3 Reasons Why Broncos' Patience in Drew Lock Can't Extend Beyond 2020
The Denver Broncos believed they'd found their quarterback of the future after Drew Lock performed decently in the final five games of the 2019 season. However, Lock has had a rough start to 2020 and has dealt with a second injury to his throwing arm.
He was especially poor against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7, in bad weather, just like he was at Arrowhead in 2019. This has led to a vocal minority of fans calling for Lock to be benched, which is way premature, but his performance should lead to questions as to whether he really is the guy going forward.
Benching Lock is unrealistic for a few reasons. It's still early in his career and he might be able to turn it around. The Broncos don't have a viable option on the roster to replace him and Brett Rypien isn't being considered as a future option outside of being a backup.
The question about Lock being the guy is fair as he continues repeating the same mistakes, which should be a concern to every Broncos fan. There are 10 games left for him to turn things around, but if he doesn't, Denver can't afford to give him any more time as a starter to figure things out.
That kind of patience just isn't viable anymore at the quarterback position in the NFL.
Before you grab your angrily attack your keyboards, hear me out. I have five main points as to why Denver can't afford to be patient with Lock beyond this year. Additionally, I do hope Lock turns it around and proves he can be the guy.
It's the best thing for the team as the Broncos could go forward with a quarterback in place, but if he doesn't, wasting more time would be the worst thing for the team. He has 10 games left in the season.
Here's why Denver's patience with Lock can't extend beyond 2020.
QB is the Most Important Position
There is no one that can debate that quarterback is the most important position on the field and probably the most important in all of sports. It takes a special kind of athlete to play quarterback and a special type of person.
That reason alone shows why bad rosters with good quarterbacks can end up doing well, while good rosters with bad quarterbacks can end up doing poorly.
As it relates to Lock, there are a few players that always come up in comparison in the minds of Broncos Country — Peyton Manning and John Elway — usually to bolster how poorly those two played early on in their Hall-of-Fame careers. While it's true that both QBs struggled early, there are factors that their respective box score stats don't reflect.
Both Elway and Manning were immensely more talented than Lock is. He does not have the kind of ceiling those two did, which means you aren't going to be as patient with him. Additionally, you have to account for the eras in question. During Elway's early years, teams often gave quarterbacks a lot more time to develop and that carried over until the middle 2000s, which covered Manning. Since it has become a quarterback-driven league, NFL teams can't afford to be that level of patience these days.
There is also something about using two first overall picks to say the 42nd overall pick in the 2019 draft should deserve the same benefits of the doubt. I'll talk more about this but draft position does matter a whole lot.
Another QB Lock is often compared to is Josh Allen, who was drafted to a system in Buffalo that has done everything to build on his strengths while developing his weaknesses. That isn't exactly happening with Lock, which can be put at the feet of the Broncos' coaching staff.
Allen had a rough start to his career, but the coaches kept working with him. After his rookie year, he was given 2019 as the starter and led his team to a 10-6 record. He showed key improvements from Year 1 to 2, which bought him more time.
Do you see the difference with Lock and Allen?
Lock hasn't shown those key improvements to buy him more time, yet, and it may not come. He is struggling out there and making the same mistakes he always has dating back to college. Again, draft pedigree also plays a factor here.
Lock gets compared to Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield, too. Burrow isn't exactly a fair comparison whichever way you try to spin it. However, in seven games, he has done more with less than Lock despite Burrow's record.
Mayfield has received a lot of patience from the Browns largely due to failed head coaches like Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens. The Browns are 5-2, but there have been a lot of issues with Mayfield and his play that have some analysts talking about a quarterback change this offseason.
Justin Herbert stepped into a game he wasn't expected to play in and performed great, cementing himself as the Chargers' starter. He's had a great start to his career that's been near-historic. All three are early first-round picks, and two of them are rookies. None of the three are viable arguments for or against Lock.
One comment made to me by a college QBs coach is, "When you know, you know", in reference to Josh Rosen, who was a 2018 first-round pick by Arizona, but after 13 starts his rookie season, the Cardinals knew enough to move on. This same coach added, "When you know and you hang on anyway, you end up becoming a joke."
The second comment was in reference to Blake Bortles with the Jaguars, which I'll come back. Nick Foles was another quarterback mentioned by this coach as an example of teams knowing what he could and couldn't do, and holding on in hopes he'd develop for too long.
Bortles' numbers through the first nine games of his career are rather similar to Lock's and no one can argue that the Jaguars at the time had more to work with than what Lock has now. When looking back at Bortles' tape, the comparison grows.
Like Lock, Bortles had similar issues with mechanics, accuracy, ball placement, reads, and locking on to receivers, but the biggest was the repetition of mistakes over and over again. Teams can't hold out for too long, hoping that a quarterback will turn it around.
Doing so risks that team ending up constantly in the middle of the pack. Just ask the Bengals and Andy Dalton. Cincinnati held onto him hoping he would take that bonafide step into franchise-QB status and it was stuck in the dead zone.
