State of the Broncos: The 2021 Rookie of the Year

Jan 13, 2022, 6:54 AM | Updated: 3:59 pm
(Graphic by Johnny Hart/Bonneville Denver)...
State of the Broncos

The Broncos finished the 2021 season with a 7-10 record. It was the team’s fifth-straight losing season. It also marked the sixth-consecutive year in which the franchise failed to make the playoffs.

As a result, Vic Fangio was shown the door. The head coach was 19-30 during his three seasons in Denver. And more change is sure to come.

But that doesn’t mean all was lost. There were still some bright spots during the 2021 campaign.

During the first week of the “State of the Broncos” series, it’s time to highlight some of the good things. It’s a chance to take a look at the positives that a new head coach can build upon.



While not a lot went right for the Broncos in 2021, one thing that was on track was George Paton’s first draft class. The general manager had a lot of hits in his initial group, including some players who could potentially be stars.

When Denver decided to trade away Von Miller just before the midway point of the season, their decision was in part based on the play of Jonathon Cooper. The rookie linebacker out of Ohio State had shown promise as a pass rusher, leading the Broncos to believe that the cupboard wouldn’t be bare without the Super Bowl 50 MVP.

They were right. Cooper went on to post 2.5 sacks on the season, as well as seven quarterback hits and four tackles for loss. He was constantly in the backfield, making his presence known. He figures to be a key pass rusher on the Broncos roster for seasons to come.

Similarly, Caden Sterns emerged as a safety of the future. While Justin Simmons will be a Bronco for the foreseeable future, Kareem Jackson probably won’t return in 2022. In large part, that’s because Sterns emerged as the heir apparent.

On the season, the rookie out of Texas had two interceptions, five passes defensed and 2.0 sacks. He showed a nose for the football that is imperative for success at his position.

Speaking of which, Baron Browning demonstrated a skill set that could make him a mainstay in the middle of Denver’s defense. Pressed into action due to both Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson being lost for the season to torn pecs, the rookie out of Ohio State had 58 tackles, showcasing sideline-to-sideline speed that will make him a valuable inside linebacker.

That was a surprise. Pat Surtain becoming a stalwart on defense was not.

The cornerback out of Alabama was a bit of a controversial pick, as Denver passed on two quarterbacks – Justin Fields and Mac Jones – at No. 9 to take the DB. But he showed in year one that he was worthy of being a top-10 selection.

A starter from the jump, Surtain blossomed into a shutdown corner. He could take away a side of the field, allowing the Broncos defense a lot of room for creativity and flexibility. On the season, the cornerback had four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and 14 passes defensed. He has the appearance of a player who will shine in the Mile High City for a decade.

The same can be said for Javonte Williams. The second-round pick out of North Carolina split running back duties all season long with Melvin Gordon, but still managed to be one of the Broncos bright spots on offense.

On the season, Williams had 203 carries for 903 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 43 catches for 316 yards and three more scores. But it wasn’t just the numbers that drew attention. It was the manner in which Williams amassed them that was impressive.

His hard-nosed style was infectious. Fans fell in love with Williams breaking tackles, running over defenders and never giving up on a play. It made No. 33 one of the team’s most popular players.

In 2021, the best rookie on the Broncos roster was Javonte Williams.



1. Javonte Williams
2. Pat Surtain
3. Jonathon Cooper
4. Caden Sterns
5. Baron Browning


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