Although the Justin Fields vs. Patrick Surtain II debate might be heating up in Broncos Country, there’s no denying that Surtain has instantly solidified his place as one of the best players from his draft class and one of the best cornerbacks in the sport.

As a result, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked Surtain as one of the three best candidates for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

“With apologies to [Sauce] Gardner and Jalen Ramsey, no cornerback is playing better right now than the second-year superstar in Denver,” Barnwell wrote. “Burdened by their disastrous offense, the Broncos’ defensive performance has been lost in the shuffle. Despite losing key players such as Randy Gregory and Justin Simmons for stretches, they lead the league in defensive DVOA and pass defense DVOA. They rank second in EPA per play and QBR allowed. Coordinator Ejiro Evero’s unit is more than holding up their end of the bargain.”

The rationale that, Denver’s defense being the best unit in the NFL carries weight in the award-voting process is a reasonable one. Each of the last three winners (T.J. Watt, Aaron Donald, and Stephon Gillmore) were aided by leading top defensive units.

The other half of Barnwell’s thinking is that Patrick Surtain II has been very successful as an individual too.

“Their best player is Surtain, who has been locking down his wideouts. Per Pro Football Reference, Surtain is allowing only 4.0 yards per target, which ranks behind only James Bradberry among cornerbacks,” Barnwell argued. “NFL Next Gen Stats suggest Surtain has allowed only 0.6 yards per snap, which is the third-best mark. Teams don’t like targeting Surtain, and when they do, they don’t get much. About the only hole you can poke in his performance is a lack of takeaways; he has no interceptions and just one forced fumble as the Broncos hit their bye.”

That last point is an important one.

While, in this disastrous Broncos season of misery, it feels nice to see Patrick Surtain II get some well-deserved praise, it does feel pretty unlikely that he’ll get much consideration for Defensive Player of the Year at season’s end for two key reasons.

First, he’s a cornerback, and the nature of the position makes it hard to win the award. Elite cornerback play is generally marked by not getting targeted, which limits stat production, which makes it harder to be noticed by voters.

As a result, cornerbacks have won the award just six times since its inception (only safeties have it won it less frequently, with only five wins), and just twice in the last 25 years. No defensive position has won it less frequently over the last quarter-century.

The other factor, which Barnwell highlights, is that Patrick Surtain II will have to make more splash plays in order to win the award. If you define a ‘splash play’ as a takeaway, a sack, a tackle for loss, or a pass breakup, Surtain has just seven so far on the season, and is on pace for approximately 12 such plays over a 17-game season.

The only two corners that have won the award in the past 25 years, generated a lot more splash plays. Stephon Gillmore tallied 27 ‘splash plays’ and scored two defensive touchdowns. Charles Woodson totaled 29 at season’s end, and scored a defensive touchdown of his own.

Even if it’s unlikely Patrick Surtain II wins Defensive Player of the Year this season, he’s still a remarkable talent, who has solidified his place as the best cornerback in the sport.