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How he fits: New Broncos quarterback Case Keenum

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It's as simple as this: In Case Keenum, the Broncos have a viable starting quarterback and a clear upgrade at the position after cycling through three starters last season.

No matter what else happens this offseason or who else is added to the roster -- whether in the quarterback room or elsewhere -- Keenum's arrival assures that the first, biggest task of the Broncos' offseason plan was checked off the list.

"There is no doubt we have to get better at that position," President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said on Jan. 2. "For us to have a chance to get better, we have to get better at that position."

Take a look at Case Keenum's NFL and NCAA accomplishments and the statistics that define them.

By adding Keenum, who finished in the league's top 10 in passer rating, completion percentage, interception rate and sack rate, the Broncos feel they did exactly that.

"When I heard that we got him, and then I went back and watched some of his highlights from when he played with the Rams and when he played with the Vikings, I saw a guy that can deliver the football, that can stand up in there, that's very pocket-aware," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders told Orange and Blue 760 on Wednesday.

"I think the guy has got all the intangibles to be able to deliver the football and get the football to the open guy."

And a player doesn't have to be that open for Keenum to find him. One of the hallmarks of his play last year with the Vikings was his ability to drop the football into tight windows, setting up Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph for big plays despite tight coverage.

Keenum's ability to properly place the ball on outside-shoulder throws near the sidelines also helped him maximize the opportunity for big plays while minimizing risk.

"I was watching an interview of him at the Super Bowl -- I've been doing my research on the guy -- and one question that he answered that I liked is that 'First and foremost, you've got to take care of the football. You've got to find the mismatches, and it's all about the game plan,'" Sanders said.

"That right there got me excited, because that's the way I think, as well."


Protecting the football in particular is crucial, as a failure to do so -- particularly in the passing game -- doomed the Broncos last year, when one of every 25.7 passes was intercepted, the second-worst ratio in the league, well worse than the league-wide rate (including playoffs) of one interception every 41.6 attempts.

Including the postseason, Keenum was intercepted once every 56.9 attempts, the ninth-best rate in the NFL, placing him just behind Philadelphia's Carson Wentz and Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers and just ahead of Detroit's Matthew Stafford and New Orleans' Drew Brees.

If Keenum provides the same sort of accuracy and protection of the football as he did in Minnesota, the defense will operate from a more advantageous position. Last year, 36.8 percent of the touchdowns allowed by Denver's defense -- 14 of 38 -- came on drives that started at the 50-yard line or in Denver territory. One-third of the field goals surrendered -- eight of 24 -- came on drives that started on the Broncos' side of midfield.

This is part of the singular importance of the quarterback position, and why the Broncos had to fix it. Their scoring defense numbers did not match up with their per-play and per-possession metrics, in large part because of the poor field position set up by the offense's giveaways. If Keenum continues to protect the football well, he gives the defense a chance to operate on steady ground.

The other thing Keenum does well is operate under pressure. According to numbers compiled by Pro FootbalL Focus, Keenum's passer rating of 78.5 on 205 passes under pressure was seventh-best in the league last year. The NFL average last year was 64.6.

Even if Keenum levels off somewhere between his early-career work and his Vikings performance, the Broncos are better today at quarterback than they were when the week began. But if he approaches or meets his Minnesota standards, the Broncos will have one of the game's most efficient passers.

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