LAKEWOOD, Colo. — The evidence remains easy to follow. When examining why the Broncos own a seven-year playoff drought and six straight losing seasons, a lack of stars cannot be dismissed.
Don't misunderstand the point. The issues at coach, quarterback and offensive coordinator have created a stench that has been impossible to overcome. And let's not get started on how they rarely win in the margins on special teams.
What covers that up better than Revlon? Elite players. And the Broncos have not had enough of them.
ESPN has issued its annual ranking of the top 10 players at 11 different positions.
In the first three installments — off-ball linebackers, defensive tackles, and edge rushers — the Broncos did not have a player receive a vote, let alone a top-10 ranking. And the final six positions — running backs, offensive tackles, centers, and quarterbacks — might only feature a few Broncos like Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers.
The in-between revealed the Broncos' strengths. Pat Surtain II topped the list among all cornerbacks. That means he is, by definition, best in the world at what he does. I will keep saying it, Surtain turns receivers into Chick-fil-A — they are never open on Sunday.
Yes, Surtain was beaten a few times by Davante Adams and D.J. Moore. But focusing on two plays in a season recalls the Margaret Thatcher quote: "If my critics saw me walking over the Thames (River), they would say it was because I couldn't swim."
In only his second season, Surtain achieved All-Pro status based on production. He was too good for his own good as defense's stopped throwing at him. According to ESPN, his 12.5 target rate ranked lowest among qualifying cornerbacks.
Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph credits Surtain's football "intelligence." He puts in the time, preparation that leaves him ready to consistently make plays.
Former Broncos star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. described Surtain this way to Denver7.
"Really, you don't see a lot of guys come into the league with great technique. He had great technique (as a rookie)," Harris said. "He has size. He's so long, so he's always going to be tough to get around. When he's in press coverage, the receiver is automatically taking a longer route with him."
Surtain ranked ahead of the Jets' Sauce Gardner, the Dolphins' Jalen Ramsey, the Packers' Jaire Alexander and Philadelphia's Darius Slay.
Surtain, 23, received a doctorate in cornerback play from his father Pat, a former standout NFL corner, who now coaches at Florida State. It has left him a clinician with motivation.
"Yeah, you always look to get better each and every year, no matter what the accolades are because you know it's a new season," Surtain said. "You have to have the same approach."
At his recent football camp, Justin Simmons told a camper that Surtain was his favorite player to watch in the NFL. Simmons, 29, has been a favorite Bronco for many over the past seven years. He has done everything — Pro Bowl, All-Pro — except experience a playoff berth.
Simmons has not been the reason. There is no better center fielder in the NFL. He ranked third on ESPN's safety list behind the Steelers' Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Chargers' Derwin James.
"He plays a nice, clean, smart game," an NFC exec said in the ESPN article. "Always in the right place with ball skills and instincts... Not a splashy knock-you-out guy but the splash comes from takeaways."
Simmons produces turnovers at an alarming rate. He boasts 20 interceptions over the past four seasons. He set a career-high with six picks and three forced fumbles last year despite missing five games due to a thigh injury.
Simmons eagerly awaits training camp under new coach Sean Payton, leaving impressed by the offseason workouts.
"This is no shot at any other coach I’ve had. You can tell how successful he has been by the way he’s come in here and how detail-oriented he is. He’s been great. I am excited," Simmons said. "I think the best way I can describe it is how educational it’s been. I said that in OTAs. To put it under one word, it would be educational. He competes and I think that’s what I like the most.”
Improved coaching should benefit the Broncos. But if Denver ends its streak of misery, it will also lean heavily on its two best players, Surtain and Simmons.