The Denver Broncos should not have been able to get Drew Lock with the 10th pick of the second round of the NFL Draft. Was it meant to be?
“Believe me, I’m not done swinging and missing. Misses don’t bother me. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get it right.”
Those were the words of John Elway in February 2018 at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and he’s certainly been a man of his word.
Two weeks after making that statement, Elway went out and signed Minneapolis Miracle Maker Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract. Nine months later, Elway addressed the media at his end-of-season press conference following a dismal season from Keenum and the Broncos and basically threw his hands in the air, saying he was going to go out and ‘shake some trees’ to see if a quarterback would fall out.
It was as if Elway was saying, “I don’t know what the you-know-what to do.”
John Elway, more than anyone in Broncos Country or the media or anywhere else, is frustrated that John Elway can’t find a quarterback to lead his beloved Denver Broncos, at least in the post-Peyton Manning era.
The Broncos have missed the playoffs three straight seasons since they won Super Bowl 50. Very few of the players on that Super Bowl-winning team remain, and pretty much every coach is gone as well. It’s a new era in Denver with another new head coach, and Elway went out in the 2019 offseason not just shaking trees, but swinging at them, for a quarterback.
He traded a fourth-round pick for former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. He re-signed Kevin Hogan to a one-year deal. And then Elway did something he hasn’t done since 2016: He used a top 50 selection on the quarterback position. More on that still to come.
Though Elway has caught a lot of flak (more than most GMs) for missing on quarterbacks in the NFL Draft, he’s far from the only active executive in the NFL to do it.
Elway’s two highest draft choices at the position prior to 2019 were Brock Osweiler (57th pick in 2012) and Paxton Lynch (26th pick in 2016). The Broncos haven’t exactly had a top 10 player at the QB position come to town through the draft, but these guys were considered top 64 prospects by most.
Osweiler actually helped the Broncos a tremendous amount in 2015 on their way to the top seed in the AFC as a starting quarterback in place of an injured Peyton Manning. He didn’t turn out to be the franchise guy, but it’s hard to say he was a complete failure as a draft choice considering his contributions to that legendary squad.
Paxton Lynch, whether for injuries or inexplicable regression in football abilities, was a failure with the Broncos.
And like a baseball pitcher who seemingly just can’t find the will to hit the strike zone, it seemed Elway had a case of the ‘yips’ in regards to drafting quarterbacks. He wouldn’t touch them in 2018.
He passed on the entire 2018 class despite having a desperate need and a top-five draft choice. Not only that, Elway didn’t bring in a single rookie in the class of 2018, which featured five first-round draft choices at the quarterback position.
That, as it turns out, is one of a number of fascinating strokes of fate leading the Broncos to their new possible franchise QB…
The Broncos invested and bought fully into Case Keenum in 2018, which helped set things as we know them now into motion. They also saw enough development from Chad Kelly to pass on other mid-late round quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft, a vote of confidence which Kelly spoiled with a bizarre Halloween situation we need not go into any further.
The bottom line is, Kelly looked like he had some promise and maybe would have played at some point in 2018 but completely spoiled a golden opportunity.
That led the Broncos to yet another offseason of uncertainty. They couldn’t keep Keenum at a $21 million cap figure. That wasn’t happening. Thankfully, Elway was on the recruiting trail throughout the 2018 season, and went out near the end of the 2018 regular season and watched Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in person against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Lock had four total touchdowns in the rain. It was one of the best performances he had last season. He says he didn’t know Elway was there until after the game.
Elway also went and saw Oregon’s Justin Herbert throughout the 2018 season, and possibly more quarterbacks we don’t know about. What we do know is that Elway has had his sights set on Herbert and Lock for quite some time.
Herbert, as fate would have it, made the shocking decision to return to Oregon for one more season to play with his little brother. Elway said he was ‘surprised’ by Herbert’s choice to go back to Eugene.
Lock made that same difficult decision one year prior when the Broncos and Elway were on the cusp of not wanting to give up on Paxton Lynch but knowing that he had to.
