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The winner of the Broncos QB battle impacts WR pecking order

May 28, 2021, 6:33 AM
Courtland Sutton...
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos are looking at another quarterback battle that should go through training camp and most of the preseason. Drew Lock, the starter last year, is going up against veteran Teddy Bridgewater for the top spot and it should go down to the wire.

Broncos head coach Vic Fangio noted this week how we won’t know who is ahead in this competition for quite some time.

“Not really. It may be separation in some people’s minds, but until we get to at least practicing 11-on-11, you need to withhold much judgment. (In the end) 11-on-11, and ultimately, the preseason games will be the true tell,” Fangio said.

The winner of the quarterback battle impacts how targets could get distributed at the wide receiver position. Let’s examine who does what and why.

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Return of Sutton

The return of Courtland Sutton is going to be huge for the Broncos offense. Sutton was supposed to have his breakout season in 2020, but a knee injury in Week 2 knocked him out for most of the season. He’s been on the road to recovery ever since and should be ready for the start of the regular season.

His game is all about using his size to rip away passes from smaller defenders. Sutton has speed and can get down the field but he’s not what you would call a burner. Instead, he uses savvy in his routes to get off the line cleanly and if a defensive back is close, he can’t touch Sutton when he goes sky-bound. Sutton is a great leaper and is always open because you can just put it up there in the sky and let the big man go get it.
He is still going to make those contested catches.

“Most definitely (laughs). I don’t see myself coming back and having any setbacks, any hiccups or anything that I’ll say, ‘I can’t do that in my game anymore.’ I’ve been working my butt off in rehab and really attacking it so I can come back and not just be at the standard that I was before I got hurt. I’m trying to exceed that even more so. I don’t see myself coming back and losing any of those things that I was able to do. If anything, we’re going to be adding to that,” Sutton said.

Lock is the quarterback who benefits most from the return of Sutton. First, they already have established chemistry and Lock really missed Sutton last year. Second, Lock’s game is best suited for a player like Sutton. He’s what scouts call a bad-ball receiver, meaning Sutton can grab passes that are just out of reach. Sutton can adjust to passes that are a bit too high, too low, off to one side or the other. His return is good news for Lock in this quarterback competition.

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Jeudy Helps Teddy

Last year, Jerry Jeudy did not have the type of season that was up to his standards. He dropped too many passes and did not show great chemistry with Lock. Jeudy was arguably the best wide receiver in the best wide receiving class in NFL history, but he was easily outplayed by fellow rookie Justin Jefferson (Vikings). It’s time for Jeudy to truly showcase his elite-level talent at the pro level.

As Jeudy told Phil Milani of DenverBroncos.com, he’s got a lot to prove this year.

That precision is something that needs to be rewarded. Too many times last year, we would see Jeudy running wide open with his hand in the air but not getting the ball. Lock would not see him, especially if he was on the strong side of the field. The young passer has a lot of work to do in order to improve his game, but working through full-field progressions is one of the biggest hurdles he’ll have to overcome. Lock can get Jeudy when he is open deep, and that’s the best way to connect these two.

Bridgewater does not have a rocket arm, so if Jeudy gets open deep, he’ll likely have to hold up and wait for an incoming pass. However, if you get him on in-breaking routes about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, we could see Bridgewater pepper Jeudy with passes. The nature of the offense will depend on who is starting.

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Speed Kills

The slot receiver for the Broncos, second-year pro K.J. Hamler, has the speed to turn a short pass into a long gain. His speed is blinding and the Broncos would be wise to get him involved at least as a decoy if not much, much more.

Hamler is a smaller receiver, and he’s had problems with drops dating back to his days in college at Penn State. Unlike Sutton, Hamler is not a bad-ball receiver. Simply put, his catch radius is too small to adjust to passes that are off the mark. This is what makes him a poor fit with Lock as the quarterback.

Bridgewater is a more accurate passer, especially on short-to-intermediate routes. His mechanics are clean, and he does a good job of placing passes into his receiver’s hands so they can maximize yards after the catch. With a player like Hamler, precision is needed and when achieved can be incredibly dangerous.

The Broncos are likely to have a run-heavy offense, and that will keep the production for Hamler limited. His speed is special, and he can take any catch to the house. However, the Broncos just won’t pass as much as other teams, and he won’t produce as much as other No. 3 wide receivers out there. I do believe Hamler would have better numbers – even with a limited role due to the structure of the offense – with Bridgewater as his quarterback, however.

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Noah’s Arc

We’re seeing the birth of a star at the tight end position when we watch Noah Fant. I know, I know, Fant is not a wide receiver, but he’s an incredibly important part of the passing game. Now more than ever, tight ends are mismatch weapons who can attack the middle of a defense. Fant can be one of the best in the NFL, and this year could be his breakout season – even in a run-heavy offense.

A tight end can be a security blanket for his quarterback. The targets are usually closer to the line of scrimmage and athletic tight ends like Fant can get open easier against linebackers than wide receivers can get open against cornerbacks. It’s his athleticism and size that make him difficult to cover – and either Lock or Bridgewater should target him early and often.

Fant can break out this year. He’s the equalizer for the Broncos offense, and I believe Fant helps both passers equally. Lock already has good chemistry with Fant, and it won’t take long for Bridgewater to establish similar or stronger chemistry with the talented tight end.

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The winner of the Broncos QB battle impacts WR pecking order