ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The story of the Denver Broncos 2021 draft class has yet to be told, but one thing is clear: First-year general manager George Paton has assembled a group of rookies with one trait on the front burner — speed.
Sure, Paton wanted high-character players with plenty of football intellect, but each name that came off the board made the Broncos’ team speed a little better. Nearly all of Paton’s selections were among the fastest prospects at their respective positions in this year’s draft.
“They’re going to have a big impact,” Paton said.
There is a school of thought in the NFL that if you want to gauge a team’s depth and overall speed, take a look at two items first:
And the Broncos of 2020 weren’t particularly good at either one of those things.
Rick Gosselin, a long-time NFL writer and columnist, annually ranks special teams play across the league. The rankings consider almost two dozen categories and have become must-reads for every special teams coach. The Broncos haven’t finished above 19th in those rankings in any of the past five seasons and haven’t finished in the top 10 since their Super Bowl season of 2015.
Paton, including when he signed running back Mike Boone in free agency, has said multiple times this offseason, special teams would be a priority.
“We realize we lacked in special teams last year,” Paton said. “We need guys who can cover and block and take pride in special teams. All of these players that we drafted will hopefully take special teams seriously.”
And in the explosive-play department, the Broncos finished the 2020 season with 21 pass plays of at least 30 yards for the season. They had six games when they had no pass plays of at least 30 yards, including the Nov. 29 loss to the New Orleans Saints when they had no quarterbacks in uniform due to violations of COVID-19 protocols.
By contrast, the Kansas City Chiefs had reached that total (21) by Thanksgiving weekend, with five games left in the regular season.
That is why up and down the Broncos’ draft class, on both sides of the ball, speed was prominent.
First-round pick Pat Surtain II ran a 4.42 40-yard dash in his pre-draft workout, one of the fastest among the cornerbacks in the draft.
Guard/center Quinn Meinerz, a 320-pounder who was a third-round pick, was among a small, select group of offensive linemen in this year’s draft who timed under five seconds in the 40-yard dash (he was at 4.99 at 320 pounds on his pro day).
Linebacker Baron Browning was among the fastest linebackers on the board (4.56 at 245 pounds). Coach Vic Fangio simply said “we like his speed, we like his athleticism.”
Wide receiver Seth Williams (4.50), a sixth-round pick, has been called a “freak of nature” by his Auburn teammates. “We targeted [Williams] as one of the top specials-teams players for receivers,” Paton said. “He is like a piece of clay. He’s really talented. He’s big and he can run.” Said Williams: “I can run and overpower my defenders that are guarding me.”
Two of the Broncos’ Day 3 picks — Caden Sterns (4.41) and Kary Vincent Jr. (4.39) — were among the fastest players to be found anywhere in the draft. Vincent ran for LSU’s track team, had run a wind-aided 100 meters in 10.07 in college and was a member of the Tigers’ 4×100 relay team that won two SEC titles. “It wasn’t that we needed a corner, but he was sticking out like a sore thumb,” Paton said of selecting Vincent in the seventh round. “This kid is really talented, and he was falling. He’s fast and he’s a track guy.”
The Broncos’ final pick of the draft at No. 253 overall, defensive tackle Marquiss Spencer, ran a 4.87 40 in his pro day at 301 pounds.