With three years left on his contract, Manning might as well be considered the quarterback of the future. So long as he stays healthy, Manning should be starting for the Broncos.
In fact, Mike Klis of the Denver Post believes Brock Osweiler will leave in free agency before Manning does.
Coming out of Arizona State, Osweiler was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. His selection is still seen as controversial by some in the Denver media. Instead of getting an impact player like Lavonte David (picked right after Osweiler), the Broncos got a player who might never start a game for them.
The Broncos went back to the well at quarterback when they selected Zac Dysert (Miami, OH) in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft. Dysert has a rocket arm, but consistency has been a problem for him throughout his football career. He’s a favorite of general manager John Elway, and Dysert held a clipboard as the third-string quarterback last season.
On the surface, the Broncos seem to be set at the quarterback position.
They have an entrenched starter who will be in the Hall of Fame. They also have an intriguing backup quarterback with a strong skill set. Denver even has a developmental prospect with the upside to possibly be a starter someday.
So why are the Broncos working out quarterbacks during the predraft process this year? Let’s examine the players on the roster to determine whether or not the Broncos should target a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft.
What more can you say about the best in the game? Manning set new NFL single-season records in 2013 with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards.
After that type of performance, nobody can say that Manning is “washed up” or “not the same player he used to be.” In fact, Manning was better than ever in 2013. It’s much easier to assume that Manning should continue to dominate opponents so long as he can stay healthy.
He may not get 55 touchdowns in 2014, but throwing for 45-plus sounds about right. Manning may not break the single-season passing record again this year, but he could surpass 5,000 yards passing for the second straight year.
If Manning is able to stay healthy and put up those kind of numbers, then it’s safe to assume that his trajectory could stay around the same in 2015. Questions about his future could rise if the Broncos win it all, or if Manning gets banged up at some point over the next two years.
He could very well be the quarterback of the future for the Broncos. At the team’s season-ending press conference, head coach John Fox was complimentary of Osweiler’s game, saying:
I think Brock has done an outstanding job. I haven’t seen as much out of Zac [Dysert] other than this season, limited looks. I think I can’t speak that far in the future—I mean, the future is next week. But [Osweiler] has definitely improved. He’s way further ahead this year than he was a year ago. I think he’s got a comfort level. Of course, the time he spends with Peyton, I think, is a great benefit. But he’s smart, he’s got all the athletic tools and now it’s just a matter of getting opportunities to play the game.
Osweiler is tall (6’7”), has a strong arm and he is very athletic for a man his size. When he came out of college, Osweiler had a poor (low) release point and too often he would throw flat-footed. The Broncos have worked hard to improve both of these issues, and now Osweiler looks better when throwing the ball.
If the play breaks down, Osweiler has the ability to escape the pocket and make a play with his feet. He can make off-platform throws on the run, and he has the velocity to fit the ball into tight spaces. Osweiler has Ben Roethlisberger-like upside if he can develop further as a pro.
In 2013, Dysert struggled to impress. His journey in the NFL started at rookie minicamp where Dysert had many off-target passes. That problem continued to persist when Dysert got to training camp.
Dysert is streaky when he plays. Sometimes he’ll be hot and every pass is hitting the mark, in stride and on time. Then later (often in the same game or practice), Dysert will lose his accuracy and passes will be too low or too high.
In the Broncos preseason finale, Dysert completed only 9-of-20 passes. He did throw a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Gerell Robinson, the only passing touchdown scored by the Broncos in that game. He also showed off his athleticism by rushing for 23 yards on three carries.
The Broncos need to harness Dysert’s natural talent and find some way to improve his consistency if he’s ever going to play up to his potential.
There are several quality options for the Broncos, even late, in the 2014 NFL draft. It would be a surprise if the Broncos selected a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft. Let’s look at quarterbacks who are currently graded as fourth-round picks or later.
The Wyoming quarterback was snubbed at the scouting combine, but he impressed scouts in attendance for his pro day. He ran an official 4.5 40-yard dash, had an incredible 10’8” broad jump and his hands measured 10 inches across.
Smith is incredibly athletic, drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) when he scrambles. When he breaks the pocket, Smith keeps his eyes downfield looking to make a throw. He can scramble, but it’s only as a last resort.
His arm is strong enough to throw accurately 55 yards on a rope. Smith also doesn’t suffer a big difference in accuracy when throwing on the run.
In addition to having the ability to evade the rush with his feet, Smith also has a lightning-quick release. This helps him get rid of the ball when under duress.
He’s an incredibly competitive player who is focused on making an impact in the NFL. “I don’t have a ‘Plan B,’” Smith told me after his pro day. “I think ‘Plan B’ distracts from ‘Plan A.’’ Smith also said, “I like to prove my doubters wrong, but I love to prove my supporters right.”
Smith is known as a coachable player with the speed and athleticism to make plays. He will try to make difficult throws across his body, and Smith will need to learn how to throw it away when a play isn’t there.
Morris has a skill set that is reminiscent of Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans). He has few mechanical issues, but the accuracy just isn’t there. Morris can effectively execute play-action passes, and his arm talent is elite.
He’s an athletic quarterback who stays calm under pressure. Morris will calmly go through his progressions with chaos swirling around him. He loves to throw deep, and Morris will patiently wait for a deep route to open up.
Morris does struggle throwing intermediate routes. He either looks deep or dumps off passes short. Morris will need to learn how to properly read the middle of the field if he want to impress at the pro level.
Here we have a sleeper pick for the Broncos. He did a fine job of running the Tarheels' uptempo offense over the last couple of seasons. Renner can accurately drive the ball to his intended target when his feet are set.
His best asset as a passer may be his brain. Renner is incredibly bright, and he easily diagnoses what a defense is trying to do as the play unfolds. He makes quick decisions with the ball, and he’s not afraid to attack the middle seam of the defense. Renner’s pre-snap reads help him avoid any confusion when going through his progressions.
An injury to his non-throwing shoulder ended his senior season at North Carolina. That is going to keep his draft stock low, but he provides tremendous value late.
Both Smith and Morris have already had private workouts for the Broncos, according to Jeff Legwold of ESPN. There’s no word about whether or not Renner has (or will) worked out for the Broncos, but he did impress at the Manning passing camp last year.
These three quarterbacks could be the best possibilities for the Broncos if they select a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Broncos are likely to spend a pick on a quarterback this year. It would be a surprise if that happens on the first two days of the draft during Rounds 1-3. However, when they get to the final day of the draft, the Broncos should add another quarterback to the mix.
They have to be prepared for all possible scenarios. They have put two years into developing Osweiler to this point. With two years left on his contract, Osweiler could still end up getting a chance to start for the Broncos. Per Legwold, the team still projects Osweiler as the first starter in the post-Manning era. However, if he leaves after his rookie contract expires, the Broncos have to be ready.
Dysert has a strong arm but little control or consistency at this time. He’ll get plenty of chances to improve his game with the Broncos during this offseason. If he responds well to coaching, then perhaps Dysert could at least compete for the starting job after Manning is done.
Any quarterback that is added this year might be able to push Dysert off the roster. Smith and Morris are more athletic quarterbacks who can keep plays alive with their feet. Renner is more of a traditional pocket passer in the mold of Manning.
The style of quarterback they select could give us clues as to what direction they could go A.M. (after Manning).
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. Contract information provided by Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.