While the selection of Patrick Surtain II was controversial at the time, no one worth their salt ever doubted his talent or ability, and yet still, he has outperformed expectations.
Playing at the level he has as a rookie is incredibly rare at the cornerback position and should have the Broncos excited for the future, especially considering how he’s progressing.
“He’s a good cover corner,” head coach Vic Fangio said of the first-round rookie on Wednesday. “[He’s] obviously got the size, the instincts, and the mindset to play corner. He’s been tackling better of late. He’s been good from the start.”
This is supported by Pro Football Focus, who recently graded all 32 first-round picks.
Surtain earned a grade of 61.4, ranking 17th among rookie cornerbacks, but that seems highly questionable to say the least.
“[Surtain] has been impressive in his rookie season but has also shown just how hard it is to sustain elite play as an NFL cornerback,” PFF’s Sam Monson wrote. “His resume includes six pass breakups and an interception, although he’s been beaten for three touchdowns, too. Surtain has allowed 53.7% of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught this season en route to an 85.2 passer rating.”
Those stats might serve as a better reflection of what Surtain’s brought to the field, though cornerback analytics are certainly in their infancy as of now.
For the sake of context, a completion percentage of 53.7% is nearly a full percentage point worse than any of the NFL’s 34 qualifying quarterbacks (min. 14 attempts per start). It’s also the lowest completion percentage allowed by any rookie corner and tied for 11th among all NFL cornerbacks (min. 170 snaps).
Meanwhile, a passer rating of 85.2 would rank 27th in that same crop, ahead of only the rookies (minus Mac Jones), Sam Darnold, Jacoby Brissett, Daniel Jones, and Jared Goff. That rating allowed ranks first among all rookie cornerbacks (min. 170 snaps), though it drops to 32nd when including veterans.
If you’re making opposing quarterbacks look like some horrifying combination of Goff, and the worst quarterback in the league (so, 100% Jared Goff one supposes) that’s pretty fantastic, especially for a rookie cornerback.
It should also be noted that his passer-rating-allowed is pretty inflated by the Jalen Hurts-to-Devonta Smith touchdown, which Surtain played masterfully. As the old saying goes, there’s no defense for the perfect pass. Removing that touchdown would drop Surtain’s passer-rating-allowed to 79.0, which means he’s making opposing quarterbacks produce like Davis Mills.
Considering this is Surtain’s floor, one can only imagine how high the ceiling might be.