Sports | August 17, 2020 12:53 pm

Has John Elway Finally Found His Answer at QB?

Drew Lock went 4-1 as a starter last year in his rookie season in Denver

Has John Elway Finally Found His Answer at QB for the Broncos?
Quarterback Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos throws against the Oakland Raiders. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)
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Over the next six weeks, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of their 2019 finish, from worst to first. Today’s team: the Broncos.

No. 18: Denver Broncos
2019 Record: 7-9

Points For: 282 – Points Against: 316
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 8

In early January of 2011, the Denver Broncos named franchise legend John Elway general manager and executive vice president of football operations. In doing so, they essentially handed him the keys to the organization, elevating him to a level of authority enjoyed by the likes of Bill Belichick, Jerry Jones and … that might be it.

After watching Tim Tebow lead an 8-8 Broncos team (that somehow finished in first place) to the second round of the playoffs in his first season, Elway cut bait with the former Heisman winner by trading him to New York Jets during the 2012 offseason. Elway, a Hall-of-Famer with a pair of Super Bowl rings, knew that Tebow was not a good long-term option as an NFL quarterback. Luckily for the 60-year-old GM, there was a pretty good available option: Peyton Manning.

Manning, who had spent the previous year recovering from neck surgery, was a smash success after arriving in Denver, making the playoffs in all four of his seasons there while advancing to two Super Bowls and winning one. Immediately after that victory, Manning — by then a shell of himself as a passer, even if his qualities as a leader and game manager shone through — announced his retirement, handing Elway the task of finding his successor. It is a task that remains incomplete … for now.

Since Manning’s departure, the Broncos’ quarterback position has been a turnstile. There was Brock Osweiler (11 starts), Trevor Siemian (24 starts), Paxton Lynch (four starts), Case Keenum (16 starts), Joe Flacco (eight starts), Brandon Allen (three starts) and finally, Drew Lock (five starts). Not surprisingly, seven starting quarterbacks over the course four seasons did not prove to be a formula for success: Denver has gone a collective 27-37 since winning Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

Elway, who burned a second-round pick on Osweiler (2012), a seventh-round selection on Siemian (2015) and traded up to get Lynch in the first round (2016), is well aware there has been a gaping hole under center since Manning hung up his cleats.

“Believe me, I’m not done swinging and missing,” Elway said at the NFL combine back in 2018. “Misses don’t bother me. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get it right.”

Based on a small sample size from last season, it appears he finally might have.

Elway traded up in 2018 to select the aforementioned Lock with the 10th pick of the second round (No. 42 overall), and the four-year Missouri QB started five games for the Broncos last season, going 4-1.

Lock’s basic numbers — 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions and 89.7 passer rating — are pretty good for a rookie executing an offense that put a premium on running the ball, but they also came against the relatively soft defenses of the Texans, Chiefs, Lions, Chargers and Raiders. That said, Lock already has two game-winning drives to his credit in his young career, and has generally looked the part of a franchise quarterback in his limited time on the field.

He’ll have a good chance to build on that first impression this year, as Elway drafted stud Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy with the 15th overall pick in 2020 and followed that up by selecting speedy Penn State wideout KJ Hamler with the 14th pick of the second round.

Jeudy and Hamler will slot into an offense that already boasts Pro Bowl wide receiver Courtland Sutton and Pro Bowl running backs Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon (who signed with the Chargers this offseason). At tight end, the Broncos have 2020 fourth-round pick Albert Okwuegbunam (Lock’s college teammate at Missouri) and 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant.

It’s a fast offensive unit that, while somewhat inexperienced and raw, can rely on a rock-solid Denver defense that’s still anchored by perennial Pro Bowler Von Miller to prevent scores from getting out of hand.

“We’ve tried to concentrate on the defensive side, with the idea that, if we can keep the score down, we’ll stay in football games and eventually try to find the quarterback we can replace [Manning] with and get the offense back on track,” Elway said after the 2020 NFL Draft. “I think with the way Drew played at the end of last year, we saw the signs of a guy that has a chance to be very successful in this league.”

Clearly, with the way he drafted this year, Elway really believes that.

Patrik Walker of CBS Sports does too.

“Things should get much better for him in Year 2 — for a variety of reasons,” Walker writes of Lock. “He’ll have another training camp under his belt and another weapon has been added in highly-touted rookie Jerry Jeudy, who stands to be a major shot of adrenaline to the WR corps and offers a strong complement to the already proven Courtland Sutton and a rising tight end in Noah Fant. Toss in newly-signed running back Melvin Gordon to help keep defenses honest and there’s no reason Lock shouldn’t be able to tap dance around the 4,000-yard mark as an NFL sophomore.”

If that comes to fruition, Elway will have finally found his post-Manning man.