ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A year ago, Pat Surtain II was simply one of the next promising draft prospects.
And before the next draft has even arrived, Surtain has already proved himself not just among the best players from last year's class — but also as one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
"Pat — I don't even know if I want to put expectations on him," safety Justin Simmons said last week. "I feel like I'd be selling him short. … You can tell in his technique. Anyone who watches the game and watches the corner position and his approach [can see] his technique. I said it before, but he just has been drilled and coached at such a young age that it's just natural. Any time you have those basic fundamentals as a player, the sky's the limit. You can go above and beyond the expectations that you have for yourself. There's no doubt in my view that Pat is arguably — and this is just my opinion — obviously going to be a top-five corner in this league for as long as he wants to play, every single year."
Three-time first-team All-Pro Richard Sherman called Surtain's rookie film "teach tape," and General Manager George Paton has repeatedly spoken highly of the first first-round pick of his career.
As Surtain approaches Year 2 in Denver, he's focused on adding consistency to a level of play that led to one of the best rookie seasons for a cornerback in team history.
"I just want to build on consistency, technique, fundamentals and those sorts of things," Surtain said Tuesday. "I think I can improve on more film study, of course — recognizing offensive patterns and offensive concepts. [It's about] slowing the game down a little bit in the second year."
The baseline is already set high. Surtain became the first Broncos rookie to pick off four passes since 1976, and he's one of two Broncos in the last decade to record that number of interceptions. Surtain was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after a win over the Chargers, earned All-Rookie honors at the end of the year and was the first alternate for the Pro Bowl.
And yet, Surtain can foresee clear growth as he continues his career.
"[I'm] just getting more comfortable," Surtain said. "The first year, I was getting my feet wet a little bit, but now I can see myself growing each and every day."
Surtain said he can see himself living up to Simmons' expectations, but he's not planning to skip any steps as he looks to cement himself among the league's best.
"I can view myself as that," said Surtain when asked if he's a top cornerback. "Of course I've got to build on that and focus on — day in and day out, week in and week out — preparing the right way. Just consistency, like I mentioned before. I'm going to work toward that, but I'm going to focus on what I need to do first."
There are already signs that teams view him among the elite cornerbacks in the league. Surtain held Terry McLaurin, Tyreek Hill, Odell Beckham Jr. and Ja'Marr Chase all to zero yards during snaps in which he was in coverage this year, and he can sense that quarterbacks stayed away from him at times.
"I could tell that when I'm focused, when I'm locked in, when I'm relying on my technique, making sure I'm on top of that, I can tell I'm hard to beat," Surtain said. "… The technique part and the fundamentals part, when all that comes together, quarterbacks would tend to shy away."
There's no shying away, though, from the reality that just a year into his career, Surtain is already among the NFL's best.