George Paton’s tenure with the Denver Broncos is short, but it’s also been near-perfect.
That “near” in near-perfect surrounds the first round of the NFL Draft. Everything else has been a master class in turning around an NFL franchise in an incredibly short period of time.
The criticism last year at this time was his passing on Justin Fields, the quarterback out of Ohio State, and taking Patrick Surtain II, a lockdown cornerback. In Broncos Country, the years of seeing subpar play at the most-important position left fans desperate for a quarterback; any quarterback.
Surtain has been sensational. He’s years ahead of his time and was one of the best corners in the NFL last year as a rookie.
Still, as the Broncos floundered for a sixth straight season, fans wondered what the solution would be at QB.
Then, Paton made the move of the century — maybe the biggest trade in NFL history — working for a month to trade for Russell Wilson.
It was a dream-come-true scenario.
A legitimate superstar, in the prime of his career, is now the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Again.
While some organizations spend decades without a star QB, the Broncos have enjoyed John Elway (1983-1998), Peyton Manning (2011-2015) and now Wilson (2022-?). It’s an embarrassment of riches.
When asked if it’s painful not to have a first-round pick this year, Paton responded, “It’s a blessing. We love having first-round picks. We love having the early second, but we also love having a franchise quarterback that sets the tone every day in the building.”
Some suggest Wilson “was” the Broncos first-round pick this year. Hey, view it however you want, but the odds of finding a quarterback as talented as Wilson this year, next or any year are insanely long.
“I come in here and he’s here working,” Paton continued. “There is a reason he’s great. It’s because of the work he puts into it. All the players and the entire organization is watching. There is no pain in that. On that first day, we’ll watch Russell Wilson highlights.”
And there are a ton of highlights for Paton, Nathaniel Hackett and the entire draft team to watch, too.
But on that first day of the NFL Draft, which features only the first round, Denver won’t be selecting. Even Paton said, “It’s going to be tough to move up into the first, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
What that means is, for Broncos backers, there won’t be any fanfare on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, this year or next. Paton traded away the 2022 first and second-round picks with a fifth, as well as the 2023 first and second-round selections.
Worth it? Worth it.
And if it weren’t for his smart deal-making mid-season, trading Von Miller for two picks, the Broncos wouldn’t have a selection in that second round. So, Day 2 of the draft, Paton and the orange and blue will have three picks, No. 64, No. 75 and No. 96 (from Rams, Miller trade).
You give a little, you get a little.
Look, I get it. It’s April, it’s the offseason Super Bowl next weekend with the Draft. And the Broncos won’t even be part of the biggest, first round.
But give me a sure thing — an already made superstar — over a could-be draftee any day.
After that first round is over, look for Paton and the Broncos to make noise in Day 2 and 3 of the selection process.
Even though it was only his first year as a general manager, Paton’s draft was considered the best in the NFL in 2021.
Surtain will be a starting corner for 10-15 years, and likely at a Pro Bowl level for most of that. Javonte Williams was a steal in the second, and he’ll be a tough-nosed back for at least a few years in the Mile High City. Quinn Meinerz could become a starting guard, or possibly center, Baron Browning looks like a steal in the third, and Caden Sterns has impressed despite his fifth-round position.
So, not only is it a blessing to have Wilson in orange and blue — it still doesn’t seem real — but Broncos fans are blessed to have Paton as their GM, too.