Broncos GM George Paton's first rookie class shows his scouting roots

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will bring their rookie class into the team complex later this week for a few days of welcome-to-the-franchise 101 work.

The group is George Paton's first as the team's general manager, and it provides the first glimpse into how he wants to do his job.

"It was everything I kind of envisioned, there were no surprises," said Paton of the draft in its aftermath. "I felt it went pretty smooth throughout the last three days. It is different when you're making the final call. [But] it didn't feel a whole lot different to tell you the truth."

Paton arrived at the general manager's seat after a 25-year trek up the personnel evaluation ranks, starting as a Chicago Bears scouting intern. And in his first draft, he showed his scouting roots every step of the way.

Start with the pre-draft work. Folks can agree with their board or not, but the Broncos trusted theirs. Cornerback Pat Surtain II was the highest-ranked defensive player on their board as well as the highest-ranked player overall on their board when the No. 9 pick arrived.

The Broncos selected Surtain above other tantalizing players at need positions, such as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields or Alabama quarterback Mac Jones or Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater or Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. The Broncos traded into all three of those Day 2 picks -- trading up to get Javonte Williams in the second round and trading down, in the third round, to select Quinn Meinerz and Baron Browning.

"[When] it was our turn to pick on a few of these guys, there was a big separation between the player we took and anyone else we had on the board so George just decided to go with the higher-ranked player on the board by a good distance," coach Vic Fangio said the Broncos' work on the last two days of the draft overall.

The result was a best-player-available draft class with seven defensive players among the 10 players taken, despite virtually all of the Broncos' work in free agency being on defense as well.

The Broncos entered the draft with eight picks, having used one the day before the first round opened to acquire quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but finished with a 10-player draft class. Paton moved three times on Day 2, turning the team's remaining seven picks into nine -- "more darts" he said. Those moves included moving up five spots in the second round to select Williams at No. 35 before the Miami Dolphins picked at No. 36.

Paton tried, unsuccessfully, to make a trade or two on Day 3, including with his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, but the board was quickly thinning out and he found no offers to his liking.

"[The board] was strong in the fourth and fifth, and it seemed like it fell off a cliff, it did fall a little bit. We like the players we got, but it did get thin," Paton said before he added with a laugh, "... We did [try to trade], but [the Vikings] were a little cheap and I was a little disappointed."

The Broncos acquired a quarterback in Bridgewater before the draft as they sent a sixth-round pick to the Carolina Panthers and got the Panthers to pay $7 million of Bridgewater's $10 salary guarantee for the 2021 season. As a result, and the jury remains officially out until everybody plays, the Broncos passed on Fields, Jones and the rest of the quarterbacks in the draft. Paton said he wasn't going to "force" a quarterback move on the team's board and he didn't.

And whether any pursuit of Aaron Rodgers moves beyond drive-time fantasy remains to be seen.

"With Teddy and Drew [Lock], they'll have a competition, and that's what we've wanted all along," Paton said following the draft's close. "We'll let them compete. I like the room. Does it mean we won't continue to look? No, but I say that about every position. I look forward to getting Teddy here, and he and Drew having a great competition."

A push to fix the Broncos' annual struggles on special teams -- 19th or worse each of the past five seasons in long-time NFL writer Rick Gosselin's yearly special teams rankings -- could be seen up and down the board. Paton selected speed throughout the last two days of the draft. LSU cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. was a member of the Tigers track team and Browning, fifth-round pick Caden Sterns and seventh-round pick Seth Williams were among the fastest prospects at their respective positions.

"[Special teams coordinator] Tom McMahon evaluated just about every player in the draft, so we targeted players that he liked," Paton said. "Not only those that were good offensive or defensive players, but players who could be core teamers for us. We realize we lacked in special teams last year. We need guys who can cover and block and take pride in special teams. All of these players that we drafted will hopefully take special teams seriously."