The Broncos' most recent first-round picks are already flashing their potential

Zac Stevens Avatar
June 1, 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Since 2007, when Nick Saban took over the program, the University of Alabama has six football national titles. They have only not been crowned the best team in the country eight times.

Yet until the start of the most recent decade, the Denver Broncos hadn’t drafted a single player from the powerhouse program since 2004.

In fact, the last time Denver drafted a player out of Tuscaloosa, Mike Shula was Alabama’s head coach. Shula is now the Broncos’ quarterback coach.

But with a new decade has come a new philosophy in Denver. The past two years, John Elway and George Paton have done the exact opposite—using back-to-back first-round picks on Alabama ball players.

To no surprise, both five-star recruits and All-Americans are tearing it up and turning heads out at the UCHealth Training Center during Denver’s OTAs.

“[Jerry] Jeudy—he’s just adding on from last year. His releases are looking great and his routes are looking crispy,” Bryce Callahan said about Denver’s 2020 first-round pick. “He’s catching the ball. It’s all looking good.”

As a rookie, the Biletnikoff Award winner flashed many of the traits that made him the best receiver in college football and a first-round pick as he put up over 850 receiving yards in 2020. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, specifically when it came to dropping passes.

On Tuesday, he attributed last year’s struggles holding onto the ball to “concentration and focusing on the ball.”

“I’m so quick to catch and run to hurry up and make a play instead of catching first, then run. That’s mostly what [it was],” the 22-year old explained. “Just trying to make a play too fast and not focusing on the bigger picture, which is catching the ball first.”

As Callahan pointed out, during the start of OTAs, Jerry’s having no problem holding onto the rock.

“I think he’s in a far better place than he was last year at this time,” Vic Fangio said about the second-year receiver. “I see a more focused and more diligent receiver on the details. He knows he can’t slack. I see a much more mature guy right now.”

The head coach pointed to what he believes was a “defining moment” in Jeudy’s career when he bounced back from a five-drop game in Week 16 to having 140 yards and a touchdown the very next week.

“I feel like I’ve matured,” Jeudy added.

That maturity off the field has turned into separation on the field. During Tuesday’s OTA practice, with Courtland Sutton not partaking in 7-on-7s, Jeudy was the best receiver on the field. And it wasn’t even close.

The second-year receiver showed he is quickly forming chemistry with new quarterback Teddy Bridgwater. With outstretched arms, Jeudy pulled in a beautifully placed pass from the veteran quarterback 35 yards downfield in the end zone.

A few plays later, Bridgewater hit Jeudy immediately as he came out of a break for a gain of 20 yards on the left sideline. Jeudy displayed excellent footwork, getting both feet in to secure the catch. Jeudy also hauled in a dart from Drew Lock in the middle of the field in traffic near the end of practice.

Looking to build off his rookie year, Jeudy said being in the same offense for a second year in a row will help him continue to grow.

“Being that this is my second year, you just know the plays. You know the tempo of the plays and the timing of the plays,” Jeudy stated. “That really helps you on the timing of your route running, knowing what to do and what not to do because of how familiar I am with the plays. It really helps me a lot on becoming a better route runner and knowing the timing of the plays.”

Jeudy has never had a problem getting open. He’s as masterful a route runner as they come for a player his age. But he admitted his timing wasn’t always perfect as a rookie.

“You want to get a certain spot or a certain place at that exact timing,” he said. “Knowing how to make the defender move to where you want him to be and getting to that spot at that timing of the play—that’s the biggest thing. That’s what I learned the most.”

On Tuesday, Jeudy’s route running, timing and skills were matched up against his former teammate, and fellow first-round pick, Patrick Surtain II.

Jeudy—again, a masterful route runner—tried to bait Surtain to bite on a double move to make him look like a rookie. The first-round corner wanted nothing to do with the fake. Instead, Jeudy remained smothered in coverage by Surtain and the quarterback had to look to the other side of the field.

“I know him coming over here is going to be a great work for the receivers. He’s a smart guy, a great dude and knows the game very well. He’s really mature for his age,” Jeudy said about Surtain. “I thought they drafted a great player. I’ve been going against Surtain since Alabama.”

Despite being the second cornerback drafted, Surtain II was viewed by many as the most pro-ready corner. Two weeks into OTAs, he’s displaying why.

In 7-on-7s on Tuesday, Surtain jumped on an out route thrown by Bridgewater on the right sideline, had both of his hands on the should-be interception, but dropped it just as he tried to keep his feet inbounds. While it wasn’t a game-changing interception, it was still a nice read and break on the ball for the pass breakup.

“He’s a baller,” Callahan said about the rookie corner. “Just from what I’ve seen so far, he has great size and he’s a big corner. He’s disciplined in his technique and he’s learning the defense—multiple positions—really fast, which, in this defense, is rare for a rookie. Hats off to him.”

In the past, players have said it takes years to master Fangio’s defense. While Surtain hasn’t quite mastered it, he’s speeding up the learning curve. The head coach even admitted Surtain’s responded well to the new defense and everything that’s been thrown his way in OTAs.

“He’s coachable, has a good football mind and obviously has a good football background from his days in college,” Fangio said on Tuesday. “He’s grown up around football and you can see that. He’s very calm, and I don’t mean calm as a flatline. He doesn’t get flustered and he’s a very good competitor. He uses his physical attributes well. We’ve been very pleased with him up to this point.”

During Week 1 of OTAs, Surtain was labeled as a “specimen” and “the real deal.” A week later, he can now add “baller” to his NFL resume.

First-round picks certainly are not a guarantee to hit. Early on in OTAs, however, the Broncos’ two most recent top picks have been flashing all of the right potential.

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