Broncos' 2020 Roster Report Card: Grading the Quarterbacks
In the NFL there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ roster. The 2015 Denver Broncos had an all-time defense, but the offense simply did just enough to get the team over the hump and win the franchise’s third Lombardi Trophy.
With the Broncos coming off of three consecutive losing seasons, expecting GM John Elway to patch every hole on the depth chart was simply not feasible in one single offseason.
Despite the ‘earth-shattering’ news that Denver’s roster isn’t chalked full of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, the 2020 iteration of the squad stands to be one of the organization’s most competitive in many seasons.
Under the guidance of second-year Head Coach Vic Fangio, long-time coaching partner and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, and highly sought after Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur, Denver has the proper infrastructure in coaching expertise and leadership to make a playoff run.
The offense is as exciting as they are young. As one of the youngest and cheapest offenses in the entire NFL, the Broncos will likely be extremely volatile on offense this upcoming season, scoring points in bunches and looking like one of the next great units one week only to regress and look completely lost another week.
Such is life for a young inexperienced offense. On paper, however, there is no reason not to be extremely optimistic about Denver’s ability to put up points in bunches in 2020.
Just how good can this young Broncos’ offense be in 2020? That likely depends on the singular most important position in American Sports: the quarterback
Join me in a breakdown of the Broncos' quarterback position at the end of which I'll render a grade.
Note: We're listing players of note per position. If a player is missing, they have yet to make an impact and are a likely long-shot to make an impact on the 2020 roster in the author’s opinion. However, anything can happen. All it takes is one player getting a shot and proving they belong.
The Names: Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, and Riley Neal.
The Broncos’ quarterback position is in as good as it has been since Petyon Manning was under center. While the journey from Trevor Siemian, to Paxton Lynch, to Case Keenum, to Joe Flacco was more tears and jeers than cheers, Elway and the Broncos very well have hit a massive stroke of luck in landing Missouri QB Drew Lock with the 42nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
In his five starts to close out the 2019 season, Lock showed flashes of excellent arm talent and playmaking ability on top of improved base mechanics, leading to more consistent accuracy. The Broncos’ offense under Lock was, for the most part, the equivalent to riding a bike with training wheels in how much ex-OC Rich Scangarello dialed back and simplified the overall offense, but Lock stepped up and flashed the tools to warrant serious optimism from Broncos’ Country.
However, with only a five-game sample size, the best approach with Lock is wait and see with caution and trepidation. Many quarterbacks have looked good in small sample sizes before, only to regress.
Lock has the tools and moxie many want from a flashy gunslinger in a high-flying offense, but whether Lock can become a bonafide franchise-caliber quarterback is simply not known yet.
What does seem obvious is that Lock is comfortable being ‘the guy’. From rapping ‘Jeezy’ on the sideline, to hanging out and having fun with teammates, to discussing the work he is doing to prepare for his first year as an NFL starting QB, to the mantle of leadership within a community every quarterback is expected to fulfill, Lock has the temperament and personality to not be phased by the great responsibilities that lie in front of him.
As the big man on campus in Columbia for Mizzou — entering college as a highly-touted recruit — stepping into the Mile High shadows of all-time greats like Elway and Manning, the stage does not appear too big for Lock. That doesn’t guarantee success in any way, but it doesn’t hurt.
Even if Lock simply becomes an Andy Dalton/Derek Carr-level quarterback in 2020, that would be a great return on investment for Denver over the next few seasons given that Lock is making pennies on the dollar with a rookie QB contract, but in the grand scheme of the entire NFL, Lock will need to become better than that to stick and become the QB the Broncos hope he can be.
Outside of Lock, the Broncos’ other QBs are not much to write home about or create excitement. Driskel, the new veteran backup, has some tools but never lived up to his massive high school recruit hype.
Rypien was a fun player in college, but might not have the overall tools to stick in the NFL. The rookie, Neal, transferred from Ball State to Vanderbilt and much like Rypien, simply doesn’t seem to have the juice to make ripples in the NFL pond as a quarterback.
Lock is the one true hope in the Broncos’ QB room and the position depends on his success. Despite going 4-1 starting in five games in 2020, he is still a relative unknown with a low floor and high ceiling.
Be wary of anyone who touts 'quarterback wins' as being any sort of measuring stick for evaluating QBs. Yes, quarterbacks are exceptionally important on a team’s ability to win football games, but ‘wins’ have and always will be a team stat.
Lock will need to show he can handle more responsibilities in calling an offense and making proper reads on the field, while still honing his overall mechanics (specifically in the lower body) to better qualm some accuracy variance that he showed from time-to-time in college. Lock can make off-balance plays as a point guard from within the pocket, but relying on poor mechanics when the situation doesn’t call for it is a recipe for poor results.
He showed improvement over his time in 2019, but some of these poor habits could come back over a larger sample size. Being ‘cautiously optimistic’ that Lock can become a franchise quarterback and really start to come into his own in 2020 is not the hot take of 'Lock for MVP' or 'Lock will be replaced after 2020', but it is probably the smartest place to be in terms expectations for the second-year QB.
If Lock goes down, however, the Broncos will be in big trouble. The 2020 Broncos will go as far as their young QB can take them.
Until we know more about Lock, it’s not fair to assume he can be anything beyond a solid-level quarterback who plays well with a talented roster around him thanks in part to being on a rookie contract. However, this grade comes with large error bars attached.
If Lock plays great, the grade could rise as high as an A- or even an A. But if Lock falls flat and fails to live up to expectations, the grade could easily become C- or worse.
Can Lock become ‘the guy’ and the first young, homegrown franchise arm the city can be excited about since Jay Cutler, or even Elway? Therein lies the most important question for 2020.