ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In a little more than three weeks, the 2022 NFL Draft will begin and the Broncos will aim to add the next wave of talent to their roster.
General Manager George Paton received plenty of attention for trading for quarterback Russell Wilson, but the Broncos' front-office leader's biggest strength may be his ability to evaluate talent in the draft. And while the Broncos gave up plenty of capital for Wilson, they still have five picks between the end of the second round and the middle of the fourth round. Put simply, Denver can still add impact players on Days 2 and 3 of the draft.
As we continue to turn our attention toward this year's draft, let's pivot for a moment and review Paton's first draft class. Over the course of three days, Paton added a slew of talented players. Of the Broncos' 10 picks, four became starters by the end of their rookie season — and 60 percent of the class contributed at a high level at some point in Year 1. He and the Broncos were later honored with Inside the League's fifth annual Best Draft Award, which was voted on by teams across the league.
In the process of assembling the class, Paton proved that while the Broncos aren't currently slated to pick until No. 64, they can still find key pieces for a team with championship aspirations.
Here's a look at last year's class:
CB Pat Surtain II
Rd. 1, No. 9 overall
Good thing Paton didn't pick a quarterback here, huh? Despite Justin Fields and Mac Jones still beingavailable on the board, Paton stuck to his evaluation and selected the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Even for a player with Surtain's pedigree, the results were impressive. Surtain entered the starting lineup in Week 2 and didn't relinquish his spot as he locked down opposing wide receivers and took the ball away. He became the first Broncos rookie to pick off at least four passes since Steve Foley in 1976, and he joined Aqib Talib as the only Broncos corner to record four interceptions in the last decade.
Surtain picked off Justin Herbert twice in the Broncos' home win over the Chargers, including a 70-yard pick-six that helped him earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
It's no stretch to say Surtain may have been the Broncos' best defensive player behind Justin Simmons.
Surtain would be hard-pressed to take a huge leap from 2021, but he should get more opportunities to make plays on the ball if the Broncos' offense improves with Russell Wilson.
RB Javonte Williams
Rd. 2, No. 35 overall
The Broncos weren't slated to pick until the 40th-overall selection, but they moved up to make sure they added Williams to their team. Good move.
As a rookie, Williams ranked 13th in the league in rushing yards despite splitting carries with Melvin Gordon III. He ranked third among rookie running backs, and he showed his potential in a road game against the Chiefs. In the first start of his career, Williams totaled 178 scrimmage yards, which were the most by a Broncos rookie since Clinton Portis in 2002.
Williams is poised to enter 2022 as the team's starter, though Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said the team will still use a by-committee approach.
G Quinn Meinerz
Rd. 3, No. 98 overall
A third-round pick out of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz took on a full-time starting role midway through the season and thrived in his opportunity. Meinerz's mauling style helped pave the way for Williams and Gordon in the run game, and he had highlight blocks against both the Cowboys and Chiefs.
Meinerz is expected to remain at guard as the Broncos introduce a new offensive system.
LB Baron Browning
Rd. 3, No. 105 overall
Browning missed the offseason program and much of training camp, but he entered the starting lineup in Week 8 and quickly showed his athleticism. He started nine games down the stretch of the season as he recorded 58 tackles, and he helped mitigate the season-ending losses of Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson.
Browning's versatility was his calling card when he was drafted, and the team is expected to try him at outside linebacker when the group returns to the field.
S Caden Sterns
Rd. 5, No. 152 overall
In primarily a reserve role, Sterns posted two sacks against the Ravens in Week 4 and picked off Zach Wilson and Dak Prescott. He also served as a special teams contributor.
Sterns could compete for a starting job alongside Justin Simmons in the Broncos' defensive backfield.
S Jamar Johnson
Rd. 5, No. 164 overall
Johnson did not play a defensive snap and played 38 special teams snaps in the three games in which he was active.
Johnson will look to compete for more consistent playing time in 2022.
WR Seth Williams
Rd. 6, No. 219 overall
Williams caught one pass in 2022 and appeared in two games. His athleticism was evident during that one grab, but he didn't have many opportunities to make his mark.
Williams will compete for time behind Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler.
CB Kary Vincent Jr.
Rd. 7, No. 232 overall
Vincent was traded to the Eagles in November ahead of the trade deadline.
OLB Jonathon Cooper
Rd. 7, No. 239 overall
Cooper took on an elevated role as Bradley Chubb recovered from his injury, and he started five games as a rookie. The Ohio State product recorded 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery as he also posted 38 tackles. Cooper's best game came in a two-sack performance against the Cowboys, and he showed his ability to serve as one of Denver's reserve rushers.
Cooper will look to hold onto his role behind Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory. Paton has spoken about the need to have multiple pass rushers, and Cooper could carve out a spot for himself.
DE Marquiss Spencer
Rd. 7, No. 253 overall
The Broncos' final pick of the draft spent much of the season on the practice squad and appeared in one game.
Spencer will aim to take a step forward in 2022 to become part of the Broncos' defensive line rotation.