The 2021 NFL Draft, an exhilarating, surprising, and anticipatory event that had fans on the edge of their seat for every selection. It included some huge steals, some great team fits, and we got the same energy at the live draft in Cleveland that we had pre-pandemic. This draft was insanely exciting for all teams to say the least. The Denver Broncos had a stellar three days of drafting. From opening night with the 9th pick in the draft to Day 3 closing out their draft selections with the 253rd pick, this draft brought a large amount of talent, potential, and upside. Without further ado, let’s dive in and analyze each and every one of Denver’s 2021 NFL Draft selections.
Round 1, Pick 9: CB Patrick Surtain II (Alabama)
“With the 9th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select… Patrick Surtain II, cornerback, Alabama,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced. This statement kicked off Denver’s draft and with this pick, huge controversy and attention were attracted. The Broncos were one of the favorites to select Ohio State stud quarterback Justin Fields and when he fell to the 9th pick, it was anticipated that we would hear his name called. However, we did not. Instead, the Broncos selected standout cornerback from Alabama, Patrick Surtain II. Personally, I am a huge fan of Surtain. He would have been my first choice had Denver not chosen a quarterback in the 1st round. This pick caused anger among Broncos fans as well as excitement. Many supporters of Drew Lock wanted to give him another chance and drafting a corner would ensure he has his chance. The fans that believe Lock’s time should be up were hoping for Justin Fields to be selected at 9, due to the immense upside that he brings to the table. I leaned more towards drafting Fields at the time, but looking back on this pick, I too am excited. Let’s analyze Patrick Surtain, arguably the best defensive player in this entire draft class. He is an extremely physical and lengthy player. He plays with precision and has amazing football knowledge. His route anticipation is off the charts and he interrupts passes like it’s nobody’s business. It helps even more that his father, Patrick Surtain Sr, played in the NFL which means he has learned a lot about football growing up. Surtain, in my respective opinion, is Marlon Humphrey reincarnated. He’s a physical, man-to-man guy but struggles with deep balls and catching up with speedy receivers. As many stirrups as this selection caused, I am very intrigued by Surtain and I cannot wait until he suits up in a Broncos uniform.
Round 2, Pick 35 (via ATL): RB Javonte Williams (North Carolina)
Boy, oh boy. Javonte Williams. Remember that name. Williams is an absolute beast out of North Carolina. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best college football running back of 2020 as well as the best tackle breaker of 2020. Watching his film, and although this may be a very bold claim, it is my belief that Javonte Williams has Hall of Fame potential. Broncos GM George Paton had to trade up to get Williams and his film displays why. He is explosive, can extend plays, doesn’t go down easily, is used to sharing carries, and most importantly, he is agile. His strengths go on and on. Broncos fans should absolutely love this pick. After making this selection, many analyzers, such as myself, started to notice Payton’s pattern. He was drafting for the future. He was taking many positional needs that would need to be addressed in 2022. For example, Javonte Williams will most likely be the running back of the future as Melvin Gordon’s contract expires after 2021. The selection of Patrick Surtain gives Denver some breathing room at the cornerback position, as the contracts of Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan end after 2021. George Paton is clearly addressing future needs but for what reason? Well, as many know, there has been much buzz about Aaron Rodgers becoming a Denver Bronco. They are a top team on his wishlist and Rodgers is adamant about leaving Green Bay due to the way he is treated there. George Paton could possibly be addressing future needs so that he can trade future draft stock, presumably towards acquiring Rodgers or another star quarterback. These are only possibilities and rumors so nothing is for certain but if you dig deeper, you start to notice Paton’s plan here with selections such as Surtain and Williams.
Round 3, Pick 98 (via NO): IOL Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater)
With their first of two 3rd-round selections, the Broncos decided to address the interior offensive line. They took Quinn Meinerz out of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Now, Meinerz comes from a small school that is unknown to most meaning there isn’t much footage of him in action. However, from the tape that we do have, this guy is exciting, to say the least. He’s a human bulldozer. One of his major college career highlights is when he participated at the Senior Bowl, a practice and game offered to college seniors entering the NFL Draft. He was a one-man wrecking crew out there on the offensive line. His power and strength are obviously his most standout attributes. I also love his versatility. With starting right tackle, Ja’Wuan James, tearing his ACL and being ruled out for the 2021 season, Quinn Meinerz might see some playing time at tackle to fill in for depth. The front office has also expressed that they want to start him off at the center position during training camp. Throughout his time at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz played a heavy amount of offensive guard. He can honestly play anywhere on the line that Denver wants him to, which is something so unique about him. Just tell him where to go, and he will bulldoze the defensive line and create a path for Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams.
Round 3, Pick 105 (via NO): LB Baron Browning (Ohio State)
After spending 3 picks on positions other than a linebacker, it was almost obvious that the Broncos would take one here. They did indeed and they took the best one available: Baron Browning. He comes from Ohio State where he played alongside an extremely deep linebacker core that included himself, Pete Werner, Justin Hilliard, and Tuf Borland, all of whom entered the 2021 NFL Draft. There is definitely a lot to like about Browning. I see him fitting in and adapting to Vic Fangio’s scheme pretty quickly and easily. His speed and athleticism combo will make for some great open-field tackling abilities as well as play anticipation. He’s a smart guy; he can see plays before they happen and he exceeds in making last-second adjustments. His athleticism masks his coverage abilities. He definitely needs work against speedy tight ends and guarding certain routes but he already has a mediocre level of expertise in that area which grants Fangio a head start in coaching him. Baron Browning adds the much-needed linebacker depth to the Broncos, especially after the departure of Joe Jones. I think he will fit perfectly with Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos.
