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'It's vital': HC Sean Payton, GM George Paton detail quarterback evaluation process for draft prospects

INDIANAPOLIS — There's truth in humor.

And as the Broncos continue toward the 2024 season, Head Coach Sean Payton used a meme to illustrate the situation in which the Broncos find themselves. He described the image of a Broncos fan wearing a shirt with nearly a dozen quarterbacks' names crossed out, and he said it represents the Broncos' next task.

"Our job is to make sure this next one doesn't have a line through it," Payton said Tuesday at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

Payton said "it's vital" to find a solution at the quarterback position, and Denver will get a chance to evaluate many of the rookie options at the Combine.

While Payton said a decision on Russell Wilson's status will come within the next two weeks, the Broncos' evaluation of the 2024 quarterback crop is still in its early stages. The ability to meet with prospects at the Combine will be an invaluable step, as Payton said it can provide insight into a player's makeup and ability to process.

"With quarterbacks, I think one thing that's hard to measure is their ability to multi-task, process and make decisions," Payton said. "You can visit with someone and they can be intelligent, but man, how quickly can they deliver the information and how quickly can they get through the progression? Are they accurate? There's some fundamental things that we have to see that are present. Sometimes, it's not as difficult as we make it out to be, and then sometimes, listen, it's very difficult."

Payton, though, believes the Broncos should have an advantage in evaluating those traits.

"We'll be really good at this, and I think, to some degree, we're glad that a lot of people aren't," Payton said.

General Manager George Paton said the key to evaluating those traits comes from spending time in person with each player.

"I was fortunate to see a lot of these quarterbacks during the fall, and that's one step of the process," Paton said. "And then you have the all-star games, you have the Combine, then you have pro days and maybe private workouts. As much as you can, [it's important to] get around them and see what makes them tick. Sean talks about leadership. What's the day to day like? What do their teammates feel about them? You can evaluate the arm strength, the accuracy, the athleticism, being able to process is a little more difficult. But I think the more you can get around them, the better decisions you'll make."

The Broncos can get those first impressions — which Payton called important — in Indianapolis, and Paton said Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy was among the players with whom Denver will meet. McCarthy joins a slew of other quarterbacks — including players like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. — as potential Round 1 options, according to draft experts.

As the Broncos continue to evaluate those players and others, Payton also noted the importance of accuracy and the benefit of a having a player "that can beat you with your feet." Those traits, he said, are among the areas in which a team should not miss on a prospect.

"I think there's risk, obviously," Payton said of drafting a quarterback. "There's no certainty or else we'd be fantastic with the draft. There's certain risks. Man, how quickly can they process the information? For some, when you get them in rookie minicamp, you realize 'Ah!' I've been with a rookie before and just feel like this is not how I wanted it to go. He's having trouble spitting out the plays. Maybe it takes a while. Maybe it's something that you realize is going to be a hindrance or set him back.

"I think we shouldn't miss on accuracy, because we get to see it. We shouldn't miss on stature, because we get to feel it and look at it and measure it. We shouldn't miss on athleticism. All of those traits should be easier to be correct on. … Leadership, we shouldn't miss on. We should feel that and be able to research that."

The key determiner then becomes the ability to process, and Payton said the key to success could be less than the time it takes to snap one's fingers.

"It's that other element, and it's really the difference of just that," he said, snapping his fingers for emphasis. "For some, it's two thumb ticks and for others it's one, and you hope it's one."

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