Drew Lock has his fair share of critics. In a city with such legendary quarterbacks like John Elway and Peyton Manning, the expectations for the Denver Broncos will always be elevated. Given the fanbase is also saddled with having to watch such incredibly talented and disappointingly young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in their division for the next decade-plus, Broncos Country may even feel a slightly elevated sense of urgency to get the quarterback right.
The criticism of Lock is not completely unfounded. Lock did suffer another injury causing him to miss time in his second straight season, continued to make careless decisions with the football, and despite being in his second year, he was still displaying footwork leading to spotty accuracy and inconsistency in his ball placement.
Lock was a bottom-5 quarterback in the NFL in most quarterback efficiency metrics.
While he did struggle in 2020, there were a significant number of anomalous variables that, in part, explain Lock's struggles, clouding what expectations should be for the rest of his career. The Broncos had an exceedingly young offense, especially at the pass-catcher positions, the offensive line took about half the season to finally gel to a consistent level, Lock was subjected to another new offensive playbook and scheme, and oh yeah… that whole pandemic thing also — which killed OTAs and the preseason, and seriously mitigated training camp.
Perhaps promising for Lock’s future as a starting quarterback, despite his struggles, he appeared to be making tangible progress. Was this a product of playing lesser defenses? Perhaps, but a large factor was the simple fact that Lock did play better himself and appeared to be more comfortable and confident in what the offense asked of him.
'Dummying down' the playbook or not, the Broncos offense went from putrid to palatable from Week 11 onwards
Lock played better down the stretch to the point to warrant some flickers of optimism, but he was not good enough to the point that new GM Geoge Paton will not consider other quarterback options. The Broncos already pursued Matthew Stafford earlier this season and by all reports will aggressively pursue Deshaun Watson if the Houston Texans do in fact make him available.
One publication that has never fully bought into Lock is that of Pro Football Focus. Even back in 2019 when most outlets were projecting Lock in the first round (and mocking him to Denver at pick 10 overall), PFF stood out in a mock stating Denver would draft Lock — but not until the second round because Lock, to PFF, was a Day 2 talent.
It is perhaps not surprising then, that co-hosts Mike Renner and Austin Gayle of PFF’s 2-for-1 Drafts Podcast, recently discussed the Broncos’ current quarterback conundrum.
Renner: Deshaun Waston is the dream here. The roster is enough that you would love Watson as your quarterback. You would be willing to give up your picks for it… If you don’t get Watson, in my opinion, I would sign Cam Newton in free agency and then go target Trey Lance (North Dakota State) or Justin Fields (Ohio State).
This is a rather interesting proposal by Renner and one that, I must admit, has crossed my mind a few times. According to most talking heads around the NFL, the 2021 QB class is a special one — at least at the top. Headlined by the likes of Trevor Lawrence, the toolsy gunslingers don’t stop there as BYU's Zach Wilson, Lance, and Fields all possess the attributes of many of the league’s best young quarterbacks; great athletes with monster arms.
Newton was one of the big success stories of the resurgence of the rushing quarterback. Of course, he was never just a rushing quarterback, but his combination of arm talent, size, and athleticism made him such a dynamic quarterback.
Newton never was the most precise passer, but his pure arm talent combined with his ability to extend plays and create beyond the Xs and Os led to some incredible seasons in Carolina. Injuries have slowed him down of late, but he is a prime resurgence candidate for next season.
Newton could certainly continue to struggle in 2021 or suffer another nagging injury, but with his struggles put in context to his situation last season in New England, whichever team signs him has a real chance to buy low relative to where he could take a team.
Why? Because the Patriots offensive roster is laughably poor. Take a look no further than the case sample of Tom Brady, the reigning Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP. Brady played like a top-10, arguably top-5 quarterback in 2020.
However, that was not the narrative surrounding Brady prior to last season. Many thought the (arguable) GOAT was done. The Patriots offense did not look good with him and his arm looked cooked.
Was there something to that famous Florida sun for Brady’s 2020 resurgence? Perhaps, but the most likely culprit is Brady going from the single worst offensive supporting cast in the NFL to arguably the best in Tampa. Newton, if he can stay healthy, should also expect a boost moving on from the downright offensive supporting cast in New England.
Furthermore signing Newton as the veteran bridge makes a lot of sense not just for Denver, but any team truly looking at the likes of Lance or Fields. It is beneficial for almost any rookie not to have to start day one in the league, especially in what will likely be another odd offseason.
Having a quarterback that can ‘win’ in similar ways and help the Broncos to cultivate an offense that fits both Newton and Lance/Fields is just a smart business decision. The Broncos also have a connection to Newton.
The offensive coordinator for Newton during his rookie season in which he broke the all-time rookie passing record and the same play-caller who designed a scheme making him the 2015 league MVP? Denver's current QBs coach Mike Shula.
The offense was considered simplified and didn’t ask Newton to be Peyton Manning from the pocket, but rather showcase his No. 1 overall pick arm talent and athleticism. The wheels do come to a halt, though, when one ponders just how much this does not sound like what current offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has run.
Sure, he part of the Philadelphia offensive staff that had Donovan McNabb running around at or near the top every season in passing, but the days since have been littered with the likes of Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Daniel Jones.
Another potential problem with Renner’s plans for the Broncos at quarterback is that is it becoming exceedingly unlikely that one of Lance or Fields is there when the Broncos are on the clock. Anything can happen in the NFL draft, but given the lack of elite defensive talent in the 2021 class, the rare quartet of exceptionally toolsy quarterbacks, and how many teams are desperate for the position.
Also potentially driving up the urgency for teams this cycle is that the majority opinion by those in the league is that the 2022 quarterback class, while deeper than 2021, lacks the obvious arm, frame, athletes at quarterback in the top of this year's class. This may mean that if Denver loves one of Lance or Fields, they may have to love them enough to trade up.
Will the Broncos go out and do something so bold as to sign Newton and draft one of Fields or Lance? While it may seem like an intriguing plan, Renner’s co-host pushed back given the general consensus that those running the Broncos still really like Lock.
Gayle: Deshaun Watson excluded, if they don’t (obtain Watson), I do think their plan is going to be Drew Lock competing with whomever they bring in. Whether that’s Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gardner Minshew, or a quarterback in the draft. I do think they want to at least let Drew Lock compete. They just aren’t going in on this new style of offense with Newton and Lance, there’s just no way, right? Only because they love Drew Lock. I do think Denver loves Drew Lock.
Gayle is likely correct in his take that Denver would not likely be so bold in the draft as to trade up for a Fields or Lance after obtaining Newton. Plans can change, but it does seem like Paton and the Broncos will be content to bring in a run-of-the-mill journeyman quarterback to compete with Lock while trying to posture the team’s capital to be aggressive in 2022 if the right situation materializes.
It’s also completely possible that the Broncos set themselves up to be in on a quarterback next offseason and Lock plays well in 2021. While he doesn’t always show it, Lock is a good athlete for the quarterback position. It takes about 10 seconds of watching his high school basketball highlights to understand that while not an elite athlete, Lock has enough juice to do what is demanded athletically of quarterbacks in today’ game.
Many in Broncos Country still believe Lock can get it done, many also believe that the team would be best served to move on and make a push for one of the tantalizing quarterbacks in the top of the 2021 draft. The only thing that matters, though, is what does Paton think?
That remains to be revealed. Until the draft has come and gone or the Broncos make a blockbuster trade for Watson, the debates and speculation will continue. That just comes with the territory of the quarterback position for the Broncos.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
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