Round 5, Pick 152: S Caden Sterns (Texas)
It came in the 5th-round when Denver drafted Kareem Jackson’s potential successor. Caden Sterns played at Texas alongside a monster defense. His upside is very intriguing. He’s an electric player with great run-stopping abilities. His awareness is a standout attribute as well as his hands. He uses his hands legally and exceeds in slowing down receivers. This pick may have come as a surprise to some as safeties like Jamar Johnson, Ar’Darius Washington, and Hamsah Nasirildeen were still on the board and were graded higher than Sterns by some analysts. However, the Broncos clearly had Caden Sterns high on their board for them to take him over some other really good safeties. The scouts clearly are interested in him and I trust in the scouts with this pick. Welcome to Denver, Caden!
Round 5, Pick 164 (via NYG): S Jamar Johnson (Indiana)
The Broncos doubled down on safety in the 5th round taking Caden Sterns with pick 152 and Jamar Johnson with pick 164 in which they traded for with the New York Giants. The safety from Indiana was passed on by Denver at 152 but they drafted another potential Kareem Jackson successor with their second 5th-round pick. These two safety selections were for depth at the moment but in 1-2 years, they could be potential starters. Kareem Jackson is 33 years old and on a 1-year deal with the Denver Broncos. It is evident that his time with Denver is nearing its end. Jamar Johnson is the candidate most likely to fill in for him. He plays like Jackson. He’s explosive, speedy, reliable in open-field tackling, can make plays in coverage, and he could potentially be used at cornerback, depending on what Fangio dials up in training camp. Pro Football Focus ranked Johnson as the 3rd best safety in the 2021 NFL Draft. In itself, it’s insane that a guy that elite fell to the 5th round. I’m very excited for the future of this franchise on the defensive side of the ball and with guys like Surtain, Browning, Sterns, and Johnson added to the roster, all Broncos fans should be excited.
Round 6, Pick 219: WR Seth Williams (Auburn)
With their 6th-round selection, the Broncos went with a wide receiver. They took one of the best receivers available in Seth Williams. At Auburn, he played alongside the 91st pick in the draft, Anthony Schwartz, who is a Cleveland Brown. Williams doesn’t currently have the title of an elite player, but he has the tools to earn that recognition. He’s 6’3’, which makes for good length and a big enough size to make contested catches over defenders. When watching his tape, Williams is athletic and exceeds at possession catches. He’s an excellent route runner and while his acceleration speed is nothing to drool over, if he gets by his defender, he will make that defender pay. He reminds me a lot of current Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick. Speaking of Patrick, this selection gives Denver a bit of breathing room in wide receiver depth and grants them the ability to potentially shop Tim Patrick or DaeSean Hamilton. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with trading Patrick, you could get some great value for him after his emergence in his 2020 season. Williams definitely has what it takes to become a very significant piece in the Broncos offense. I cannot wait to see Seth in action making athletic catches over the corners trying to guard him.
Round 7, Pick 237: CB Kary Vincent Jr (LSU)
The Broncos had three 7th-round picks in the draft. Their first one was spent on cornerback from LSU, Kary Vincent Jr. One thing that you can instantly notice about Vincent is his electric speed. His 40-yard dash time was marked as a 4.37 during his LSU pro day. That is instantly one of the fastest 40-yard dash times on the Denver Broncos. He uses his hands well, too. If the Broncos can develop him right, I think that Kary Vincent Jr has what it takes to become a star in this league.
Round 7, Pick 239: EDGE Jonathon Cooper (Ohio State)
The Broncos took an edge rusher with their second 7th-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This edge came out of Ohio State marking their 2nd Buckeye alum taken by them in this draft. Jonathon Cooper is a shifty and physical player. Granted, he came from arguably one of the top defenses in college football which would definitely boost his stock but he was really the sole player on the defensive line. Other Buckeye defensive stars came at the middle linebacker position or in the secondary. You could go as far as to say Cooper was a steal given the 6th, 5th, and even 4th-round grades that were placed on him. However, what really made him fall was injury concerns. Over in Denver, injuries happen way too often so the major downside of this selection would be the high risk of injury. However, if Cooper can stay healthy and works alongside superstars like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, it wouldn’t surprise me if he got significant playing time in years to come.
Round 7, Pick 253: EDGE Marquiss Spencer (Mississippi State)
Coming into this draft, I didn’t really know who Marquiss Spencer was. This is, in part, due to me not seeing him in very many 7-round mock drafts and me not seeing many draft grades for him. I don’t necessarily hate the pick here because it adds edge depth but I don’t necessarily love it either. The better move would have been to go for an offensive tackle like Alaric Jackson or add another linebacker. However, Spencer comes from Mississippi State meaning he was going against some elite SEC offensive tackles. The scouts must have seen something in him that draft graders and analysts like me did not. As mentioned before, I trust the scouts and so too should you. They get the up-close and personal view of players which instantly validates their draft reports. I’m excited to see Spencer in mini-camp and in training camp!
Final Draft Grade: A-
My final draft grade for the Denver Broncos in the 2021 NFL Draft would be a solid A-. We addressed many needs including the need for a coverage linebacker, the need for future cornerback depth, the need for interior offensive line depth, and the need for safety depth. A lot of our draft selections were chosen for the future. For example, Denver selected safeties Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson as future successors to the aging Kareem Jackson. The Broncos drafted Javonte Williams as the eventual successor of the 28-year old Melvin Gordon whose contract expires after 2021. The same goes for their 1st-round pick, Patrick Surtain II. As of now, the Broncos have Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Bryce Callahan as the starting corners. However, all three are aging, on short contracts, or a contract expiration nears. Most picks from the draft were for the future which is a great approach from new GM George Paton. Overall, I really love this draft class and I’m so stoked to see them in action during training camp, the preseason, and eventually the regular season.