Why the Broncos were certain about Pat Surtain II over a QB

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For many Denver Broncos fans, rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II is the guy selected in this year's draft instead of a quarterback.

Roughly three weeks ago the Broncos took Surtain at No. 9 in the first round of the NFL draft, with Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones still available. And the Broncos were glad to do it, given Surtain was the highest-ranked player on their board when the pick rolled around.

"[Quarterback] was in play, definitely," Broncos general manager George Paton said afterward. "Our board fell to where Surtain was there, and we couldn't pass him up. He was just too talented, too unique. Too good off the field, too good on the field. I'm familiar with his dad and his family. It was a home run for the Broncos."

Even many of the most casual fans know the rest. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith at No. 10, just before the Chicago Bears moved up to select Fields at No. 11

The New England Patriots, still dealing with life after Tom Brady, then selected Jones at No. 15.

Even Surtain, who opened rookie minicamp with the Broncos last Friday wearing the same No. 2 he did with the Crimson Tide, knew the deal.

"Yeah, I've heard [the quarterback talk] before," Surtain said. "But I try to cancel out all that noise. I've just got to go out there and compete and make them all think [that was] wrong."

From a football perspective, Surtain's résumé rises above criticism. Many teams ranked him as either the top cornerback or top defensive player overall in this year's draft. He has a rare size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds), speed combination given his 4.42 clocking in the 40-yard dash.

He is a defensive back who played for Nick Saban. And given Saban's coaching success, his extensive experience in the NFL as a defensive backs coach earlier in his career and his continued work with his defensive backs during practices, it is something NFL personnel evaluators take into account when grading Alabama defensive backs.

Not that Surtain needed much of a recommendation from Saban, given what was on the game video. He was a unanimous first-team All-American last season and the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year by both the media and the conference's coaches.

In the end, Surtain will almost certainly play plenty of snaps as soon as games start to count.

"I'm trying to learn the whole defense right now," Surtain said. "I'm trying to see what the safeties do, and what the nickels and corners do, so when I'm on the field, I'm confident and I'll know everybody's roles. If I were to be put in that position, I would be very comfortable. I'm doing that right now."

"What I like about him is that he has shown that he is very capable both in man and zone," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "I think that he has good eyes, meaning that he sees more than just the man he's lined up on. [He is] a good tackler in the running game and has good ball skills."

Criticisms of the pick are just a quirk of the draft. A prospect is held accountable for a decision he didn't make. The player simply answers the phone and the team official at the other end of the call tells him the good news.

Much like Surtain didn't control being the second cornerback selected in the draft -- one pick after the Carolina Panthers selected South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn -- he didn't control the Broncos making him the pick over any other player on the board, including the quarterbacks.

But he's certainly glad they did.

"It's always been a dream of mine to be on this stage in the NFL," Surtain said. "Now the opportunity is here, and I am forever grateful to be in the moment. There's still work to be done. Just going back over what I've done and how long it took me to get here -- it's just an exciting feeling.

"... I'm always going to stay firm that I am the best cornerback in this class," he added. "I'll always have a chip on my shoulder no matter what. Going into the league as a rookie, you always have to have a chip on your shoulder no matter what. You have to go out and prove yourself again. I still have the same chip on my shoulder as I did coming in as a freshman in high school and as a freshman in college. It'll always be that same chip on my shoulder."