The Broncos could replicate their history next week. Six times the franchise has drafted a defensive player who turned out to be among the preeminent ever to play in the NFL.
Four have been elected to the Pro Football of Hall of Fame, and the other two will be honored someday in Canton.
Unfortunately, for the Broncos, Merlin Olsen, Dick Butkus and Curley Culp never played a game for Denver. But, fortuitously, Steve Atwater, Randy Gradishar and Von Miller have played a combined 462 games for the Broncos.
If the Broncos stay right where they are for the 2021 draft, they’ll have another opportunity at choosing defensive greatness.
Eight offensive players — four quarterbacks, a tight end, an offensive tackle and two wide receivers — are anticipated to go off the board in the first round before the Broncos pick.
At No. 9, the Broncos could choose the No. 1 player from the other side of the ball.
That is, if George Paton doesn’t trade up or trade down.
Conundrum is, there’s no consensus opinion about the premier defensive player.
Everybody knows that quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will go 1-2, and tight end Kyle Pitts, offensive tackle Penei Sewell and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase will be taken in the elite eight. Add two more quarterbacks – from among Justin Fields, Trey Lance and maybe Mac Jones – and two other potential high picks in Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith. No defensive backs, linebackers and defensive linemen are among that bunch.
The Broncos will be selecting Question Mark and the Mysterians because (A) Paton and his advisory staff are more secretive than the National Security Agency and (B) They actually may not determine the preference until after the Panthers (or whatever team deals for the eight spot) announce their selection.
The prime pick possibilities of the defensive players for the Broncos include:
Cornerback Patrick Surtain II, Alabama; linebacker Micah Parsons, Penn State; cornerback Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech; and cornerback Jaycee Horn, South Carolina.
Surtain II — Was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American. He is the 6-foot-2 son of former Pro Bowl cornerback who played for the Dolphins and the Chiefs. The younger Surtain held receivers he defended to 25 or fewer yards in 10 of 13 games. If the Broncos don’t draft him, the Cowboys will at 10.
Farley — He opted out of playing in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and didn’t participate in a Pro Day because of a second procedure to relieve back pain. Also 6-2, Farley is furious fast and athletic, and opposing quarterbacks had a rating of less than 30 when he was on the field in 2019.
Horn — The third cornerback teams will consider early is the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn. The younger Horn, 6-0 and 195 pounds, left the Gamecocks last November after coach Will Muschamp was fired to concentrate on the draft. Before quitting, Horn had the lowest man-coverage percentage among cornerbacks in the country. At his Pro Day Horn ran a 4.39-second 40 and a had a vertical leap of 41.5 and a long jump of 11 feet. He is confident and talented.
Parsons — The inside, three-down linebacker would be the No. 1 defensive player if it weren’t for character and social media issues beginning in high school — when he was suspended from school and transferred — and continuing at Penn State when he fought, and choked, another player and was accused of bullying and hazing teammates. Parsons admits he made mistakes, but says he shouldn’t be judged on what he did at ages 17-18, He is a monster rusher and pass defender at 21 and 6-3, 245 pounds. Will the Broncos get past his youthful transgressions and the fact that he declined to play for the Nittany Lions last year?
Surtain seems the most logical pick — and would give the Broncos’ consecutive world-class first-round choices from the Tide.
However, if the Broncos don’t trade up to draft Fields or Lance, or one of the two doesn’t last until 9, they obviously can trade down in the first round and pick cornerback Greg Newsome II, edge rusher Kwity Paye or linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — an Orange Crusher or No-Fly Zoner or a Butkus, who was picked in 1965 by the Broncos, also at 9.