One final player to compare is Jimmy Clausen. While he was the 48th overall pick in 2010, he played terribly his rookie season and the Panthers moved on after also completely overhauling their coaching staff. Had Carolina kept their staff, it wouldn't have been surprising to see them give Clausen another year.
In fact, it has been reported that had John Fox not been fired, Clausen would've been the guy for 2011. A change of staff can often means a change at quarterback as the new staff has no commitment or patience for the old staff's guy, unless he is proven.
Patience at QB vs. Patience at Other Positions
Point one was all about how quarterback is the most important position, which makes it harder to be more patient with them. Other positions aren't as important so teams can afford to take more time, but also, the circumstances of the team matter.
Denver hoped to push for a playoff spot this year, despite all the pandemic's effect on the offseason. The Broncos hope to be competitive next year as well, which means patience can't be afforded to Lock.
Garett Bolles, on the other hand, entered the NFL with three years of football experience and joined the Broncos when they were rebuilding. Add in him being the 20th overall pick and boom, you have the skin in the game to stay the course.
Denver's patience was running out, though, as the team declined Bolles' fifth-year option and was, according to rumors, considering trading him during the 2020 offseason. Bolles received patience from the team, but it wasn't boundless.
Players like Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Albert Okwuegbunam, and Dre'Mont Jones all will get added patience from the team. Most weren't first-round picks and none of them play the most important position.
Additionally, their respective positions typically see them peak from Year 1-Year 3 and they aren't there yet. Quarterbacks often peak in Year 2, which Lock is in, and is included in the data.
When looking at Lock's three full starts this year, compared to the other quarterbacks for those same weeks, he falls dead last in adjusted completion percentage, which takes drops into consideration, among 25 qualifying quarterbacks. He has the third-longest time to throw, the fourth-longest time in pocket, the 15th-fastest to sack, and the fourth-longest time to use his legs.
When throwing under 2.5 seconds, Lock has the third-worst passer rating and has thrown no touchdowns to two interceptions. When he receives over 2.5 seconds to throw, he's still got the third-worst passer rating with one touchdown to two interceptions.
So let's look as Lock when counting every game. He's still dead last among 38 quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage, tied for the second-longest time to throw, the eighth-longest time in the pocket, 25th-fastest to sack, and tied (ironically with Jeff Driskel) for second-longest time to use their legs.
Looking at time in the pocket, under 2.5 seconds, Lock has the third-worst passer rating with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Over 2.5 seconds, he's got the fourth-worst passer rating with one touchdown to two interceptions. He's in the bottom rankings, with the exception of time to sack. That is one thing Lock does do extremely well.
He plays the most important position and if you want to compete in the NFL, a quality quarterback leading your offense is a necessity. Lock might still be that guy, but time is running out quickly for him. He has 10 games left to really turn things around.
Being Overly-Patient Can be Costly
There is a lot wrong with being overly-patient and it all comes back to hurting the team in the now and in the future. It's not always easy for teams to discern when the time has come to turn the page on a QB or hang in there patiently.
That's a problem the Browns have been struggling with. Denver is on the verge of being in that situation. Cleveland has gone from being overly-patient with quarterbacks to not patient enough, though.
Giving Lock the 2020 season seems just right there in the middle. It was enough patience to bounce back and develop in-season, which he earned, but not overly-patient if he fails. Giving him 2021 would be pushing the envelope, if he doesn't turn this season around.
Paxton Lynch is an example of the Broncos being overly-patient. Denver didn't "see enough" of him his rookie year, which can be argued as true. He barely saw the field.
Lynch was also a raw quarterback who needed a lot of development. As the season wore on, even in practice, he wasn't showing the needed development and started showing a lack of interest in doing what it took to become the starter, except for on Madden.
That should've been a sign to move on, but instead, the Broncos were overly-patient in hopes he could turn it around. That led to Denver passing on trying to move up for a Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson in 2017, who it has been rumored was liked by the Broncos' coaching staff of the time.
Instead, the Broncos rolled with Lynch hoping he would turn it around. Again he failed to show that development, so when the 2018 draft came around and the Broncos had interest in quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Mayfield, the team's hope of developing Lynch prevented them from being willing to pay the price to go get them.
Denver also passed on Allen, Rosen, and Lamar Jackson, which I'm sure the team had its reasons for doing so. The Broncos' patience with Lynch put them in a multi-year bind.
Denver cannot, I repeat, cannot afford to make that same mistake this time around in what is shaping up to be another outstanding 2021 quarterback class featuring Trevor Lawrence, Zack Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Kyle Trask, and a few others.
Those names are all garnering first-round buzz at the moment, though it's still really early in the pre-draft process. If Denver passes on the 2021 QB class, because 'the team wants to give Lock another year' despite him not showing improvement by season's end, it'll be a failure of the front office, the coaching staff, and the scouting department.
Denver is poised to earn a prime draft spot, putting itself in position to land one of those quarterbacks, partially because of Lock's play not being good enough. Draft slots don't help give a lot of patience.
