The Denver Broncos need a quarterback. They have Drew Lock as a third-year player (no last year was NOT his rookie season), but he proved to be too injury prone and turnover prone over the first two years of his career. Yes, he can further develop as many players do, but what’s his true upside and how long will it take to get him there?
Lock is going to at least have competition for the starting job in 2021, if not get out-and-out replaced.
Perhaps the Broncos should take a similar approach to their quarterback position that the Philadelphia Eagles did over the last couple of years.
On Thursday, the Eagles traded former first-round pick (2016) Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. That trade netted the Eagles a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that could turn into a first-round pick. Now, they’ll move forward with a quarterback they added last year in a somewhat controversial selection.
Should the Broncos follow the plan the Eagles had but in reverse? Let me explain.
Second-Rounder Already Here
The Eagles have Jalen Hurts as their No. 1 quarterback right now after Wentz was traded. He was a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and that selection did cause some controversy as Wentz had played at an MVP level at times in his career.
Was Hurts drafted to take Wentz’s job? Was he added to be a Taysom Hill-like quarterback because of his athleticism? Could Hurts be flipped for a pick if he developed as a passer? These were all questions swirling around the pick at the time.
Now, we see that Hurts did take over for the team as the top quarterback.
The Broncos already have their second-round pick here. Lock was thought to be a first-round player in the 2019 NFL Draft. I had a late first-round grade on him, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Broncos selected him at No. 10 overall. Instead, Lock fell to the second day of the draft and former general manager John Elway couldn’t help himself when the young quarterback was still on the board with the No. 42 overall pick.
Like Hurts, Lock needs work as a passer and is not a finished product. If the Broncos do not get a big-time quarterback via trade (Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson), then Lock is likely to stay in place but with competition for the starting position. Older/experienced options are going to be there (Andy Dalton, etc.), but perhaps the Broncos feel a rookie quarterback is a better plan.
With the No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Broncos could be targeting a quarterback. If they are, then they had better be prepared to move up in the draft. While I have five quarterbacks with first-round grades this year, there might be four of them gone by the time the Broncos pick.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s just say that Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Zach Wilson (BYU) are off the board in the top few picks. This leaves Justin Fields (Ohio State), Trey Lance (North Dakota State), and Mac Jones (Alabama) as the three remaining top quarterback prospects. Which one of those quarterbacks would be best for what the Broncos want to do on offense under coordinator Pat Shurmur?
Fields ran RPO for the Buckeyes with his athleticism, and he worked vertical routes with ease. He does a good job of making full-field reads, and he was given plenty of time to throw in their offense. Even when he did face pressure in college, Fields knows where to quickly find his check-down throws.
At times, Fields does get a little “heel clicky” on deeper throws, but that can be cleaned up by pro coaching. He also wasn’t much for an anticipatory thrower, he mainly read the field and put the ball in a spot where his playmakers could come through. It’s not to say he can’t be that, it’s just the offense didn’t lend itself towards that. In a Shurmur offense (who has experience with RPO from his days under Chip Kelly), Fields would be a good fit.
Lance is athletic and has beautiful mechanics as a passer. He has nice deep-ball accuracy as a passer and knows how to place passes in a perfect spot. Lance does a good job of throwing on the run, and he’s a threat to run when he’s got the rock in his hands. He is not just a scrambler. Lance is the type of player you want to design runs for as he can make defenders look silly with his dynamic athleticism.
His footwork is better than Fields, but obviously he did not play the same level of competition at his FCS school. He makes simple and quick reads, but he does throw with anticipation and knows how to pick his matchups. Lance has a quick release and can get the ball out of his hands quickly. He does play “hero ball” at times, as he’s trying to find the big play but Lance does not make mistakes with only one interception thrown in his college career. The touch, timing and accuracy he displays as a passer – in addition to his athleticism – would make Lance a nice fit for the 3-vert system that Shurmur wants to use.
Jones is a better deep passer than some want to admit. I watched him closely during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl and came away impressed. Everyone already knows what he can do in a short-to-intermediate offense, but Jones can attack deep if given time and has the right window. He will not play hero ball, but he’s not afraid to attack a defense.
Jones is a bright quarterback who makes lightning quick decisions and can slice up a defense underneath. Even though I like his game, I believe Jones would be better off with a Sean Payton (Saints) or Josh McDaniels (Patriots) offense. His skill set doesn’t match up with what Shurmur wants to be.
So, if the Broncos add a first-round pick at quarterback to compete with Lock who would win? It always comes down to “fit” in the NFL, so it would come down to who they chose.
Fields and Jones would look better than Lock at this time. Fields is much more mobile as a runner and has better pass placement with his throws than Lock. Jones is much more accurate and makes quicker decisions than Lock. He’s not a scrambler and more of a pocket passer, but Jones is so decisive and hardly ever wrong with his reads. Turnovers are a huge problem with Lock, and so is his lack of decisiveness. Neither one of these quarterbacks would have those same problems.
Lance would have to sit and develop. Even though I have Lance with a top-10 grade, and I had Lock with a late first-round grade, the jump from North Dakota State to the NFL is a big one. Lance could overtake Lock at some point, even as a rookie, but there’s a good chance that if the Broncos selected him at No. 9 overall that he would open the regular season as a backup to Lock – a backup who will push Lock while he learns the ropes in the pros.
Who wins in this battle? Perhaps the Broncos who could trade the loser of the battle to another team for more assets in the draft.
Keep One, Trade One
There’s an old saying in the NFL, “If you have two quarterbacks, you really have none” and there’s some truth to that statement. The Eagles realized they had two quarterbacks, so they dealt one to move forward with the other guy.
The Broncos could add a rookie in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft and then trade away Lock to a team who wants a young quarterback to take a chance on. If Lock beats out that first-round quarterback and keeps him on the bench, then you’ve got your guy.
In the NFL patience is not a virtue. If you’re sitting around waiting for a quarterback to take that leap with little evidence he can do that, you’re just wasting your time.
The Broncos have taken multiple shots to find their quarterback since Peyton Manning retired. There’s one more thing they could try, and that’s following the Eagles plan – but in reverse.
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