At this time, Peyton Manning has not confirmed that he will return to the Denver Broncos for another season in 2015. While all signs point to him returning for one—perhaps final—run, this question mark has the Broncos (and Broncos fans) thinking about life without Manning.
The next quarterback behind Manning on the depth chart is Brock Osweiler. A second-round pick for the Broncos in the 2012 NFL draft, Osweiler has been patiently waiting and developing as a reserve player behind Manning.
Can Brock Osweiler be the Denver Broncos' heir to Manning? Let’s take a look.
Struggles and Improvements
During his time with the Broncos, I have been watching Osweiler closely during rookie minicamp, minicamp/OTAs, training camp and the preseason.
When Osweiler was a rookie, his raw tools were evident. He’s tall, athletic and has a rocket arm. At that time, Osweiler still had a poor throwing motion and low release point. His footwork was also poor because when he wasn’t running, he would throw flat-footed.
The Broncos worked diligently to improve Osweiler in these areas. His second year showed better mechanics both with his arm and his feet.
Entering last year’s minicamp, I was excited to see what kind of improvement Osweiler had made.
Instead, I saw a player that slightly regressed. Osweiler’s passes were coming in hot and without touch. He also stumbled on a dropback more than once, and generally he seemed a bit uncomfortable.
Talking to him after practice one day in training camp, I found out why he struggled during minicamp.
Osweiler was working with the full playbook for the first time last year, and his head was swimming. With minicamp under his belt, Osweiler started to show off in training camp.
There were several throws he made in August that were of starter’s caliber. Osweiler has a rocket arm, and he can fit passes into windows other quarterbacks can only dream of throwing into.
In addition to his powerful arm, Osweiler showed a willingness to challenge the defense deep. Some of his best throws in camp came to streaking receivers down the sideline. He also had a penchant for throwing touchdown passes during practice frequently, mainly to guys like Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer and Gerell Robinson.
I have been impressed by the improvements Osweiler has made to his game behind the scenes. Gone are the poor footwork and low release point. He’s lighter on his feet when throwing in the pocket, and this helps him get away quickly if the rush is on him. Osweiler is also throwing with a proper motion, making it even more difficult for defenders to bat down his passes.
Joe Flacco Jr.
Pro comparisons are tough to come by when you’re a 6’7” quarterback. One player Osweiler often gets compared to is 6’6” Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
It’s a fitting comparison because like Flacco, Osweiler is tall and has an incredibly strong arm. Under Gary Kubiak (then Ravens offensive coordinator) in 2014, Flacco had arguably the best season of his career. He finished with a career-best 27 touchdown passes and a career-high 3,986 passing yards.
Looking at what Flacco did, it’s easy to imagine how Kubiak’s offense could work with Osweiler. Kubiak could use a bootleg-heavy scheme to keep defenses on their toes when facing Osweiler.
The Broncos are likely to add a quarterback to the mix at some point this offseason. Zac Dysert, a seventh-round pick in 2013, spent his rookie season on the active roster as the third quarterback. Last year, Dysert failed to make the final roster, but he was cut and then placed on the team’s practice squad.
Like Osweiler, Dysert has a strong arm and is known as a player who can scramble and throw on the run. Unlike Osweiler, Dysert has struggled to impress during minicamp or training camp. Dysert will look great on a few throws here and there, but largely he’s too inconsistent to be relied on as anything more than a clipboard-holder.
Don’t be shocked if Denver selects a quarterback at some point in the 2015 NFL draft.
Players who could be of interest to the Broncos include Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.
Petty worked out of the shotgun during his college career in a pass-happy system. He struggled at the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl with taking snaps under center and merely calling plays. Petty has a strong work ethic and has the physical tools to perhaps develop into a good starter in the NFL.
Grayson worked in a pro-style system with the Rams. He had the ability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, but he could also call plays in the huddle and work from under center or in the shotgun. Grayson put up better stats than Petty in 2014, and he arguably had the best performance of any quarterback at the Senior Bowl earlier this year.
The free-agent crop of quarterbacks this offseason doesn’t look that strong, but it also wouldn’t shock me to see the Broncos add a player from the group. A player like T.J. Yates could make sense for the Broncos.
Yates worked under Kubiak before when the two were with the Houston Texans. In 2012, Yates won a playoff game for the Texans as they beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round. He’s got more experience than Osweiler, and Yates already knows the system.
The Broncos have a real asset in Osweiler. He’s been patiently waiting for his opportunity, and that time may come soon.
They have put a lot of time into Osweiler over the past three seasons. The Broncos may not want to wash away that precious time and move on to a different quarterback in 2016—if Manning is done. Osweiler likely wants the chance to prove himself, but the Broncos should approach him about a contract extension.
Manning’s contract runs through the 2016 season, and Osweiler is entering the final year of his contract in 2015. He may not want to wait too much longer, but the Broncos might be able to convince him to stay around in order to get his shot.
Adding Osweiler was not a wasted draft pick—even if he never plays significant snaps for the Broncos. When he was drafted, nobody had any idea if Manning could really come back from a fused neck that required multiple surgeries. Nobody saw 55 touchdown passes coming in 2013, or any of the other record-setting performances that Manning has had during his time with the Broncos.
Denver needed insurance at the position in case Manning’s best days were behind him. That insurance policy is going to be really helpful now that Manning looks like he might have one year left as a pro.
With all of the time invested, Osweiler not only could be the heir to Manning—he SHOULD be.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.