You young’uns who are Broncos fanatics may look back on the 100th anniversary of the franchise in 2060 and tell your grandkids: “Listen to this old man. Our team has had a few really good drafts over the years, but I’m here to say none compares to that Broncos bunch way back when.’’
I won’t be around then, so let me now list the names of the class of 2021:
Patrick Surtain II.
Most people believed that George Paton had a good draft, but not a great draft, in his first year as Broncos general manager. It was universally graded as a “B,” a “B-plus.”
Nevertheless, Paton was criticized and even condemned for not choosing quarterback Justin Fields in the first round, but trading up to get a questionable running back in the second round, selecting safe but not special safeties back-to-back and grabbing an edge rusher in the seventh round who was affected by health/heart problems.
By George, the GM had a syrupy smile Sunday evening you could pour on waffles.
Six of his inaugural draft picks have become starters for these ‘21 Broncos. Two are in the race for defensive rookie of the year and offensive rookie of the year.
If the draft grade were redone after the dominating performance against the Chargers when the six rookies contributed significantly, the Broncos and Paton would receive an “A-plus” for this distinctive collection.
Consider it an upgrade.
The 1975 draft by general manager-coach John Ralston was received with mixed responses because he bypassed the No. 1 cornerback and chose a young man who seemed more suited to be an Olympic track star, a running back who was considered too small for the NFL, a fat middle guard and a college quarterback Ralston intended to transform into a defensive back.
Louis Wright, who was the Broncos’ first-round choice 46 years ago, belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he and receiver-returner Rick Upchurch are members of the Broncos’ elite ring of fame. Steve Foley, an also-ran QB out of Tulane in the eighth round, became a Broncos’ long-time starting cornerback, then safety who set the team’s record for interceptions, and Rubin Carter was a rock-solid starter on the defensive line who joined the other three in the franchise’s first Super Bowl two years later. Ralston had the advantage of 17 picks.
John Elway’s first draft as executive vice president of football operations in 2011 always will be remembered for Von Miller, who would be the MVP in Super Bowl 50 and someday a Hall of Famer. Elway also wound up with six other players who eventually would start games for the Broncos.
The Broncos have managed other respectable drafts producing starters, Pro Bowlers and Ring of Fame members.
But the latest draft, and first one with Paton in command, gave Denver Surtain, who ended up in opposite end zones Sunday with interceptions. He saved a touchdown with one interception, ran 70 yards with the other interception for a touchdown. He could develop into another Louis Wright. Williams could become the best Broncos’ running back selection since Terrell Davis, Sterns could be a Steve Atwater type; Cooper could end up being an excellent successor to Miller; Browning could end up as one of the superior inside linebackers the Broncos have drafted over the past half century, and Meinerz, with his shirt off or his jersey on, is a ferocious offensive lineman-in-waiting who already has played in eight games and started two in his first year.
This has been a season of uncertainty for the Broncos – because of serious injuries, COVID issues and the roller coaster ride that resembles the Mind Eraser, the Brain Drain, the Sidewinder and old wooden Twister 2 at Elitch Gardens amusement park within sight of the stadium @Mile High. The Broncos open the season 3-0, then lose four games in a row, win in successive games (including a blowout against the Cowboys in Texas), drop a stinker at home to the Eagles and, in Game 11, decimate the division rival Chargers.
If they somehow beat the Chiefs Sunday night in Kansas City, the bizarre Broncos will be tied for first in the AFC West and a conference contender for the postseason.
Surtain, Williams and the others have grown up in a hurry. The pro game is not too big.
All can be impactful and important for the Broncos for years.
Paton must find another six picks to join them in 2022.
And, at last, a quarterback, too, for the Broncos young’uns.