Analytics Predict Broncos' Drew Lock to Struggle Climbing into NFL Average QB Rankings

How stacked is the deck against Drew Lock turning the corner in 2021?

The biggest news around the NFL has centered around Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which has led to Denver Broncos fans salivating at what the MVP could do in the Orange and Blue. Everyone can picture just what that would mean for a franchise that has struggled mightily over the last five seasons. 

As it appears it is increasingly likely that Rodgers will either retire or return to play for the Packers, the Broncos need third-year QB Drew Lock to make a significant leap forward.

The hotly debated topic is whether Lock can turn such a corner. Let’s face facts, Lock was not very good in 2020. In fact, his statistical body of work, adjusted for era, was in the top-100 worst seasons for a quarterback in his first or second year since 1960.

Lock has a sizable mountain to climb, but he doesn’t have to be a top-10 quarterback with this roster. If he can claw his way out of the cellar and arrive at even NFL-average status, statistically speaking, it may be enough for the 2021 Broncos in 2021 and could give the front office more confidence in his trajectory.

But where does Lock start in his push to make a quantum leap forward? 

What Needs to Improve

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during training camp at the UCHealth Training Center.

From a statistical standpoint, measuring the main categories for a quarterback is simple. You measure their performance in completion percentage, yards per game, touchdowns per game, and interceptions per game. 

There are many other categories we can dive into, but if Lock can make improvements in the above-listed areas, he will be a better quarterback. We could also explore passer rating, but if he improves these four areas, his rating will increase accordingly.

Can Lock be successful in this improvement? Theoretically speaking, of course. Everyone has the potential to improve. But could also get worse.

Theorizing is great, but the reality is what matters. How can we understand whether it's truly possible for Lock to bridge this gap? By studying the past — which brings back the adjusted for era analysis that I referred to earlier.

By looking at the performance improvement of every quarterback season since 1960 — where a quarterback was one or two years removed from his first qualifying season — we can see just how simple or hard it is to improve. In Lock's case, we only need to see if he can improve over his 2020 performance to elevate himself into the NFL-average range this year.  

To get to average, Lock needs to increase his completion percent by ~14%, yards per game by ~9%, touchdowns per game by ~40%, and reduce interceptions per game by ~40%. First, we need to see how many of the nearly 260 individual quarterbacks and approximately 425 such second and/or third qualifying seasons since 1960 improved by those percentages in the respective categories individually and in combination.

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How Difficult Improving is

Broncos QB Drew Lock

Here are the results individually, if we're talking about what it'd take for Lock to elevate his play to NFL-average:

  • 15% improved completion percentage at least 14%
  • 52% improved yards per game at least 9%
  • 31% improved touchdowns per game at least 40%
  • 13% improved interceptions per game at least -40%

It is a 50/50 bet that Lock's yards per game will improve and he has a decent chance that his touchdowns per game will improve. The other two categories are harder to nudge based on history.

Here are the results in combination:

  • <1% improved all four categories by the requisite percentages
  • 9% improved three categories by the requisite percentages
  • 34% improved two categories by the requisite percentages

Can Lock Make the Leap?

Drew Lock

It's a low probability that Lock will improve all four categories by the necessary percentages. If he does, it will be only the fifth time since 1960 that it's happened. That would be a historical event and the cards are stacked against him.

The analysis indicates it is more probable that Lock will improve in two of the four categories, though. Remember, he had the deck stacked against him last season with no training camp, a new offensive coordinator, losing his top receiver early, and struggling to get on the same page with rookies with little time to do so. 

Plus, Lock did get better as the season wore on, which is a good sign, and his rookie season (although didn’t qualify for the analysis) had some solid games.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, Lock’s outlook for improving to the NFL average in all categories doesn’t look feasible. The leap necessary is a sizable one and may just be too great, which means him climbing into the top-16 of NFL QBs is unlikely.

To add to the bleak outlook, the ultimate success for the Broncos lies in Lock improving the interception category. He has to give Vic Fangio's defense a chance because the Broncos will lean heavily on that side of the ball. 

That is the most difficult area to improve but it is key. Giving the opponent extra possessions will put the Broncos in a hole and only a historically good defense is able to get them out.

If Lock can’t make the improvement to the NFL average, he will be replaced by Teddy Bridgewater and won’t factor into the Broncos' plans for 2022. If Lock does turn the corner — against these long odds — the Broncos will be in the playoff hunt and he will start to look the part of the future of the franchise.

Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.

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