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He's Got Next: Drew Lock's drive to become the Broncos' quarterback of the future

Drew Lock had barely settled in at the podium before he was reminded of the Broncos' quarterback legacy.

"The Broncos have a pretty good history of quarterbacks, starting right over there," a reporter said at Lock's introductory press conference after the 2019 NFL Draft.

The second-round pick flashed a smile as he glanced over at President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway, who two decades earlier led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

Lock, who grew up a Chiefs fan, tossed out names like Elway and Manning as he revealed what he knew about Denver's quarterback history.

At that moment, Lock was still days away from his first snap of rookie minicamp. He was weeks away from organized team activities. He was months away from his first training camp and preseason action. And he was more than half a year away from his first start as a Bronco.

But on his first full day with the franchise — as Elway tempered expectations by saying Lock would compete for the backup role and learn from starter Joe Flacco — the Missouri product made his own expectations clear.

"There's just a lot of legendary QBs that come from here," Lock said. "I couldn't be more excited to try to be one of the next ones."

Lock's path toward jogging out in the huddle against the Raiders was a bit circuitous.

He was still on the board when the Broncos were on the clock with the 10th-overall pick in April's draft. They passed on him.

And again at pick No. 20. And again at pick No. 41.

The Broncos snagged him with the 42nd-overall pick, as the value was too good to pass up.

Lock, who was the highest-rated quarterback on the Broncos' draft board, competed for the backup role through OTAs and training camp. The rookie took steps forward each week in the preseason and appeared poised to capture the backup job. He suffered a thumb injury on Aug. 19 against the 49ers, though, and the Broncos placed him on injured reserve when the season began.

But Flacco, who started the first eight games for Denver, suffered a neck injury that landed him on IR just ahead of the Broncos' bye week.

That's when the calls for Lock to start intensified. Fans clamored for Head Coach Vic Fangio to start the rookie as soon as he was eligible to return from IR.

The Broncos, though, turned to Brandon Allen for three games as Lock returned to practice.

In Week 13, Lock made his long-anticipated debut and led the Broncos to a pair of go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter against the Chargers. As Brandon McManus knocked in a game-winning field goal, Lock sprinted onto the field as a winner in his first start.

"I think it was a good start for him," Fangio said after the win. 'Did we light up the scoreboard? No. Did we get a ton of first downs? No. I think we only had 11 first downs or something like that. We got some short fields which helped us get some points, but I think there's promise there. I really do. I'm just not ready to put him in Canton yet. I think it was a great start for him, something that he can build upon because obviously we didn't light up the scoreboard or have a ton of yards and first downs, but I think in many ways it's probably a good way for him to start in lieu of the fact that we got the win, but there's still a lot of room for improvement."

A week later, Lock earned Rookie of the Week honors after he threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a double-digit win over the Texans.

"I think we played it just right," Fangio said after the Broncos' win in Houston. "If we had played him too early, it wouldn't have been this good. He needed the time."

Even the Broncos' clunker in Kansas City, where Lock completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in the snow, could not stem the hype around the young quarterback.

And perhaps it's for good reason. The second-round pick has impressed fans, coaches and teammates alike.

"He's met our expectations in every way," Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello said in mid-December. "Just his work ethic has been very, very strong. It matters to him. I think that there are things you learn about a guy when you're in the room with him like this that you didn't really know, and I think he really has the makeup of what it takes to be successful."

Von Miller put it more simply after the Broncos' win in Houston.

"[The] guy's a rock star."

As the reporter mentioned on Lock's first day, Denver is a quarterback town. The best at the position have led the Broncos to world championships. Elway guided the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances and back-to-back championships during his Hall of Fame career in Denver. Manning capped his own Hall of Fame-worthy career with two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl 50 win with the Broncos.

It's hardly fair to hold Lock to the same standard. Elway and Manning are two of the best in the history of the game, and it's far more pressure than the rookie deserves to face championship expectations after just four starts.

But as long as the Broncos sit outside the playoffs and the search for a franchise quarterback continues, the pressure will remain. As the talk-radio hosts and fans gab about his future, though, the second-round pick has maintained a good sense of perspective, according to Scangarello.

The first-year NFL playcaller has spent time around both Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garroppolo — and Lock has handled the pressure of expectations just as well as either player.

"He's handled it about as well as any quarterback I've been around," Scangarello says. "He seems to be very grounded. He has a sense of confidence in himself, but he's humble in the same breath. I just think that it makes him have the traits that can help define him as a really good player in this league."

Still, Lock now has a better grasp on Denver's quarterback history — and what may eventually be expected of him. He says he's not thinking quite yet about such lofty goals, but he is also well aware of what it would take to etch his name alongside the franchise's previous greats.

"This is a special place as far as quarterbacks go," Lock said in mid-December. "I haven't necessarily thought about that yet, but if that were to happen, that's something … [where] you better be ready to hold that high standard. If you're going to have your name up with those guys, it's going to mean a little more than 15 or 20 touchdowns. [It] means throwing 30-plus [touchdowns] and going to win the Super Bowl.

"That's what we want to do for this city and this state." 

For now, Lock is focused on more granular goals, like proving to his coaches and teammates that he can lead the Broncos into the 2020 season.

That responsibility isn't lost on the 23-year-old Missouri native. It's not a stretch to say that the opportunity to play his way into the long-term starting job means quite a bit to No. 3.

"You work your whole life to hopefully have an opportunity to prove it to someone," Lock said. "To prove it to John Elway and Vic Fangio that you should be the head guy of this organization, that means a lot to me. I think, if that happens and, hopefully, when it does, then I'll be comfortable."

Until then, Lock will trudge forward with short-term goals and long-term aspirations in a town that's cheered for Elway and Manning.

All Lock wants is to be next.

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