ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos continue their evaluation of this year's quarterback class, General Manager George Paton and Co. must do more than weigh the merits of Trey Lance vs. Justin Fields vs. Mac Jones vs. the rest of the quarterback prospects.
That process has taken place over the previous weeks and months, as the Broncos have sent representatives to a number of pro days — including those where Lance, Fields and Jones threw in front of scouts.
Denver cannot simply order Lance, Fields, Jones and a litany of other quarterbacks on their board, though. The Broncos must also decide how the various quarterback prospects stack up against their incumbent starter, Drew Lock.
Less than two years ago, Lock was also in the conversation as a top 10 pick. NFL.com's Chad Reuter projected him as the second-overall pick, but he ultimately fell to the second round before the Broncos traded up to select him with the 42nd pick. In the 18 games in which he has appeared since being drafted, Lock has had moments of stellar play. He dominated the Texans in Houston in his first career road start. He lit up the Panthers for four touchdowns late last season. He played strong football against the Chiefs and Raiders in late-season matchups in 2020.
Lock, though, has struggled to play that level of football on a consistent basis. He turned the ball over in 11 of his 13 starts last season and tossed 15 picks on the year. As such, the Broncos are left to decide whether to move forward with Lock as the starter or select one of the intriguing quarterback prospects.
Paton and the Broncos' thoughts on the issue won't be known until the night of April 29 — or potentially later — but several national analysts offered their thoughts this week on how to stack Lock against those prospects.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said Wednesday that the Broncos' decision to draft a quarterback or remain with Lock could depend on which player is available when the Broncos go on the clock at No. 9.
"Just based off kind of the evaluation process, I would have Lance and Fields ahead of where Drew Lock was coming in," Jeremiah said. "I would have Drew Lock over Mac Jones, personally. That's when they were coming through the draft process. I know Drew's had some ups and downs, but you see the flashes of what he can do. He's got a ton of ability.
"If you're asking me if they're sticking and picking, and they're picking there at No. 9 and either Lance or Fields were there, even though you have some other areas and even though you can make a case, let's give Drew Lock a little more time, I couldn't pass up either of those guys if they were to get there to No. 9, personally. That's where he would stack in for me.
"If it were him vs. Mac Jones, while I think Mac has been a little bit more accurate and a little bit more consistent, I would still dream on what Drew Lock can be and probably stick with him if that were to be the decision."
ESPN's Dan Orlovsky agreed with Jeremiah's perspective that the Broncos should consider drafting Fields or Lance, but he also cautioned against trading up given Lock's potential.
"I think it's unfair to make a full evaluation of, is he or is he not the guy," Orlovsky said. "Last year was tough, right? [Courtland] Sutton's down, the offseason, COVID — there were a lot of challenges thrown at him."
"… If I was Denver, I would definitely be trying to go get Justin Fields or Trey Lance strictly because the physical talent is so intriguing. But I don't know if it's 'Let's mortgage the future to go get one of [those two quarterbacks].' Because I still feel like Drew's got talent and I think going off of last year is a very, very unfair thing to do with a young quarterback."
Fair or not, the Broncos must soon make a big decision — one that could decide the future outlook of the quarterback room and the franchise's direction.