Fans of the Denver Broncos have every reason to be excited going into 2020. John Elway has done a fine job in surrounding his young quarterback Drew Lock with talent. Melvin Gordon, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will all give Lock weapons in his first season as a starter.
There is one problem though. What if Lock
isn’t the guy? He only started 5 games in 2019 – has John Elway seen enough to be certain that Lock is QB1? He did have a 4-1 record as a rookie, his only loss coming against the eventual Superbowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
A more focussed look at his rookie year brings up conflicting evidence concerning Lock’s future in the NFL.
Is Lock a lock at QB1?
Most importantly, he goes into his sophomore year with four wins under his belt. In those four wins, he threw 7 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. Lock seemed to ignite the Broncos’ season, and fans are convinced he is the guy. So is GM John Elway. Melvin Gordon is the perfect compliment to Phillip Lindsay in the running game, and fellow free agent Graham Glasgow will strengthen the interior offensive line.
The entire Broncos Draft was geared towards helping Lock. Denver picked up wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to beef up the wide receiver room. Courtland Sutton had a great year in 2019 (1,112 yards and 6 touchdowns). Denver has added the best route runner in college football (and some wood argue the best receiver in the whole Draft) and a speedy slot receiver to help Lock progress.
Tight End Noah Fant had a disappointing year in 2019, but expect him to improve in his second season. Albert Okwuegbunam will provide some much needed completion at the position, and will be useful as an option in the passing game rather than as a blocker. Lloyd Cushenberry III enters the NFL as a college playoff winner, and could be a plug and play starter at centre. The Broncos ranked #12 overall as an offensive line in the NFL last year. The addition of Glasgow and Cushenberry (as well as the return from injury of Ja’Wuan James) should offer Lock ample protection in 2020.
However, in his four wins of 2019 Lock threw for over 200 yards just once. Joe Flacco, the veteran replaced by Lock in Denver, outperformed the rookie in completion percentage, yards per game and total quarterback rating. Lock is most certainly deserving of the chance to prove his is the long term starter in Denver, but the team needs a decent backup at the position just in case he disappoints.
Jeff Driskel certainly isn’t the kind of backup that can step in and help a team to a winning record. In three starts at Detroit last time out, he completed just 59% of his passes for 4 touchdowns and as many interceptions. He has signed a 2 year, $5m deal – QB3 money.
With $17m in cap space, I am surprised that John Elway didn’t make a move for Cowboys back-up Andy Dalton. He is the sort of guy that can push Lock for a starting spot, and get results with a talented supporting cast. True, Dalton is coming off a disappointing final year in Cincinnati, but still managed to throw for 3,494 yards in 13 games without his WR1. He averaged 269 yards per game, outhrowing not only Lock but Driskel and Flacco too.
The best remaining free agent signal caller on the market is Cam Newton. The problem for the Broncos is that the former Carolina Panther doesn’t seem to be a scheme fit in Vic Fangio’s offence. He would undoubtedly be a better option than Driskel as QB2. The main issue is whether Newton’s skill-set would fit at Denver, and whether Newton is happy to start the 2020 season as a back-up.
Newton would most likely be an expensive and uncomfortable fit for Fangio. It seems as though the team is convinced that Drew Lock is the franchise quarterback going into next year. The risk remains that there isn’t enough evidence from last year to be certain either way. If things do take a turn for the worse, don’t expect Jeff Driskel to win games at Mile High Stadium.
No risk, no reward
2020 could be a great year for fans of the Denver Broncos. They will most likely finish second in the AFC West behind Kansas City. They also have fixtures against the AFC East and NFC South, alongside games against Tennessee and Pittsburgh. The ceiling for this team could be as high as 11 wins. They have a top 10 defence and a young, exciting offence.
If things don’t go to plan behind centre, it could also be a year where a talented roster underwhelms. A lot depends on Drew Lock. It would have been smart to have a safety valve in Andy Dalton, but that ship has sailed. Where’s the fun in the safe choice, anyway?
-Tom Scott @downthemannyrd