The Denver Broncos are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the quarterback position. The Broncos invested a second-round pick in Drew Lock in the 2019 NFL draft and the results have been varied.
After a solid five-game debut in 2019, where he flashed potential but also many issues, Lock earned himself the job for 2020. Denver had hoped that he would show enough progression as a player to really prove he can be the quarterback of the future.
That has not happened.
Instead, there's been an even bigger variance in Lock's play, not just game-to-game but quarter-to-quarter, than in those five starts in 2019. There are a lot of bad habits in Lock's game that need to be fixed, and when things start to go south, he reverts back to them, which isn't what NFL teams want from a starting quarterback.
The Broncos are in a catch-22 of sorts. Lock has shown a lot of potential but the flip-side is, he needs more time to grow as a player than Denver might be in a position to give him.
Between a 'Lock' and a hard place, the Broncos can't afford to be overly patient with him, or ride with him as the guy in 2021 unless over the next eight games he plays consistently at the fourth-quarter level he's displayed in the past two games. Consistency is needed going forward.
One reason the Broncos can ill-afford to sit by and give Lock 2021 carte blanche (barring a turnaround down the stretch) is because of how strong the 2021 draft class projects to be at quarterback. While some of the 2021 quarterbacks may be out of reach, Denver is looking like it'll be forced to bring in new blood at the quarterback position, regardless of how whether Lock turns it around this year.
A veteran band-aid is always a possibility with names like Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford having been rumored to be on their way out in their respective cities. However, that topic is for another time.
Today, I'm giving Broncos Country a look at those 2021 quarterbacks that Denver may have to go target if Lock doesn't show the needed improvements. Which tier the Broncos prioritize comes down to how Lock finishes the 2020 campaign.
Trevor Lawrence | Clemson: This is the obvious top guy who is likely looking at being the No. 1 overall pick. Denver may be out of range for Lawrence, without having to give up the farm to go get him, but there is a slim chance the Broncos would end up with the top pick. Lawrence is roundly touted as the best quarterback prospect since at least Andrew Luck (2012), and in my eyes, that's a fair assessment. Everything you want in a modern quarterback is there with Lawrence.
Zach Wilson | BYU: This is the season's biggest riser at quarterback, following the path similar to Joe Burrow. Wilson was dubbed by many as a Day 3 pick, but his play has seen him rise to garner first-round buzz and it’s likely his stock grows even higher. Playing for BYU, Wilson has played at altitude, which is something Broncos' GM John Elway covets. Wilson has smooth mechanics and a solid arm to make all the throws. There is poise, leadership, and the ability to extend plays if needed.
Justin Fields | Ohio State: This is a quarterback that I have a hard time seeing Denver having a lot of interest in because of his style of play. Watching Fields, you can see his tendency to lock in on the first read and if it isn't there, his performance drops. There is the habit of often dropping his eyes and looking to move with his legs instead of continuing to scan the field. His style can work very well in the NFL, but it'd be very dependent on the scheme around him.
Trey Lance | North Dakota State: The big, athletic, raw option on the table for Denver is Lance. There will be questions about his ability to read a defense until it is answered on the field in the NFL because in college, the scheme cuts the field into half for him. He possesses a live arm that can make every throw needed for the NFL, but ball placement and touch are works in progress.
Kyle Trask | Florida: Trask's inexperience is going to scare some teams away, but now that he is starting for the Gators, he's showing flashes of being a good quarterback. He is very effective when the pocket is stable and he can just sit there and do work, but if the play breaks down, he looks to move the ball with his legs. The arm is just solid for the NFL and at times, that is going to create issues for his pro offense. Trask can be an effective NFL quarterback in the right scheme with a good O-line, but it’ll have to be tailored to fit his style.
Jamie Newman | Georgia: Last year, Newman started for Wake Forest and really caught my attention when watching them. He has a skill-set that ccould see him last in the NFL as a backup, but also be a solid starter in the right system. There is a concern as he transferred to Georgia then opted out of the season. There remain a lot of questions that are unlikely to be answered before the draft.
Mac Jones | Alabama: When working 20 yards or less, Jones can be extremely effective by throwing with smart reads and timing. However, his arm is just average and will see issues when attacking deep, including a drop in velocity. Jones needs plays to stay on time and on-script as he doesn't offer up enough to extend plays or work outside the pocket. He is a limited pocket quarterback, so a team will really have to work to make that pocket stay clean for him.
Kenny Pickett | Pitt: The best thing about Pickett is all the puns that can come due to his last name. Joking aside, Pickett has a limited arm that will result in interceptions in the NFL. He is a cerebral quarterback that can really attack up to 15 yards with good poise, accuracy, and velocity. He will need to go to a scheme that will spread out defenses and let him make the reads but wants to watch out for tight-window throws.
Malik Willis | Liberty: This is a favorite of my colleague Nick Kendell because of his playstyle. If you are not familiar with Willis, just look at Lamar Jackson for a play-style comparison. Willis is a threat with his legs, but he can make some big throws to attack deep in the passing game. The mechanics need work, as does the ball placement, but he is a play-making threat that defenses will struggle to handle.
Desmond Ridder | Cincinnati: This is another quarterback that is a major threat with his legs but also has a live arm. There are placement issues with him as well as concerns about a shoulder injury suffered last year. You can really open up the playbook with Ridder because of his big of a threat he is with his legs. The run-pass option can be run with tremendous success. Ridder will need to be more consistent for the NFL, but there is a lot to work with if you employ the right scheme.
Listing the 2021 QB prospects for Denver's consideration doesn't mean Drew Lock is done or can't get better. The Broncos have to keep their options open because Lock is not trending in the right way for them, unfortunately.
His bad habits are hurting the offense and must be fixed if he wants to be the guy. Lock has the rest of the season to turn it around, but if he doesn't, Denver could be looking at other quarterbacks and they may include some on this list.