On Monday, the NFL landscape shifted in the wake of another blockbuster quarterback trade. Just three weeks before the NFL draft, the New York Jets traded QB Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for multiple draft picks.
By acquiring the 23-year-old former first-round pick from USC, the Panthers have all but broadcasted that the team doesn't intend on selecting a QB with the No. 8 overall pick. While the theory of the Denver Broncos trading up to the No. 4 overall selection with the Atlanta Falcons resides in the hopes and dreams of the fanbase, that ‘pie in the sky’ scenario could become a reality.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Falcons have reportedly had “exploratory talks” with teams about trading down in this year’s draft. Could Broncos GM George Paton be one of the teams on the horn with Atlanta?
If so, the dramatic leapfrog from pick No. 9 to No. 4 in the first round would undoubtedly be for Denver to draft a QB — presumably Ohio State's Justin Fields or Alabama's Mac Jones.
But for every theory and opinion, there’s a counterargument in the ever-changing news cycle in April that is commonly referred to as ‘the season of lies.’ Last week, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay released his mock draft version 4.0 where he projected the Broncos to select Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II with the No. 9 overall pick.
The prediction meant that Denver opted to pass on Fields who ultimately fell to the New England Patriots with the No. 11 pick. In McShay’s latest mock, Surtain was the first defender taken off the board which would be the latest selection for the first defensive prospect drafted since Washington drafted Champ Bailey with the No. 7 overall pick in 1999.
On Monday, McShay revealed that the Broncos' evaluation of incumbent QB Drew Lock isn’t over.
"Denver at nine is interesting," McShay said on a conference call with national reporters on Monday. "I don't know that they've given up on Drew Lock. I think if they continue to put people around him and support him better, he can have a really successful career."
Lock has started in 18 games over the past two seasons, passing for 3,953 yards and 23 touchdowns, with 18 interceptions, and completing 59.1% of his passes. While the former second-round QB from Missouri has shown flashes of NFL potential, his regression in turnovers and his inconsistency with his throwing mechanics have caused severe concern.
But to be fair, the changing of offenses from ex-offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to Pat Shurmur, and the COVID-19 pandemic have definitely had an effect on the young QB. Although the challenges are understandable, they’re not excuses, and the NFL waits for no man as Lock heads into his third NFL season.
So, is it any wonder that it’s hard to figure out what the Broncos will do with Lock?
“The difficulty lays in McShay’s understanding of the team's evaluation of Drew Lock,” Aric DiLalla wrote on the team website. “McShay said he labored over the decision, and he suggested that Denver was one of the more difficult teams to predict in the top 10 selections.”
The latest buzz from the NFL rumor mill projects Fields will slide within the top-10. This would, of course, suggest that Atlanta selects a non-QB with the No. 4 overall pick.
Meaning, that the Broncos could potentially be staring down the barrel of either redemption or a recurring nightmare. In this scenario, the Broncos would have the option of selecting the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, or the player that the team deems to be the best available, much like the 2015 draft where Denver decided not to draft Wyoming QB Josh Allen and instead drafted N.C. State edge rusher Bradley Chubb at pick No. 5.
"It wouldn't shock me at all, to be totally honest, if Fields was the pick there if he's available," McShay said. "He's still developing in terms of processing. He loves to see his receiver open vs. anticipating throws. But I have him ranked ahead of Mac Jones."
However, according to the ESPN draft expert, the Broncos could very well head into 2021 with Lock as the starting QB. McShay did say he could envision a scenario where Denver could “absolutely pull the trigger,” on drafting Fields leaving both possibilities on the table.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!