Did John Elway Miss Again? Drew Lock May Have Broncos Searching for QB in 2021

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystNovember 20, 2020

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) looks to throw against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me six times, and now you're entering John Elway territory. 

Since Elway took over as the Denver Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations in 2012, the Hall of Fame quarterback has drafted six prospects who played his old position, and all of them have failed to live up to expectations. 

Drew Lock looked like the perfect opportunity to break the cycle. However, the second-year signal-caller hasn't fulfilled the prophecy set before him prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. 

"This guy is a f--king rock star," the Broncos' eight-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller told Bleacher Report's Kalyn Kahler. "When he was at practice, he would roll out and he would throw the ball and I'm like, 'Bro, when he finally gets it...' He has this star-quarterback glow around him, on top of this rock-star, Post Malone musician-like glow about him."

A different song is being sung now with the Broncos possibly peeking toward yet another draft prospect next spring. 

"Could the Denver Broncos be looking for a new quarterback? Yes, according to one scouting source," B/R's Matt Miller reported earlier this week. "The team isn't set on Drew Lock and knows that if he doesn't show improvement this year, it has to be open to selecting a first-rounder at the position if it is able to add an elite prospect."

Currently, Denver would own the 11th overall selection if the 2021 NFL draft were held today, according to Tankathon. The organization is well within range to consider another quarterback prospect if one of the top four options—Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and BYU's Zach Wilson—is available when the Broncos are on the clock. 

Wade Payne/Associated Press

Let's think back a moment and realize Lock fell to the second round of the 2019 class for a reason. The Broncos stopped his slide after trading up for the 42nd overall pick. What everyone saw at the time was a quarterback who played exceptionally well as a junior at Missouri and possessed terrific natural throwing ability, but his production declined during his final season on campus. 

In 2017, Lock set a then-SEC record with 44 touchdown passes. The Tigers attempted to add more pro-style elements to the offensive scheme when then-head coach Barry Odom hired Derek Dooley, previously on the Dallas Cowboys staff, to take over as coordinator. In some ways, Lock became more efficient, yet the offense wasn't as potent. 

Consistency, or lack thereof, became a huge part of his evaluation. 

"Inside of each game, Lock makes reads and throws that are worthy of an early pick. There will also be plays in the same game that highlight his random inaccuracy and issues defeating pocket pressure," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote prior to the draft. "He has as much pure talent as any quarterback from the 2018 draft, but he won't reach that lofty potential unless he improves his accuracy and learns to play with better in-game presence."

Then, Lock's rookie campaign happened, and many seemingly forgot about the concerns with his game. The Broncos finished 4-1 with the first-year quarterback under center, and he posted a seven-to-three touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

From there, expectations escalated despite a small sample size, especially after the Broncos spent the majority of their offseason adding parts to the offense to better support the signal-caller. 

"If anything, all I learned is how do we get them in the best situation for young QBs to be successful," Elway told Kahler with regard to how this time could be different compared to the franchise's previous quarterback investments. "Because if you win, then things are going to be good. When you lose is when the world caves in. If we can get good people around him and play good defense, then he has a better chance to be successful."

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

To be fair, Lock's current standing has nothing to do with the Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler failures. They clearly didn't have the necessary skills to play at a high level. Obviously, middle- and late-round draft picks such as Chad Kelly, Trevor Siemian and Zac Dysert are lottery tickets at best. 

Even so, a disconnect exists in Elway's ability to evaluate the position he once played. It's not entirely unlike Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky serving as executives after leaving their respective sports. Those who reach the highest pinnacle tend to struggle when trying to relate to those who can't be held to the same standard. 

Others pointed to potential problems with Lock's skill set before this season even began despite the public perception of him being an ascending starter. 

"He does a lot of cool s--t with his arm," an NFC exec told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler in August. "Physically talented. But needs to slow it down and play the game more from the neck up."

An NFL defensive coach added, "My whole thing was I didn't think he was an instant starter. I'm still not sure and he's gotta prove it, but we're gonna see what he does with those weaponsbig-time weapons."

Lock's decision-making remains in question through seven games played. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks fourth with 14 turnover-worthy plays, despite missing two contests because of injury. He's now dealing with a rib injury, and the quarterback could miss Sunday's meeting with the Miami Dolphins, per the Denver Post's Kyle Newman

Injuries and the quarterback's toughness aside, Lock simply hasn't been efficient, and that's an understatement. Traditional metrics show Denver's second-year starter ranks dead last among qualifying quarterbacks with a 55.0 completion percentage and 36.3 QBR, second-to-last with a 66.5 quarterback rating and 30th at 6.3 yards per attempt. 

The Athletic's Ben Baldwin provided a visual of how poorly Lock has played this season:

Computer Cowboy @benbbaldwin

Playing with splits is dangerous and often misleading BUT if we look at since week 3 when Justin Jefferson started playing > 70% of snaps, look at Kirk Cousins! https://t.co/UIwnoZGXxZ

Look at the graph again. Lock is, by far, the league's worst starting quarterback.

Some might say he can only go up from here, while others will see this as an opportunity for the Broncos to cut their losses and once again enter the quarterback market, especially with a high first-round draft pick in play. 

Lawrence and Fields would qualify as locks (pardon the pun) if either is still available when the Broncos are on the clock next April. Really, Lance and Wilson should be as well since they're both considered top first-round talents. 

Lance's standing is somewhat in question because he's only played one full season and won't turn 21 until after the draft. 

"Everything about him is positive: talented and physical runner," an unnamed AFC executive told Fowler. "The question is, how soon does this guy have to play? An ideal spot for him would be somewhere where he can learn for a year."

Allowing Lock another year while simultaneously pairing him with Lance is an interesting possibility. The Broncos must do everything in their power to get the quarterback position right or risk not taking advantage of the roster's other talent. 

Steve Conner/Associated Press

Wilson's progression makes him this season's fastest riser on most draft boards. The BYU quarterback went from a potential mid- to late-round option to one of the top prospects in Joe Burrow-like fashion. 

"Most intriguing of them all," an NFC executive said, per Fowler. "Confident passer whose ball jumps off of his hand."

Whatever the case, the Broncos are currently trending away from the quarterback the organization thought ended Elway's string of bad decisions.

Maybe everyone should have paid attention to something else Miller told Kahler about Lock: "He is definitely the franchise QB. If I am not right on this one, then I don't know. I just don't know what franchise quarterbacks look like."

Miller said it, but Elway owns it. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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