The Broncos' 2020 season is almost here, and as training camp approaches, we're taking a look at each of the Broncos' position groups. In this set of previews, we'll take a deep dive into what we know about the given position group and what we still need to learn. We'll also identify a player to watch and choose a battle that bears watching. At the end of the series, we'll provide an overarching look at the best training camp battles and which players have the most to prove.
For now, though, we'll begin our series with most important position group in the game: quarterback.
What we know:
After John Elway and Co. spent the last four seasons searching for a long-term solution at quarterback, they found their best lead yet as 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock finished his rookie season with a 4-1 record. Lock completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a 89.7 quarterback rating. If you toss out a miserable 20-3 loss in the snow in Kansas City, Lock completed 70.7 percent of his passes and had a 7-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His best game came in a 38-24 road win over the Texans, as he completed 22-of-27 passes for 309 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and a 136.0 quarterback rating. If Lock consistently plays like he did against the Texans, the Broncos should cruise to plenty of wins in 2020. He should have his chance to do just that, as new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's system is predicated on deep passes.
The Broncos brought in fifth-year quarterback Jeff Driskel to serve as Lock's backup, and Driskel has starting experience that could prove helpful if Lock suffers an injury. Driskel has started eight games over the past two seasons as he's completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,688 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's also rushed for three touchdowns. Driskel has just a 1-7 record as a starter, which clearly will need to improve for the Broncos to hold on to playoff dreams in the event that Lock misses a game or two.
Brett Rypien, who served as a backup for a pair of games last season but did not see any on-field action, remains on the roster. Riley Neal, an undrafted player from Vanderbilt, rounds out the position group.
What we need to learn:
When he spoke to the media in June, Shurmur praised Lock's progress in learning the Broncos' new offense.
"I was very impressed," Shurmur said via Zoom conference on June 11. "He was able to keep up with the installations when he and the rest of the quarterbacks and [Quarterbacks Coach] Mike [Shula] and I would sit down and just generally talk concepts. I think he's got a really good feel for the game. He's developing a good feel for what we want to do. If the rumor is true that he's throwing to our players, I think he's learning something there. We'll just try to put it all together here come July."
Right now, though, Lock's progress is in some ways purely hypothetical. He's gathered teammates to work out and run through plays, but until he's on the field in training camp against a defense, it will be hard to tell just how much progress he's made. The Broncos — like every other team across the league — lost out on hundreds of reps because of the COVID-19-induced virtual offseason program. For a young player in his second offense in two years, it's hard to project how detrimental those lost reps will be.
When camp opens, we'll get those answers. Are Lock and Co. able to execute Shurmur's offense with few hiccups? Or is it clear that they're behind where they need to be? If the offense does start slow, don't be too concerned. Across the league, it seems to be commonplace that offenses take a few more practices to adjust than their defensive counterparts. Still, the Broncos have less than seven weeks from their report date until the Tennessee Titans are scheduled to travel to Empower Field at Mile High. The offense will need to jell quickly, and Lock is at the forefront of that effort.
Player to watch:
There will be plenty to watch and discuss during training camp, but no player will be dissected the way Lock will be over the coming weeks. Every throw will be charted, decisions will be analyzed, touchdowns will be praised and interceptions will raise concerns.
If Lock tosses a 45-yard touchdown to Courtland Sutton, talk radio will explode with conversations about how the pair could be the best duo in the league. If Lock then throws three interceptions in the next practice, the narrative will turn to how the second-year quarterback isn't ready to lead the team to their first playoff berth since 2015.
A word of advice as training camp approaches: Prioritize patience and trends. It will likely take a few weeks before Lock and the offense are ready to go for Week 1, and that means there could be some rough practices along the way. Instead of hyper-focusing on each practice, try to look for general trends on Lock's development. Is Lock's decision-making improving on a week-to-week basis? Is he becoming better at calling out coverages or making pre-snap reads? Is he gaining chemistry with new additions Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Melvin Gordon III? Those are the overarching questions that should help predict how Lock will perform when the season arrives in September.
Battle to watch:
There's not a traditional battle in this position group, because Lock is the unquestioned starter and Driskel seems set in the backup position. We'll highlight Rypien here, though, because he could show enough in training camp and the preseason to earn a spot on what could be an expanded practice squad. According to media reports, the NFL has considered allowing teams to add more players to the practice squads. The 10-man group was already scheduled to jump to 12 in 2020 because of the new collective bargaining agreement, but it could expand to 16 players to allow teams more flexibility in case an active-roster player misses time with COVID-19. If Rypien shows enough to make the practice squad, he could hypothetically challenge Driskel for the backup role in 2021, as the Broncos signed Driskel to a two-year deal. Rypien completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 207 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions during the 2019 preseason.