As the new general manager of the Denver Broncos, George Paton is most definitely kicking the bushes and shaking every tree to see if an upgrade at quarterback can be found. The Broncos like Drew Lock, but just like in dating, there's a big difference between liking someone and loving them.
Paton went in on the Matthew Stafford trade that ultimately landed the ex-Lion in Los Angeles but when Detroit's ask became too greedy, the new GM wisely bowed out. However, if Paton's push for Stafford revealed anything, it's that the Broncos most definitely have quarterback on the brain.
Enter Mac Jones. The Alabama quarterback is coming off a great junior season in which he passed for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns on the way to winning a National Championship.
Despite his statistical production and winning ways in college, Jones has not been viewed as a sure-fire first-round draft pick. However, his week at the Senior Bowl definitely improved his stock and in all likelihood, propelled his name into the first-round conversation.
The Broncos hold the No. 9 overall pick in April's draft and taking a QB there is very much on the table. Outlets like CBS Sports have mocked Jones to the Broncos in the top-10.
But does Paton have an interest in Jones, who lacks some of the measurables and physical tools that NFL teams covet? Jones answered that question, at least in part, himself when he sat down with Good Morning Football's Peter Schrager.
"For me, I got to meet with all 32 teams," Jones told Schrager.
Thank the Football Gods that the Senior Bowl proceeded on-schedule because it very well could be the only stop on the pre-draft trail that will allow NFL scouts to meet with and get an up-close look at prospects. The NFL Scouting Combine was canceled due to the pandemic, so any and all interviews teams get with prospects will be virtual.
That could help a guy like Jones who's still trying to add some luster to his draft stock. Would the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Crimson Tide product fit in Denver?
Scheme-wise, Jones could thrive in Pat Shurmur's offense. But despite Jones' considerable college experience and production, in the NFL, he'll be just another rookie in need of development.
The Broncos want to win now after opting to run it back one more year with Vic Fangio and his staff. A first-round QB, or any rookie signal-caller, puts a serious knot in the tail of any team trying to vie for a playoff spot.
Paton and Fangio seem to be more inclined to pursue the veteran QB market, whether by way of trade or free agency, the latter of which doesn't officially open until March. The Broncos have already wandered the QB desert with Lock and have put in the developmental years (two) to acclimate him to the NFL.
Fangio doesn't want to have to do that all over again this year with the ax sure to fall on his neck should the Broncos flounder and miss the playoffs for the sixth-straight season. If I had to call it now, my best guess is that Paton signs an Andy Dalton, or a Ryan Fitzpatrick — a bonafide veteran to push Lock while serving as an actual fail-safe — and rolls with Lock one more year.
If Lock fails to launch in 2021, Paton would have his answer, though it wouldn't portend well for Fangio's future. However, there is reason for optimism if Lock does get the job again.
One, he's entering Year 3 and he has 17 legit starts under his belt. Those live-bullet reps, and the associated lumps that came with them, are invaluable and precious when it comes to QB development.
Two, for the first time since his sophomore-to-junior seasons, Lock will have the benefit of the same offensive coordinator and scheme in back-to-back seasons. The last time he had a modicum of coaching continuity, he jumped from a solid 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore to setting a new SEC record with 44 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 passing yards as a junior.
That doesn't guarantee it'd happen again for Lock. But if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, then at bottom, there's reason for fans to hope that Lock could take a big step forward in 2021.
Maybe not a quantum leap. But quantifiable, palpable step in the right direction.