Heading into the 2020 NFL season, the Denver Broncos are absolutely geeked up and ecstatic about second-year quarterback Drew Lock. Taken with pick No. 42 in the 2019 NFL Draft, Lock spent his first 11 weeks as a pro on injured reserve recovering from a preseason thumb sprain.
As a rookie, he also had the unique distinction of literally going from IR to the starting lineup within a matter of hours. After Joe Flacco had failed and injured his neck earlier in the season and the bloom came off the rose of stop-gap stater Brandon Allen, the Broncos' brass finally accepted the conditions of Week 13's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers and pulled the trigger on playing Lock.
What would ensue in the following five weeks was nothing short of impressive. Would I call Lock's performance during his five-game audition 'phenomenal'? At times, it absolutely was, especially in Week 14 at the Houston Texans when he became the first quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 300 yards passing and throw for three touchdowns in his first career road start.
More than anything, I would call Lock's rookie body of work 'impressive'. He went 100-for-156 (64.1%) for 1,020 yards with a TD-to-INT ratio of 7-to-3. Although his 89.7 QB rating was more-than-solid for a rookie, that wasn't the most impressive statistic he produced.
In fact, in order to uncover that stat, you have to dig a little and research the advanced analytics. Can you guess who the hardest quarterback to sack was during the 2019 NFL season? You might be thinking Patrick Mahomes, or Lamar Jackson, or Russel Wilson, or maybe even Aaron Rodgers or Dak Prescott.
You would be wrong.
It was Lock. Although his sample size was significantly smaller than those QBs who were 16-game starters, his elusiveness and pocket feel was almost preternatural.
Coming out of Missouri, we always knew that Lock was athletic. Not on the same scale as Jackson, who was drafted in the first round the year prior by Baltimore. But Lock's background as a basketball player perhaps was the greatest evidence of the unique athleticism he brought to the football field as a quarterback.
I'm not talking about twitched up explosiveness. Outside of his arm talent, that's not what Lock is.
He's a very smooth and poised athlete. Think of Mahomes, for example. After becoming the NFL's MVP in his first full season as a starter, Mahomes went on to win a World Championship for the Kansas City Chiefs in his second full year and just signed the richest contract ever for a professional athlete (10 years, $503M).
Mahomes' arm talent is explosive, no doubt. But he's not like Jackson out on the grass, or even Houston's Deshaun Watson. No, Mahomes is a smooth athlete with awareness off the charts and an uncanny feel for pressure and also the big play.
Lock is similar to Mahomes in that regard. And Lock's five starts for the Broncos last year illustrated just that.
Pro Football Focus has an advanced analytic stat called Sack Percentage, which measures the percentage of dropbacks where the passer was sacked. Lock led all quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks with an 8.1 Sack Percentage.
Let me run down the list of the QBs just below Lock. It's mostly a who's-who list of established franchise-caliber signal-callers. Jared Goff (9.1), Prescott (11.3), Mahomes (11.4), Drew Brees (12.2), Tom Brady (14.1) — the list goes on because none were better than Lock last year when it came to eluding pressure.
In order to be sacked by opponents on just 8.1% of dropback, not only does a QB have to recognize pre-snap pressure, but he also has to be a magician with his pocket presence, athleticism, and elusiveness. The league's best quarterbacks have that rare knack for foiling the rushers' best efforts.
Drilling deeper (shoutout to Mile High Huddle member Studlee14), the average time it took for opponents to get home and actually sack Lock was 4.30 seconds. Meanwhile, Lock unloaded the rock on average at 2.83 seconds, according to Next Gen Stats. Here's a list of the top-5 longest times to be sacked from the snap last year.
- Drew Lock: 4.30 sec
- Kyler Murray: 4.11 sec
- Deshaun Watson: 4.10
- Lamar Jackson: 4.05
- Aaron Rodgers: 4.01
And some in the national media wonder why GM John Elway absolutely sold out to build the nest around Lock this past offseason? These numbers make it clear why left tackle Garett Bolles was able to elevate his play down the stretch, relinquishing just one sack on Lock from Weeks 13-17.
Lock was pressured on 36% of his dropbacks last year, which ranked 39th in the NFL. That's an indictment on the offensive line. That he was only able to be sacked on 8.1% of all dropbacks is a testament to his wherewithal as a QB.
303 of Lock's total passing yardage came under pressure, along with one of his seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Not atypical for any QB to see his TD-to-INT ratio lopsided in the wrong direction when he's under pressure but that's a stat-line Lock is going to have to improve moving forward as a starter.
Lock finished 4-1 as a rookie starter. We need to see more in order to consider Lock truly among these peers he's ranked next to as a franchise QB.
And we will. Only this time, Lock will have significantly upgraded coaching and every available weapon at his disposal. It's going to be fun to see how the 2020 season unfolds for Lock and the Broncos.