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Patrick Surtain is being tasked with fixing a years-old problem for the Broncos

Zac Stevens Avatar
September 2, 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos, like much of the NFL, have struggled mightily over the past half decade covering tight ends.

The fact the AFC West is stacked with two of the game’s best in Travis Kelce and Darren Waller adds a large dash of salt to Denver’s defensive wound.

“When you play a good receiving tight end, which we do, everybody says, ‘We’ll you got to put a DB on him.’ Well some of those guys like when a DB is on them because there is such a size discrepancy,” Vic Fangio said, detailing the difficulties of covering fast 6-foot-5 men. “You put a linebacker on them and the size is maybe evened up, but the athleticism could be a discrepancy. So there really is no perfect position to put on the guy. You’d like a DB that has size. Or a linebacker that has some DB movement qualities.”

Or is there a perfect answer, Vic?

“We’ve got Pat Surtain. I love that guy,” Von Miller said leading up to the Broncos’ final preseason game on Aug. 25. “Pat Surtain, he’s going to be on Kelce and Waller and all those guys.”

After detailing how difficult it is to matchup against elite tight ends, Fangio confirmed Von’s statement about how the Broncos will attempt to stop the mismatch nightmare.

“It’s possible,” Fangio said, when asked if Surtain will be lined up against the likes of Kelce and Waller. “It depends on what coverage we’re in and how we plan to match it up on each and every week. But [Miller’s] true in what he’s saying, or accurate, but it may not always be that way.”

It, of course, wasn’t a fluke Surtain was a top-10 pick. Not only is he a phenomenal cornerback—as proven by the SEC Defensive Player of the Year trophy he received in 2020—but he has elite athleticism and is the size of a safety. Literally. He and Justin Simmons both check in at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds.

While that isn’t Kelce’s 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, it’s a heckuva lot closer than cornerback Bryce Callahan’s 5-foot-9, 188-pound stature and even Kyle Fuller’s 5-foot-11, 190-pound body.

“His size and length is helpful,” Fangio said, explaining why Surtain will matchup against tight ends. “In Patrick’s case, he’s got the size to possibly do that and the length.”

The Broncos would desperately welcome Surtain’s lockdown skills on tight ends.

Since 2016, in the nine games Kelce has faced the Broncos, he’s averaged over seven catches and over 100 receiving yards per game. Over a 17-game schedule, those would translate to over 120 catches and over 1,700 receiving yards.

Waller hasn’t been as dominant, but still excellent against Denver. Since 2019, in the four games Waller’s faced the Broncos, he’s averaged 6.25 catches and 82.75 yards per game.

Fortunately, despite being a rookie, Fangio has seen Surtain get better “each and every week” during the preseason.

“As we’ve talked about, we’ve put a lot on his plate,” Fangio explained. “He’s learning three positions. It’s hurt his development at some of those positions, that’s just the way it’s going to be because if you have to learn one—like comparing him to Ronald Darby or Fuller, they play corner, nothing else. Well he’s playing two other ones on top of that. But he’s been good at it. And he’s very capable and he keeps growing in all three roles.”

One of the additional roles Surtain will have on his plate is slowing down two of the game’s best tight ends and plugging up one of Denver’s biggest weaknesses over the years.


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