Our more senior readers may want to avoid this one, since it can be strange to already see Patrick Surtain II entering the draft despite watching his father, of the same name, playing on Sundays as recently as the 2008 season. The former Dolphin and Chief was a two-time All Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, and his son is well on his way towards doing the same after an impressive three-year stretch at Alabama.
Name: Patrick Surtain II
Weight: 202 lbs
2020 Stats: 13 games, 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 9 passes defensed
As a former five-star recruit at Alabama, Surtain was the top-rated corner in his recruiting class and the sixth-highest rated prospect in the nation at the time. As such, he started every game his freshman year - no small feat at the powerhouse that is Alabama - and he finished with 37 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a pick, and seven passes defensed. In his sophomore season, Surtain recorded 42 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, eight passes defensed, and also forced three fumbles while recovering one.
He had yet another productive season this past year for the Crimson Tide, and it culminated in a national championship. But it was the game before that, the Rose Bowl, where Surtain really turned heads. The ball was hardly thrown in his direction, a testament to how dangerous he can be, and it resulted in Surtain being named the defensive MVP of the game. Still, Surtain has some holes in his game that prevent him from being hailed as the top cornerback prospect in this draft.
Man Coverage: This is his calling card. Like most Alabama cornerbacks, Surtain is a very physical player at the line of scrimmage who loves to use his long arms to muscle receivers out of their route. But Surtain also knows when to play it conservative in off-man coverage, making him a weapon whenever he is asked to shadow a receiver in a game, as evidenced in the Rose Bowl.
Zone Coverage: The high-concept coverage schemes that Alabama utilizes makes it a bit harder to judge Surtain’s zone coverage skills, but he’s often in the right place. Surtain does a good job of understanding the responsibilities of his teammates in zone and communicating with players as he passes off other receivers, all while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. There are times where this becomes a weakness, as Surtain is so focused on the quarterback that receivers can sneak behind him to get open, but that usually comes when Surtain is given a bigger responsibility in zone. In Dallas, Surtain would play most of his zone coverage in deep thirds, where this weakness would be largely mitigated.
Playmaking Ability: For defensive backs, we usually think of playmaking ability in terms of picks and fumbles. While that’s a good indicator, it fails to capture how good Surtain is here. Surtain isn’t a player who will rack up interceptions, although he does have good hands. Rather, Surtain makes his plays in the form of pass breakups, and to that end he’s very aggressive in going after the ball to ensure his receiver doesn’t make the catch.
Athleticism: This is where Surtain struggles the most. He’s a functional athlete for sure, but Surtain is definitely a player that thrives more on his refined techniques than his pure athleticism. His footwork is impeccable, and Surtain uses that to keep receivers close to him, but faster guys can easily get the best of him. To that extent, he’s similar to former teammate Trevon Diggs, who Cowboys fans witnessed get burnt by athletic freaks a few times last year. However, like Diggs, Surtain usually doesn’t make the same mistake twice in a game.
Run Support: Surtain has a clear advantage here over other corners in his class. While he’s not going to compete with Donovan Wilson for willingness to lay the lumber, Surtain is an above average run defender, which is what you want in a corner. Surtain does a good job of recognizing when to come up in run support and he takes fundamentally sound angles to make the wrap-up tackle.
Processing: In order to play in the secondary for Nick Saban, you have to be very smart, Surtain is exactly that, and it’s why he was able to start every game in his freshman year. Growing up with a star NFL corner for a dad - who also coached him in high school - no doubt played a role in that. Surtain plays with an overwhelming sense of where he is on the field and where everyone else is, as well, and has handled a myriad of different coverage schemes with success.
Toughness: Surtain is an interesting player to watch because he plays with a very quiet intensity. He’s aggressive in coverage, at the catch point, and in run support. However, he’s not a player who acts like he relishes all of that aggression. Think of Amari Cooper’s demeanor on the field: calm, measured, and in control, but not soft by any means. That’s how Surtain acts on the field, and it’s yielded great results for him.
Intangibles: The NFL bloodlines are a factor here, though it depends on how much you value that kind of thing. The fact is Surtain has grown up with a very successful NFL cornerback showing him the ropes before being coached by arguably the greatest coach in college football history. While he wasn’t named a captain in 2020, Surtain took over as the most experienced defensive back for the Crimson Tide and held a leadership role for the defense en route to a dominating national title. He may not be a rah-rah type of guy, but Surtain understands what it takes to be a successful cornerback and his skill set should translate almost directly to the NFL.