'Pro Bowl, for sure': Broncos placing great expectations on Pat Surtain II ahead of Year 2

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Not much that happens on an NFL team’s practice field in May and June, in helmets and shorts, is going to tell a lot about what will happen in stadiums come the fall. 

Even still, Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II grabbed attention on the first play of a team session during Denver’s OTA practice Monday afternoon, picking off Russell Wilson and marking an offseason first in the process.  

“We have to clean some things up on offense on that one. We messed that up and we have to keep running on that one,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos’ offensive playcaller, said afterward. “But I thought it was a great reactionary play for (Surtain). That was the first pick of the OTAs, of the offseason, so we’re going to be hearing about that. But that was a helluva job across the board.”

Later in the week, wide receiver Tim Patrick, who ran the route Hackett took issue with, said Surtain made “a helluva play.”

Making head-turning plays, though, is nothing new for the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, despite the fact he's just entering his second year in the NFL.

In fact, the 22-year-old Surtain is a core piece of an otherwise veteran secondary that insists it has the chops to be one of the league’s best.

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Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II takes part in drills Tuesday, May 31, 2022, at the NFL football team's headquarters in Centennial, Colo.

It might still remain a stretch to call him the centerpiece of the Broncos’ back end – sixth-year safety Justin Simmons has been named second-team All-Pro two of the past three years – but Surtain is a fascinating figure in the organization nonetheless. Denver selected him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft when many around the league expected the organization to take a quarterback. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance were already off the board, but Justin Fields and Mac Jones were still there and went to Chicago and New England, respectively, in the next six picks.

Fast forward a year and Denver has Wilson as its quarterback and Surtain ascending as a player who’s quickly gained the respect of his older teammates.

Take Kareem Jackson, for example. When Jackson was selected – just like Surtain, as a first-round cornerback out of Alabama – in 2010, Surtain had just turned 10 years old.

Now Jackson is entering his 13th professional season and fourth in Denver, and he knows what he sees in Surtain.

“I say this all the time about Pat: A guy with that size, speed and to still have the technique that he has is rare. To be that young (and have those traits), anyway,” Jackson said. “For him, I know he wants to get better in every aspect. He comes out every day and puts the work in.”

The other likely member of a starting quartet is eighth-year corner Ronald Darby, who in 2015 finished runner up for the Associated Press’ defensive rookie of the year award.  

“For sure Pro Bowl, for sure,” Darby said of Surtain’s Year 2 prospects earlier in the offseason. “He’s more comfortable as well with the defense. You know what he can do on the field, we’ve all seen it. I know he’s going to be great this year. … Not a lot of guys can come out of college, especially at corner, and get thrown into a starting role and play as good as he did.

“Like, to me, he had a Pro Bowl year last year, and I know he’s going to continue to build on to that.”  

More than offseason compliments, though, the veteran trio provide a sounding board and something like a high-end finishing school for Surtain as he tries to make the leap into the NFL’s elite class of cover men.

“He’s been honing in on the small details. I sit next to him in the meetings, so, just the little stuff that I see, I just try to help him,” Jackson said. "It’s been night and day difference from his rookie year, and he had a helluva rookie year. Seeing him now, he’s so much more patient in everything that he does. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what he does on Sundays.”

Teams will know more about Surtain this fall and perhaps tilt their passing attacks to account for him more than they did as a rookie. Within the division, the Las Vegas Raiders added All-Pro Davante Adams to their receiving corps. The Kansas City Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill but added a pair of veterans in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Jackson is trying to help Surtain get ready for the different looks offenses will present him as he becomes more of a focal point.

“I’ve seen a lot of things that I can kind of relay to him,” Jackson said. “Me and Pat have been talking a lot about, we see a lot of cut splits in practice, so we’ve been talking a lot about that, trying to get him more patient in his (backpedal) when he’s not out wide. Guys, obviously, are going to get in cut splits so he can’t get his hands on them, so trying to get him to be patient but still be aggressive in his mindset and his technique.

“He’s been doing a great job. Being able to see it for nine years (as a corner), I just try to give him any info that I have.”

Surtain said he’ll really dive into tendencies and scouting the receivers Denver will face in the first part of the season, particularly within the division, in the time between OTAs and training camp.  For now, he’s focused on his own game.

“I think the next step is just to keep on building on it, keep on growing and keep on learning every day,” Surtain said. “In the league, you learn from experience. That’s the best thing about it, is growing and utilizing your time wisely so you can understand what it takes to be a pro in this league.

“That’s what I’m doing.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Parker Gabriel on Twitter @ParkerJGabriel.