The Broncos aren’t going anywhere in 2019. They need to start looking to the future with rookie quarterback Drew Lock.
We will see Lock begin practicing this week with the hope that he can be “designated to return” from the Injured Reserve list. Lock could begin his Broncos career as the starter after the team’s Week 10 bye. That would give the Broncos more than a month to evaluate their young passer.
The Broncos are looking at a top-10 pick in 2020 in a quarterback-heavy draft. If Lock doesn’t look like he could be the future of the franchise, the team needs to do what they can to land one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft.
In order to see what Lock looks like, the Broncos should set him up for success and do things that make him the most comfortable. They need to build his confidence and see how he can progress in his pro career.
Here are five things the Broncos must do if and when Lock takes over.
1. Shotgun Heavy
Yes, Lock will need to make plays from under center more consistently one day, but that time is not now. Instead, the Broncos must embrace an offensive change that puts the young quarterback in the shotgun formation as much as possible.
During the 2018 season at Missouri (13 games), Lock dropped back to pass 463 times and had 437 passing attempts total. Of those dropbacks, only five came from under center. This is incredibly common in today’s college football as most teams run spread concepts which almost exclusively feature the quarterback in the shotgun formation.
The Broncos utilize an offense under OC Rich Scangarello that features Joe Flacco under center quite a bit. In fact, so far in 2019, Flacco ranks No. 8 in the NFL with 62 passing attempts from under center. The average in the NFL is only 21.8 attempts from under center after seven games. The leader in this category also happens to run a similar system, as Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has a whopping 115 passing attempts from under center.
Lock isn’t going to be able to run Scangarello’s system as it is currently designed. The Broncos must not be stubborn and try to force the rookie to bend to the system. Instead, they need to be open-minded about what he can and can’t do right now. Let Lock work from the shotgun formation almost exclusively and work in more plays from under center when he’s built more confidence and looks more comfortable playing at the NFL level.
2. Stay Away From the Middle
The middle of the field is a dangerous place for a rookie quarterback, so the Broncos are going to have to work the edges when Lock takes over. Reading the middle of the field is incredibly difficult for a young passer, so the Broncos need to limit the number of routes that go to that point – especially more than 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
The middle of the field can be cluttered with defenders. NFL defenses are much more complex than anything Lock has gone up against during his football career. Tricking the rookie quarterback could be quite easy if the Broncos are forcing him to go where interceptions and field-flipping plays regularly happen. Instead, the team should work the edges to get Lock into a rhythm.
— Cecil Lammey (@CecilLammey) April 27, 2019
Looking over this pass plot, Lock went to the middle of the field – but only on passes less than 10 yards. Lock only attempted 14 passes in the middle more than 10 yards in his final collegiate season.
The good thing is, Flacco doesn’t go over the middle when it comes to passes of 10-plus yards. In seven games so far this season, Flacco has gone 9-of-10 when attempting passes over the middle at that distance. Lock will not have to challenge a defense in that spot of the field early in his pro career.
3. Let Him Run
One of the biggest assets that Lock has as a quarterback is his athletic ability. The Broncos offense needs to have some designed runs for Lock so he can threaten a defense with his legs.
There may be plenty of times that Lock doesn’t see anybody open and he will take off to run. The Broncos cannot squelch this from happening.
By letting him run the ball, a defense will certainly take notice. They may even begin to put a “spy” on Lock if his legs are that much of a threat.
This also helps the team when they’re passing the ball. Lock’s legs allow you to run the read option, something he did at Missouri quite often, and that freezes a defender who has to decide whether or not Lock will hand off the ball, run the ball or pass the ball. This is just an added wrinkle for some quarterbacks, but for a quarterback like Lock it can be a big part of your offense.
Let Lock make plays with his feet and you’ll get the best version of the young quarterback.
4. Take Some Deep Shots
The first thing that stands out about Lock is his big arm and ability to stretch the field vertically. It would be a shame and incredibly ignorant to force Lock to throw a bunch of short passes if he becomes the starter for the Broncos.
In 2018 with Missouri, Lock threw a whopping 91 passing attempts of 15 yards or more. This ranked Lock No. 18 in this category for all FBS quarterbacks who played 13 games (like he did in 2018) or more. The FBS average for every starter was just 20.3 passing attempts of the same distance.
The Broncos just don’t let Flacco take deep shots this season. Flacco still has a big arm and he’s got the weapons on the outside like Courtland Sutton who can track deep passes with ease. However, in this offense Flacco is asked to dink-and-dunk his way down the field.
Flacco ranks No. 30 in the NFL when it comes to air-yards-per-attempt. After seven games, Flacco’s AY/ATT is only 6.47 yards. The NFL average for AY/ATT is 8.05 yards.
If/when Lock takes over, this team must use the best part of Lock’s game – his big arm. Asking him to pepper the field with short passes would be just asinine. Lock has a big arm and that can back up defenders, to perhaps open up things in different spots of the field.
5. Accept Footwork is a WIP
The biggest problem that Lock had coming out of college was his mechanics when passing the ball – mostly with his poor footwork. Any good scout will tell you that a quarterback’s skill begins with his feet. His arm strength actually starts from the way his feet are set when passing. His accuracy can also be greatly impacted – both positively and negatively – due to his feet.
Lock spent a lot of time during the pre-draft process cleaning up his footwork. I did see him have improved footwork during the week of practice for the Senior Bowl earlier this year. However, bad habits are hard to break and Lock needs to continue honing this skill.
Watching his preseason footage from earlier this year, one can clearly see how Lock’s footwork is not yet clean and crisp on a consistent basis.
Lock has a rocket arm and can make throws off his back foot that find their target – no matter how improbable the throw may look as it is attempted. This is a great skill to have but it is a double-edged sword. Lock can make these off-platform throws and sometimes his mechanics will get lazy because of it. Instead of setting his feet and firing passes accurately, Lock will throw off his back foot too many times in a clean pocket.
His footwork is not going to be good to start. I don’t think they should just accept that for the long haul but instead realize that his footwork is a work in progress and that hopefully he will improve as he plays more football at the pro level.
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