Since arriving in Denver as a Broncos' second-round pick back in 2019, it's no secret that Drew Lock has importuned Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning for tips and advice. Manning, the NFL's only five-time MVP, has been open and willing to helping Lock when the phone rings.
Last spring, we learned that Lock had sought Manning's advice about how to approach the offseason, from study habits, to nutrition and self-care, to organizing throwing sessions with teammates away from the building. As recent as February, Manning revealed that he's a Lock "fan" and that he's "pulling for Drew."
Then, as it relates to Manning's tutelage of his young charge, everything went dark. That is, until Broncos' starting left guard Dalton Risner broke the silence by telling Fansided's Matt Lombardo this week what's really been going on between Lock and Manning since the season ended.
"[Peyton Manning]'s a big fan of Drew Lock,” Risner told the Matt Lombardo Show. “Him and Drew have been doing a lot of work this offseason and watching film, so if he’s on board with Drew, I’ve been on board with Drew, too. It’s been fun.”
Remember, Risner is one of Lock's closest friends on the roster. They were picked back-to-back (No. 41 and 42 overall) and roomed together as rookies.
This isn't the first, nor will it be the last, time Risner has gone to bat for Lock. Just in 2021, only a few weeks ago, the big lineman expressed his faith in Lock in an interview with the Associated Press.
"Drew Lock's my quarterback right now and I've got full faith in him," Risner said as rumors connecting the Broncos to veteran QBs swirled. "I've got a lot of faith in that guy. He's a great dude and he has a great work ethic."
Risner went on to tell Lombardo his read on who will actually take that first snap under center in Denver come September.
"I hope it's Drew, I'll shoot you straight," Risner told Lombardo. "I hope it's Drew Lock. I've got a lot of faith in Drew Lock. One thing that we don't think about is, you look at some of these great quarterbacks and how much it took them to develop—they didn't just become a great quarterback. I sat down with Peyton Manning a few weeks ago, we talked about how rough his first few seasons were. Look at Patrick Mahomes—he sat the bench the first year. I mean, there's a lot of guys that become elite quarterbacks—it takes them a year or two in the league. The league's different. I could tell you right now, my job is hard as hell and I wouldn't trade my job to be a quarterback in the NFL for a day. I wouldn't do it because they have the hardest job in the league—one of the hardest jobs in the world to perform in front of everybody. And if anything goes wrong, they're the easy scapegoat. It's Drew Lock's fault... But Drew's my quarterback. I've got a lot faith in him. I think he's a competitor. I think that last year was the first full year he played. You could treat that as one of Peyton Manning's first years or the year Patrick Mahomes sat on the bench, whatever. It was a learning year for Drew. So, obviously, we know this is a huge year. We need to have a better season than 5-11. Man, you might need to record this interview and save it in your files because I sure hope here in six months, you're like, 'Dude, you were right.' Because that's what I'm banking on."
We've heard mention from new GM George Paton himself that Lock has been in the Broncos' UCHealth Training Center daily, attacking the offseason with zeal. One of Lock's favorite targets — wideout Tim Patrick — said recently that all the offseason QB rumors have "motivated" Lock. Patrick notices a big shift in the QB, saying that his focus this offseason has been "100 percent different" than it was even last fall.
Infer from Patrick's statement what you will but when combined with Manning's tutelage and Paton's remarks on Lock back in March, does it really feel like the Broncos are angling to move off the ex-Missouri gunslinger and take a QB in the NFL draft?
"We’ve evaluated all the quarterbacks," Paton said on March 18 after the first wave of free agency concluded. "We like Drew Lock. We have a plan in place, and there’s free agency, there’s the draft, there’s trades, there’s a lot of ways to acquire a quarterback. Fortunately, we have a quarterback here and we have a nice quarterback room. We do want to bring in competition. We are not going to force it.”
The signs, and I admit there's a chance they could be smoke signals, point to the Broncos running it back with Lock one last year. Lock was a Vic Fangio draft pick and although some in Broncos Country don't want to acknowledge it, he gives his head coach the best chance to win in 2021, relative to drafting a QB in the first round.
Rookie quarterbacks, with very few exceptions, rarely win in the NFL. There are exceptions that prove the rule like Andrew Luck in 2012 and even Robert Griffin III the same year, and even more recently with Lamar Jackson in 2018.
But look no further than Justin Herbert, who absolutely tore up the NFL record books as a rookie last year. Nothing he could do could forestall the Los Angeles Chargers from firing Anthony Lynn.
Fangio knows which way the wind blows. Leaning on a rookie QB in what could be a do-or-die year for the head coach, when you have Lock working his tail off at the facility in full view of the coaches, continuing his tutelage with Manning, and finally getting the benefit of the same offensive system in back-to-back years? That's a no-brainer for Fangio.
It doesn't mean Paton won't bring in competition for Lock as he's already acknowledged his plan to do just that. But define 'competition' first. I could see the Broncos acquiring Teddy Bridgewater from Carolina to push Lock and serve as a veteran fail-safe as a much more probable and plausible outcome than Paton trading up to pick 4 to secure a Trey Lance or Justin Fields.
We'll know in due time.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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