Is this the season the Broncos get back to their winning ways? Last year, in the first season with Vic Fangio as their head coach, the Broncos finished one game below .500 with a 7-9 record. They did finish the season strong, going 4-1 over the final five games of the regular season. That finish has given fans hope that this team is finally on the right track and can perhaps even make a postseason run – especially with the league expanding the playoffs by one team in each conference.
During the last three years, the Broncos have drafted well, and this roster has talented players on both sides of the ball. However, there are questions that need answers before the start of the regular season. In this series at 1043TheFan.com, we will go through each position group searching for those answers.
This is the latest part in our Training Camp Preview. Today, we’ll take a deep dive on the quarterback position.
Starter: Drew Lock
In his first season with the Broncos, Lock missed most of the year due to a thumb injury suffered in the preseason that initially landed him on the Injured Reserve list. He was designated to return and got to the field for the final five games of the regular season. In those games, Lock went 4-1 as the starter and flashed the ability to be a franchise quarterback – something the team has been looking for since Peyton Manning retired after Super Bowl 50.
The Broncos brass decided those games were enough to give Lock a shot as the starter this year – a chance that will be uncontested, as the second-year QB is the unquestioned starter at the position. There will be no quarterback competition in 2020, and this team has built around Lock with the idea that he will sink or swim in his second season.
Gone is former offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, as he has been replaced by long-time coordinator and former head coach of the Giants Pat Shurmur. Last year with the Giants, Shurmur got some good football out of rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and now he’ll be tasked with getting the best out of Lock. We shouldn’t see a run-based, zone-blocking system for the Broncos. Instead, Shurmur should use 11 personnel (three wide-receiver sets) as his base offense and pass much more on first downs than they did last season.
This emphasis on the passing attack will put a lot of pressure on Lock to get off to a hot start. The offense should be more high-powered than it was last season, when they couldn’t even muster 18.0 points per game. The Broncos aren’t going to light up the scoreboard, but if they scored a touchdown more a game that would be a probable target to project for this team.
The offense is built around Lock’s skill set. He has a big arm that can stretch the field, and Lock is athletic enough to keep plays alive with his feet and even scramble for first downs (or touchdowns) when need be. Lock has the ultimate confidence in his arm and can fit passes into tight windows that other passers can merely dream of. This is why the Broncos added top-tier talent to the skill position players in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Players like 2020 first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and 2020 second-round pick K.J. Hamler are dangerous weapons who can score from anywhere on the field. Jeudy could quickly become a favorite target of Lock because of his ability to always be open. Hamler’s speed is among the best in the game, and short passes can turn into long gains regularly with this playmaker.
Lock not only gets to work with those two rookie wide receivers, but he also gets a rookie tight end he’s very familiar with. Albert Okwuegbunam was a fourth-round pick and former college teammate of Lock. In two seasons playing together at Missouri, the pair combined for 17 touchdowns and could immediately pick up where they left off due to their chemistry.
Oh yeah, do not forget about rising star Courtland Sutton at the wide receiver position. He’s just shown us the tip of the iceberg in terms of talent and could continue to shine as one of the best young receivers in the game today. Last year, Sutton made big plays for Lock and showed that “my ball” mentality that earns a quarterback’s trust.
Add in 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant as the starting tight end and you can see how Lock has weapons falling out of his pockets this season. Fant has plenty of speed and can be a “seam ripper” for the Shurmur offense. He had his ups and downs last year as a rookie, but Fant showed that he has the upside to be a premier weapon at the tight end position if he continues to develop.
Lock is a charismatic leader and his teammates have bought in on him leading the team in 2020 and perhaps beyond. Make no mistake about it, 2020 is a try out for Lock to continue as the team’s starter. The pressure is on him to perform at a high level and win games to get this team back in the playoff conversation. If Lock suffers a sophomore slump, then many changes could be made in Denver and they could try and find a replacement for Lock.
Reserves: Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien
This team doesn’t have a “Plan B” at the quarterback position in 2020. It’s all about Lock and if anything happens to him, then kiss the season goodbye.
The Broncos added Jeff Driskel as a free agent addition earlier this offseason. The team needed a backup to Lock that wouldn’t pressure him for the starting job and Driskel is that guy. The young quarterback does have starting experience, although he has not had much success as a starter for either the Bengals or the Lions.
Now the No. 2 with the Broncos, Driskel can help Lock as the starter and gives the team veteran depth at the position. Driskel is athletic and has a strong arm, so his skill set is somewhat similar to that of Lock. He won’t see the field unless Lock is hurt, but with so much talent on the Broncos offense, Driskel could look better than he previously has in the NFL.
Brett Rypien was undrafted out of Boise State in 2019 and spent his rookie season on the Broncos practice squad. He is a smart and accurate quarterback who is calm under pressure where he can make plays from the pocket. Rypien looked good in training camp and the preseason last year for the Broncos, but he is unlikely to unseat Driskel as the primary backup to Lock.
He does not have a strong arm, but he makes up for that with anticipation as a passer. Rypien is a coach’s favorite because he is hard working, dedicated, smart and known as a team player. Who knows if the Broncos keep three quarterbacks this year, but Rypien might be too good for the team to let go.
The fortunes of the Broncos all come down to the performance of Lock this season. If he plays the way he’s capable of playing, the Broncos can win eight to 10 games and perhaps make it to the postseason. Lock doesn’t need to be phenomenal this year, and the rookie will struggle at times in his first full season starting, but if he can take care of the ball and lean on the weapons around him, this season will be a success.
It’s no doubt a tryout year for the young quarterback. If he shows the ability to be a franchise quarterback, the Broncos can continue building around Lock. They’ve got the makings of a team on the rise in the NFL, but this team cannot let the pandemic – and all the issues surrounding that like no preseason games – get them off track.
They are young on offense, but Lock has the swagger to lead this team. If his play backs up his supreme confidence the Broncos might be able to win games that some think they can’t just yet. Enough playing for a year or two from now (when many admit they could be good), the Broncos need to adopt a “win now” mentality – and that all starts with Lock.
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