surtain led all rookie cornerbacks in 2021 with a 69.7 passer rating allowed in coverage.
In addition to his excellent coverage, Surtain was also a playmaker. He had four interceptions in his first NFL season, including a pick-six, along with 14 passes defensed.
"He leads the rookie class in pass breakups plus interceptions," Treash wrote.
Surtain's future in Denver looks bright. If PFF is correct and he has a breakout season in 2022, he could cement himself as one of the best in the league at his position.
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Most early mock drafts have projected the Broncos selecting a QB in the first round this year, but if Denver were to address that position through another channel, who would they take at No. 9 overall?
9NEWS' Mike Klis believes the Broncos will go defense if they aren't trying to acquire a QB, mocking Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd to Denver in the first round.
"Lloyd does it all," Klis wrote. "He rushes the QB, is strong against the run, and has great cover skills. Not quite Micah Parsons but the closest to him in this year's draft."
Klis cited injuries at ILB this season as a reason for the Broncos to target Lloyd.
"With Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell coming off season-ending injuries in their contract-ending seasons, the Broncos finally draft their linchpin inside linebacker," Klis wrote.
In addition to Denver's need at the position, Klis believes Lloyd could be a big playmaker for Denver's defense.
"Lloyd has the instincts and athleticism to make plays all over the field," Klis wrote. "Lloyd has been moving up draft boards but No. 9 is the perfect landing spot."