With no NFL Combine this year due to the pandemic, it's unknown what kind of information 'insiders' will garner given the history of how loose lips (influenced by the consumption of adult beverages in downtown Indianapolis late into the night) have historically been the driver of the offseason rumor mill.
Fortunately for the NFL news cycle, the Senior Bowl still occurred this year. While still not a normal year, much of the NFL personnel, coaching, and media world descended upon the Alabama Gulf Coast for an entire week to watch senior draft prospects participate in scrimmages and drills, and exchange rumors and information on all 32 teams.
One such insider to attend the Senior Bowl this year was Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline.
In a conversation earlier this week covering the QB rumor mill, Pauline was asked what info he'd gleaned down in Mobile about Drew Lock and the Denver Broncos’ current quarterback situation. Pauline's reply included some negative buzz on Lock.
“I have heard everything from ‘people are not sold on Drew Lock’ to ‘people are down on Drew Lock’.... we know that Drew Lock has had flashes and had his moments. He’s also had a lot of injuries. What I found out at the Senior Bowl is the Denver Broncos had to kind of slim down the playbook, take things out of the playbook that Drew Lock can’t run… They (the Broncos’ offensive coaching staff) almost had to dummy down the playbook so Drew Lock can handle it. That’s a major concern.”
There had been rumors for some time surrounding Lock’s mental acumen for absorbing Pat Shurmur's playbook, but to be completely fair to the young quarterback, this was an extremely odd offseason in a brand new system (again). The install of a West Coast Offense is historically difficult and teams across the league have begun to "dummy down" playbooks to help get their young quarterbacks on the field sooner to gain experience and grow in confidence.
If true, it's a massive concern. If the Broncos didn’t believe Lock had the mental acumen necessary to run the offense and had to adjust to make it work, but this is a two-way street between the offensive coaching staff and the quarterback.
Connecting some dots, the Broncos offense looked much more competent to close out the 2020 season. Was this due to growth from Lock, or was it the schedule that saw Denver draw some of the worst passing defenses in the league?
Perhaps the Broncos' modest offensive improvement down the stretch was due to the coaches' simplification of the scheme so that Lock could handle it. Honestly, the truth probably includes a bit of everything, but to what extent is the real question new GM George Paton and the Broncos must answer.
Pauline would continue about Lock.
“This is the basically the 'you know what' or get off the pot year for Drew Lock. People at the Senior Bowl basically feel that the Broncos are going to have to move on primarily because Drew Lock cannot handle a complex offense.”
The Broncos have already been proven to be involved in the quarterback market this offseason, calling the Detroit Lions on Matthew Stafford. How involved the Broncos were in the trade and what Paton offered varies depending on who you believe or ask, but the fact Paton called at all means Denver is evaluating upgrades at the quarterback position.
Lock isn’t out of a job (yet), but his position as the Broncos’ starting quarterback is anything but secure. While Pauline's remarks raise concerns about whether or not Lock can ever become the QB Denver needs him to be in order to regain relevance in the AFC West, Pauline did credit the Broncos' process in selecting him in the 2019 draft.
Even if it doesn’t end up working out, how Denver landed Lock is hard to fault.
“The thing about Lock was, it was a good pick by the Denver Broncos. You can’t blame them. A lot of people if you remember were mocking Drew Lock as a top 10 pick to the Denver Broncos, the Broncos made a couple of trades in that draft and they ended up getting Drew Lock in the middle of round 2. At the time it seemed like a fantastic pick. You can’t blame them for the selection if the quarterback doesn’t pan out or doesn’t show signs of panning out, you’re just going to have to move on.”
It doesn’t sound like the Broncos are going to move on from Lock just yet (barring a miraculous Deshaun Watson trade or something crazy like that) but it seems likely fans are staring down the barrel of another quarterback competition in 2021. Lock is the incumbent, but the Broncos are going to bring in another viable option to compete with him.
Pauline suggested Denver, among a few other teams, could be interested in ex-Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky. Despite being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Trubisky never really took off in Chicago who now appears likely to move on. If Lock was a good process/bad result for drafting a quarterback, the Bears trading up in a draft class with Watson and Patrick Mahomes is bad process/bad result.
Trubisky or another veteran hedge option such as Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, or Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Lock would be a camp battle that doesn't move the needle much, but it might be the best process for Paton and the Broncos this offseason. Lock is still young and has the tools to succeed, but his footwork and mental-processing are in question, just as much as they were coming out of Missouri.
If there are intelligence questions surrounding Lock and his ability to handle an NFL playbook, the tools can only get him so far. He has to be able to master the mental side of the game.
There obviously are concerns about Lock’s future as the starting quarterback in Denver, but the book is not fully written just yet. As Pauline said, this year is very likely a do-or-die situation for Lock in his third NFL year and he is going to have to earn his starting spot.
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