Broncos GM John Elway Drops all Pretenses, Properly Praises Drew Lock...Finally
After John Elway stepped down from the podium on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, he stepped aside to hold court with Denver media only. You see, at the podium, Elway is mandated by the NFL to field questions from all assembled media, many whose faces he's never seen before.
The Denver Broncos' PR department has a tradition at the Combine, allowing local, team-credentialed beat writers the chance to hold court with Elway, and also head coach Vic Fangio, without having to vie with national journos.
Often, the best gleanings come from those more intimate scrums and the same held true on Tuesday. Elway, who'd been — let's say, extremely cautious — with his praise for QB Drew Lock since the season ended, gushed about the 2019 second-rounder and what the young signal-caller did that has the organization so excited and encouraged.
"I thought talent-wise, he could make all the throws," Elway said via Denver7's Troy Renck. "He could adjust his arm angle and do all the different things. He's athletic enough to move around, make plays and throw the ball on the run. Physically, I thought he was as good as anyone coming out last year. Now, the big question is always what's inside? That's the hardest part of the position, figuring that out. I think Drew's got that. So far, he's got that 'it' factor. He's got the confidence to play the position."
Elway also made it clear that Lock is Plan A. That fact informs the team's entire offseason plan of attack and trickles down to every roster decision.
"He's a young guy that finished strong," Elway told 9NEWS' Mike Klis in a one-on-one sit-down at the Combine. "We liked what we saw in him. Liked how he handled things. He went into a situation that wasn't really a great situation and handled it very, very well. We think he’s talented and think he can do it for a long time. Drew is our plan... He gave us all the feeling that he may be the guy who can compete here for a long time."
Elway went from the "I don't see any options right now" talking point during his end-of-season presser to almost smothering Lock with praise. Listen, I know there are those who are going to take exception to what I'm saying about Elway's reticence to praise and clearly anoint him as the starter at season's end.
If there's any room for misinterpretation, then clearly, Elway could have done a better job of getting out in front of the issue and more clearly communicating his support and belief in Lock. And now that Elway has more credibly shown Lock the full faith and support of the organization in the court of public opinion, let's analyze the implications.
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The 'It' Factor
When I talked to Lock face-to-face at the Combine last year, as many of the Huddle Up Podcast listeners have heard me say before, he radiated 'QB1'. People, including Elway, call it the 'it' factor and it's absolutely an intangible trait.
There's a difference between being an 'Alpha' and having the 'it' factor. Any outgoing player with confidence and a little competitive pride can assert himself as an 'Alpha'.
Having the 'it' factor, though, not only pertains to football IQ, processing speed, the clutch gene, and poise on the grid-iron, but also to leadership. Can a young QB connect with his teammates on a personal level, and more than that, can he get them to organically buy in to him as a leader and close ranks around him?
When I hear the 'it' factor used to describe a QB, it has to do with all those intangible qualities but it especially speaks to his capacity and wherewithal as a leader. In his five-game audition last year, Lock not only captivated a fanbase, but he also won over the entire Broncos' locker room.
And let us not forget; that's no easy task, especially with a former Super Bowl MVP QB still haunting the locker room in Joe Flacco, to say nothing of the Super Bowl 50 holdovers like Von Miller, Chris Harris, Jr. and Derek Wolfe — all three of whom have praised Lock in public on multiple occasions since he took over as the starter.
Think about what it would take to swing the love and support of the locker room away from a proven, and albeit injured, veteran like Flacco and as a rookie, pick up that torch with aplomb. First and foremost, you'd have to be able to prove it out on the grass.
NFL players know whether a guy can play the position. As they say, 'Game recognizes game'.
Lock more than checked that box, not only in his two-touchdown debut vs. the L.A. Chargers in Week 13, but in each and every game he started, he found a new way to win. In Houston, Lock was the impetus for an offensive explosion that left a Division-champion reeling. The next week in Kansas City, Lock crashed back to Earth somewhat, as the Broncos got trounced in the snow by the eventual World-Champion Chiefs, but through that bitter loss in which nothing could go right for his team, Lock battled and never looked defeated.
The next week vs. the Detroit Lions, Lock saw his opponent get out to a 10-point lead, only to battle back and not only re-take the lead, but have the Broncos in cruise control as the fourth quarter started. The next week, in the season-finale vs. the Oakland Raiders, Lock didn't play lights out but he battled through adversity and proved that he could win ugly.
Lock showed a unique football character in each game that he started and it made a resounding impression on his teammates, and on Elway and the Broncos brass. Heading into 2020, Lock can exhale knowing that his days of biding his time and holding a clipboard are over.
He has the full faith and support of the organization. So much so, that Elway would rather throw in with Lock than go all-out to pursue a six-time World Champion like Tom Brady on the open market.
The future is bright for Lock and the Broncos with Flacco's eight-game reign a distant and painful memory. The team has 'bounced off the bottom' and the trajectory is pointing skyward. With a little advice from Peyton Manning on how to best attack the offseason, Lock is poised to build on his impressive rookie body of work and maybe even take the NFL by storm in 2020 with OC Pat Shurmur and QBs Coach Mike Shula massaging him through his year-two learning curve.