ESPN’s Adam Schefter sent shockwaves through the NFL world Sunday with the breaking news that former first-overall pick Andrew Luck had informed the Indianapolis Colts he plans to retire effective immediately.
It’s a sad day when one of the NFL’s brightest young stars — and star quarterback — walks away from the game.
Luck, the rare “can’t miss” prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft, should have finished his career as a multiple Super Bowl champion and eventual member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now, Luck played only six seasons with zero Super Bowl appearances, having only played a full 16-game season four times.
He’s unlikely to be a Hall of Fame player, and that’s sad considering the incredible talent he has as a quarterback.
Teams around the NFL, including the Denver Broncos, can learn a valuable lesson from what happened to Luck with the Colts. Denver to be keenly aware of how to avoid a similar situation.
Find the fit
First and foremost, Broncos 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock is not Luck.
While Luck was a “can’t miss” pick in 2012, Lock fell to the second round despite being regarded as first round worthy.
It’s not a knock about Lock, as guys like Luck rarely come around in the NFL. Players like John Elway or Peyton Manning were the last quarterbacks seen in the same light as Luck when he came out of Stanford. Lock might be more of a Derek Carr-like quarterback, which is good but not on the same tier as someone like Luck.
Lock does have the upside to develop into a quality starter, and this is where the Broncos must be careful with the young quarterback. They have to find the right fit and build an offense around what their quarterback does best.
When Luck came out of Stanford, he was developed as a pro-style passer. He could work the underneath routes with efficiency and distribute the football quickly. However, he could also work in a three-vert system, where he attacked a defense downfield.
Luck could do it all. But then-Colts general manager Ryan Grigson should have realized they didn’t have the personnel to run a vertical system. He did not, and Indianapolis exposed Luck to big hits as he tried to wait for routes to open up down the field.
That’s why we’re here with Luck retiring way too early.
Denver has to find the best fit for Lock. Yes, he needs to run the Rich Scangarello system and learn how to run the offense from under center, but if Lock plays early in his career it would be best if the team did what makes him comfortable. That would include a lot of shotgun formations and simpler route concepts.
That’s fine if Lock is forced into playing sooner than the Broncos want him to. If that’s the case, they cannot force Lock to do something he’s not ready for. Plus, they don’t have the right personnel yet, especially up front.
Build from the inside out
A great team is almost always built from the inside out. Looking back at Super Bowl champions of the past, you can see a clear pattern developed from most of those teams: They had good offensive lines.
When the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, their line was makeshift, at best, but that group was able to get it done. And they were aided by Manning’s quick release and high football intelligence.
Most teams don’t have an asset like that, and they need a quality line to protect their star passers. If Lock is going to play up to his potential, the Broncos have to have better talent on the offensive line.
Right now, we can look forward to the career of rookie left guard Dalton Risner. He has the right attitude, is the smartest offensive lineman on the team and plays with the right amount of aggression.
Honestly, that may be the only spot taken care of on the offensive line.
Yes, they went out and spent a bunch of money on right tackle Ja’Wuan James, but he has struggled with injuries and inconsistent plays during his five seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
If healthy, James is going to be well-coached and should finally be the answer at right tackle the team has been looking for over the last few years.
OK, so maybe the team has two-out-of-five correct on the offensive line, but that’s not enough.
Center Connor McGovern has not yet developed as hoped and seems to have at least one bad shotgun snap per practice. Right guard Ron Leary is old and often injured. If he stays healthy, he can play at an acceptable level, but staying healthy has been a big problem for him over the course of his pro career.
Then there’s the blindside protector Garett Bolles. He’s under a bright spotlight this year, as his play over the past two seasons as a starting left tackle has been below average.
Denver has a decision to make about the 2017 first-round pick’s fifth-year option after this season. If Bolles continues to struggle, then the team is going to be in the market for a real franchise left tackle.
The worst thing the Broncos could do for Lock’s development is to think that Bolles was “good enough” and not look for a real upgrade out there on the open market or through the draft — again.
Denver must build a better offensive line if they want to protect a young franchise quarterback, whether that is Drew Lock or somebody else.
The ground game can help protect Lock
The Broncos likely have this lesson down pat, as they run the ball with great efficiency and should continue to do so if Lock takes over as the starter. Ask any young quarterback, whether it was Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. A strong rushing attack helps greatly and keeps a defense honest.
Phillip Lindsay is one of the most dangerous players on the Broncos offense. He can score anytime he touches the ball and can make defenders look silly in space. Using him as much as possible as both a runner and receiver would be the recipe for success when Lock is a young starter.
Royce Freeman can grind down an opponent. Defenders will get tired of tackling the 230-pound bruiser, and that can really help a young quarterback like Lock when he’s tasked with handing off to let the backs do the dirty work.
This Denver offense isn’t going to fill the air with footballs, but they don’t have to and won’t want to if a young quarterback like Lock takes over.
In summary …
Finding a young franchise quarterback is difficult to do. When you potentially have one of those in Drew Lock, you must do everything in your power to ensure that he works out and plays up to his potential.
Broncos general manager John Elway needs to build in the trenches if he truly believes that Lock can be the starter this team has needed since Manning retired.
Their offensive line is a work-in-progress at best and is far from a finished product. It’s not going to help out Lock if this team thinks they’re set up front. Instead, they must pursue every opportunity to upgrade the unit.
Drew Lock can be the franchise quarterback for the Broncos in the future … if Denver helps him get there.
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