Getting back to comparing Lock to the likes of Elway, Manning, Allen, Burrow, and others, with regards to patience, the difference comes down to draft position. Despite how much teams and some analysts deny it, draft position means a lot.
I get that Lock was projected to be a first-round pick and ended up sliding into the second. That actually doesn't matter. Projection means squat now.
Teams saw something in Lock that caused them to be hesitant to draft him before the second round. It's been said that Denver nearly took Lock round one, which is great, but it didn't.
The Broncos passed on him twice in round one. Being a projected first-round pick doesn't matter when you get drafted on Day 2. What matters is where a guy gets drafted.
It has to do with the investment in a player. Both first- and second-round picks are considered prime selections, but there is a huge difference between being a top-15 pick and 42nd overall.
There were a multitude of reasons that Lock didn't hear his name called round one. Mechanical issues with his lower body technique, accuracy, reads, aggressiveness, placement, and even football intelligence. Those are all critiques that have been heard since he has been with the Broncos, even after his first five games last year, and are still being heard today.
In fact, Lock's issues in these areas, if anything, are more prominent now than they were as a rookie. Maybe it's due to the two injuries, or maybe he's stuck in his own head. Whatever the issue is, Lock has shown obvious signs of regression, which causes teams to lose patience all the faster.
Watching Lock last year, there were a good number of plays where his process was good even if it didn't result in a positive result. You can live with that.
Making good reads, maneuvering the pocket, having solid ball placement, and seeing the result come out on the field. You can work with a good process even if the result is bad, at least for a little while. Lock showed far more good than bad.
Fast forward to 2020 and Lock's process has been more bad with lot more negative results. Locking onto a receiver and missing open guys is often due to a bad process. Even if the receiver he locked onto drops the ball, that doesn't change the fact that staring him down is less than ideal.
If the receiver catches it, it's a bad process with a good result, or it means the receiver bailed out the quarterback and it gets chalked up as a great play. This has been the case for Lock for much of this season, especially since coming back from his shoulder injury. Part of the reason is due to how aggressive he is, which we'll come back to later.
The change in the process is where the obvious signs of regression are apparent and sums up the majority of what it takes to be an NFL quarterback. This is why time is running out for Lock.
10 Games Left to Turn the Ship Around
This is what it all comes down to. What Lock has shown thus far has not been what you want to see in a potential quarterback of the future, but you still have 10 games to see if he can turn it around. There's a lot that needs to be worked on from Lock for Denver to award him more time.
He has to cut back on the mistakes, but more than that, he has got to stop making the same mistakes. When he gets into trouble, he tries to force it through closed windows.
This led to interceptions against New England and the Chiefs, as well as another near interception in Week 7 when he tried to force it into triple-covered Nick Vannett. That isn't how you win games but how you lose them.
Lock's footwork has been a mess and while it improved last year, he has regressed back to his college form. This is cause for concern as you don't want quarterbacks reverting to bad habits in tough situations and against the Chiefs in the snow, that's exactly what it was.
It was made worse when Phillip Lindsay was knocked out of the game and the Broncos' run game support went bye-bye. Consistent footwork can help fix issues elsewhere, especially ball placement. Lock has a knack for throwing off his back foot when he needs to instead plant and drive the ball. This has led to some really bad throws.
In Week 7, the broadcast announcers made a comment about what Chiefs' safety Tyrann Mathieu said about Lock. It was along the lines of, "If you show single-high, he is going to attack deep."
It's understandable to want to attack against that coverage, but as a quarterback, you don't want to be obvious and transparent to opponents like that. The more predictable you are, the worse off your team is.
What really hurts is Lock telegraphs it off the snap by locking onto the deep, attacking receiver, which has led to missing multiple wide-open receivers that could have kept the chains moving and given the Broncos a fresh set of downs to work with. Lock has to improve his reads and start going through his progressions and be a lot less predictable.
There is nothing wrong with being aggressive. The issue is being overaggressive as Lock has been. Last year, it was a complaint about how there was no aggression from Lock, and there seems to have been an overcorrection there.
He has to find that balance and take his shots when the read is there, with a good process, but if it isn't, don't force it and turn it into a bad process. Giving himself a fresh set of downs is better than punting or settling for a field goal because of being overaggressive.
This was an issue against the Patriots. Yes, Lock had multiple touchdowns dropped by receivers, but there were open receivers elsewhere that Lock missed because he locked onto the deep, attacking weapon. This led to six field goals and a fortunate win, so the issues got swept under the run.
Lock has to balance that aggression with a focus on just moving the chains. Overdoing one of them can and will hurt the offense.
10 games. That's all that Lock has. Right now, the jury is still out on Lock, though the needle is pointing in the wrong direction.
Does Denver know he is the guy? No. Do the Broncos believe he can be the guy? Maybe.
I'll leave you with this. Until you know you have a quarterback, you are in need of a quarterback. The Broncos don't know yet.
It's on Lock to go out there and prove he can be the guy and that's something all fans should be rooting for because it's in the best interest of the team.