Denver Broncos drafted right guy in Patrick Surtain as Justin Fields struggles as a rookie

Patrick Surtain defends a pass against the Browns. Credit: Phil Masturzo, USA TODAY Sports.
Patrick Surtain defends a pass against the Browns. Credit: Phil Masturzo, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos have needed a star quarterback since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset in 2015. And while the Broncos have had missteps in all three phases of the game, a solid starting quarterback would certainly have this 2021 team competing for the AFC West instead of looking like a potential division bottom-dweller.

After starting out on fire, Teddy Bridgewater has regressed to the mean and struggled mightily over the last four weeks. Many want to see Drew Lock inserted into the lineup, but coaches have been hesitant to, likely because they’ve consistently seen Bridgewater out-play and practice Lock.

But would the Broncos even be in this mess if they took Justin Fields way back in April?

As a quick NFL Draft day review, Denver and new general manager George Paton had Fields fall into their lap at No. 9 overall, but the Broncos instead took dynamic cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

At the time, we wrote why the Broncos should have taken Fields and not Surtain. Fields wasn’t just one of the many quarterbacks available, he was the second or third-best depending on which scouts one referred to.

Alas, Denver played is safer and took Surtain. And nearly halfway through their rookie years, the Broncos made the right choice. At least, for now.

Surtain has been everything anyone could have wanted out of a starting cornerback. He’s physical, plays with an extremely high football IQ and has already made some great plays this year.

Of course, the highlight was his interception against Jacksonville in Week 2.

On the play, he brilliantly shadowed and receiver and made a play on the ball as if he were the intended target, laying out and letting the ball drop over his shoulder for the pick.

And on the year, Surtain has collected six passes defensed, showcasing his physicality and willingness to make a play on the ball at the point, knocking it away here from Chase Claypool of the Steelers.

Look, he hasn’t been perfect. Nor has the Denver secondary which is jam-packed with talent as the most expensive defensive backfield in the NFL this year. But Surtain has been something special.

Per Pro Football Focus, his 55.9 overall grade makes him the second-best cornerback on the team behind Bryce Callahan (67.5) and Surtain has yet to give up a single pass of 20-plus yards.

Now, onto Fields. He, like Surtain, is on a Chicago Bears team with tons of issues. For one, he doesn’t have many talented receivers to throw the ball to. And for two, his offensive line has struggled mightily this year.

Fields has been sacked more than any other quarterback with 22 on the season, and he’s not getting much help.

Outside of the sack struggles, Fields has six interceptions, which is tied for fourth-worst, and his 57.3 completion percentage is tied for worst in the NFL. Following that trend downwards, Fields’ 61.8 passer rating is dead-last, as is his dreadful 16.7 QBR.

Again, though, not many people expect a quarterback to come into the NFL and flawlessly make the transition from the “minor” to the major leagues. It’s simply going to take time, as it does for basically every quarterback that’s ever played — outside of maybe Tom Brady, who sat for part of the year before being thrust into the starting lineup and winning the Super Bowl as a first-year player.

So, this isn’t to say Fields can’t grow; he should and hopefully will. And if he grows enough, to say a top-10 quarterback level, then he would have been the right pick instead of Surtain.

But for now, Surtain was the right selection for the Broncos at the time. And in the future, this will be a fun comparison to continue to look back upon.

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