Understanding Why Broncos Have Struggled to Draft a Franchise Quarterback

The Broncos have drafted several quarterbacks in the first two rounds in the past 15 years but none have boldly laid claim to the 'franchise' mantle. Here's why Denver has struggled to identify the right signal-caller.
Publish date:

The Denver Broncos have had trouble drafting a franchise quarterback over the years. Some of Denver's quarterback choices have been serviceable, and some were downright train wrecks. 

The latest pick, Drew Lock, is still hanging in there, but by a thread, even though his bumpy road thus far has been assisted by factors beyond his control, like the pandemic and how that impacted what was his second year in the NFL. 

Having said that, why have the Broncos fallen short of drafting a bonafide franchise QB over the years?

Part of the problem is the way the modern NFL chews up and spits out quarterbacks at a much faster clip. QBs don't get the same amount of time to be groomed and show their worth as they were in the past. The new-age quarterback is thrown into the deep end from day one, and if he's not blowing the doors down by midseason, fans and media grow impatient.

Let's take a look at how events unfolded for the last handful of homegrown QBs to flame out in Denver. 

Jay Cutler | 2006 | First Round

Jay Cutler

Cutler was thrust into the starting position Week 13 of the 2006 season. The Broncos were a playoff-caliber team and were sitting in the driver's seat and heading into the playoffs. Then-head coach Mike Shanahan thrust Cutler into the starting position a season too early, as Jake Plummer seemed to have Denver playoff bound. 

The decision would almost end up panning out, as Cutler would win an extremely competitive game against the Cincinnati Bengals only to falter vs. the San Francisco 49ers the following week in what was a 'win, and you're in' season finale. He would continue to get better each season, even getting a Pro Bowl nod in 2008 (Shanahan's final year). 

Cutler was on-course but then Josh McDaniels took over for Shanahan and Cutler caught wind of the Broncos' new head coach wanting to bring Matt Cassell with him. Cutler heard the rumors and demanded a trade. McDaniels obliged and Cutler was sent packing to the Chicago Bears.

Tim Tebow | 2010 | First Round

Tim Tebow

Tebow would be the next drafted quarterback to be handed the reigns. Tebow's selection in the first round would come as a complete surprise to everyone around the league, as he was projected to be a mid-round talent. 

He needed some serious work with his mechanics as his extremely slow delivery and a long, drawn-out wind-up had defensive ends licking their chops at the ample opportunities for a strip-sack. What Tebow excelled at was his rushing attack, intangibles, and leadership. 

Tebow would get his chance, to the delight of the fans, as no one wanted Kyle Orton under center. Tebow would lead the Broncos to multiple dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011 and an AFC West crown, culminating in a playoff win over the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in spectacular fashion with a game-clinching touchdown in overtime.

Tebow's tenure in Denver would all come to an end when the Broncos signed the legendary Peyton Manning in 2012's free-agency cycle. Then-GM John Elway would pull out all the stops in hopes of landing Manning, whose arrival in Denver ended any hope of Tebow being the Broncos' future franchise QB. 

Tebow was soon traded to the New York Jets, and in an instant, the Tebow era was over.

What happens next for the Broncos? Don't miss out on any news and analysis! Take a second and sign up for our free newsletter and get breaking Broncos news delivered to your inbox daily!

Brock Osweiler | 2012 | Second Round

Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) before the game against the New York Jets at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Following the Broncos' victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Father Time had finally caught up with The Sheriff. Denver would enter negotiations with Osweiler on a long-term deal to succeed Manning as The Guy. 

Osweiler had held the Broncos together during the 2015 Super Bowl run while Manning was recovering from a foot injury and played well, even scoring an impressive win against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to help secure a No. 1 playoff seeding in the AFC. The negotiations between Elway and Osweiler the next spring were a bit bumpy as Brock had felt slighted when then-head coach Gary Kubiak pulled him in the final game of the season for Manning. 

To make things worse, the Houston Texans came in with a massive offer for Osweiler’s services. The price would be too steep for Elway's blood, and Osweiler would defect to Houston.

Paxton Lynch | 2016 | First Round

Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) against the Arizona Cardinals during a pre season game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

In the wake of Osweiler's departure, Denver would choose to pursue a highly-coveted young gun in the draft, taking a chance on Lynch. The former Memphis star was highly regarded by some NFL teams and might have been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, who'd made a generous offer to move up in the draft and select him. 

Denver would ultimately offer a more substantial package, winning the draft spot and the rights to draft Lynch. Remember when I mentioned train wreck earlier in the article? I was talking about Lynch. 

He would start off solid as he entered a Week 4 road bout in Tampa Bay mid-game, throwing two touchdowns. Unfortunately, it would be all downhill from there as Lynch would never adopt the work ethic needed to excel at the NFL level. Instead, he spent his free time purportedly playing video games and assuming he could just show up, and things would eventually work out for the best on the field by virtue of his draft pedigree and God-given athletic talent.

Drew Lock | 2019 | Second Round

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) looks to pass in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Empower Field at Mile High.

As for Lock, there is no question he was dealt a horrible hand in Year 2 with the pandemic, an offensive coordinator who refused to cater to his strengths, and injuries to key offensive players like Courtland Sutton, Albert Okwuegbunam, and Phillip Lindsay — to say nothing of Jerry Jeudy's knack for crucial dropped passes. 

Lock also bears significant blame for his head-scratching turnovers and unwillingness to step up in the pocket, instead insisting to immediately roll to his right and allowing the defense to only have to cover half of the field. If Lock can make these key adjustments, as well as get a little luck to swing the other way when it comes to his teammate’s health, he may be able to salvage his career with the Broncos yet.

Bottom Line

So why do the Broncos have such trouble drafting quarterbacks? The truth is, every team has problems drafting and identifying their franchise signal-caller. 

Teams strike out on drafted quarterbacks every year, no matter where or how high they were selected. Quarterbacks fail for a myriad of reasons, ranging from a lack of dedication and commitment from the team that drafted them, to being surrounded by a team ill-equipped to help a young QB succeed with a coaching staff reluctant to structure the playbook to their talents. 

The only thing a team can do is to keep swinging and learn from its past mistakes in the draft. However, to be clear, it's too soon to say with certainty that Lock was a mistake or a miss, just as it's too early to say absolutely that he's a hit. 

Follow Kenneth on Twitter @KennethMHH.

Follow Mile High Huddle on Twitter and Facebook.

Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!