In other words, Lock not declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft after throwing 44 touchdowns against SEC competition was yet another in a long line of fate strokes leading the Missouri star to Denver. They probably wouldn’t have picked him in 2018 as Elway wanted to go the veteran route and nothing else if he couldn’t have Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold.
Although the Broncos’ need for a young quarterback has been obvious for a couple of years now, they seemingly took themselves out of the running for first-round quarterbacks in 2019 when Elway pulled the trigger on a trade for Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens.
Everything the Broncos have said — directly or indirectly — since acquiring Flacco indicated they would use a mid-round pick — if anything — on a quarterback and reshuffle the deck next year as needed.
Then the 2019 NFL Draft got underway.
The Broncos were on the clock with the 10th overall pick and were fielding calls from multiple teams — the Giants and Steelers included — about a trade.
The Steelers offered the Broncos a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2020 to move up 10 spots. The Broncos wanted a 2020 first-round pick but opted to take the Steelers’ deal anyway. That was too good of a value to pass up with as many needs as Elway had on this roster.
So, Elway passed on both Drew Lock and Dwayne Haskins at 10 overall, picking up an extra second-rounder and third-rounder in the process. Haskins then landed in Washington with the 15th pick.
With the 20th pick, the Broncos could have taken Drew Lock again, but they didn’t. They passed on the Missouri quarterback — the top quarterback on their board — in favor of Noah Fant, the tight end from Iowa.
Then Lock fell out of the first round completely. John Elway said after day one of the 2019 NFL Draft that there were no players on his board who still had a first-round grade. That list included Lock.
Ouch. Was Elway telling the truth about his board, or was he trying to keep things close to the vest so other teams didn’t jump the Broncos for Lock?
Lock certainly has plenty to work on as a player. He tends to drift with pressure bearing down and trusts himself to make throws off of his back foot too often. But his accuracy got better every year at Missouri. He has four years of starting experience. He was in a really tough situation and elevated the players around him.
Not only that, Lock has NFL arm talent and athleticism for his position. He’s an instinctive playmaker who — as Elway stated is a requirement — can win from the pocket. He has every tool, and looks like a great fit for the offense the Broncos plan on running.
For everything I know about the position, Lock looked like a first-round quarterback on tape, and I went back and watched everything from 2018 and some of his junior tape, as well as his origin story back in 2015 against Southeast Missouri State when he came off the bench for Maty Mauk, completing 6-of-10 passes with a touchdown that really sums up what kind of gamer this kid is.
On day two of the 2019 NFL Draft, everything came together for the Broncos as they hoped. They had the chance to add a second starting player to their offense with the 41st overall pick and a guy they really like in Dalton Risner, a three-time captain at Kansas State.
Had the Broncos not had that extra second-round pick from the Steelers, would they have passed on Lock and taken Risner anyway?
Elway said after the Broncos got done with day one, they felt like they had to put something in place to move up to get Lock, so they did.
It was like John Elway had been shopping online for something, put it in his cart, then clicked the ‘X’ to prevent himself from spending the money. Then he went back the next day and did it again.
He wanted the thing, but he didn’t want to pay full price for it. We’ve all been there before.
Then he kept going back to the site looking to see if it was on a discount every time it showed up in his cookies. The thing is popping up on your facebook, on the side and in the middle of every site you visit, driving you absolutely crazy until you relent.
Then finally came Black Friday and the thing he wanted was 50 percent off, and he couldn’t resist himself anymore. He had to go get it. Again, we’ve all been there.
So the Broncos traded 2nd, 4th, and 6th round picks to move up for Drew Lock instead of taking him with a top 10 or even top 20 pick.
How in the name of all that is good in the world did a prospect like Lock fall out of the first round? I get he has things to work on, but Josh Allen was the seventh overall pick, for crying out loud.
The football gods refused to allow Lock to go anywhere but Denver. It was meant to be.
He could have gone to Miami, but because of the crazy situation with Kyler Murray, Josh Rosen was inexplicably available.
He could have gone to New York, but they picked Daniel Jones sixth overall.
He could have gone to Washington, but they coveted Dwayne Haskins.
He could have even gone to Green Bay to be an heir to Aaron Rodgers, or Los Angeles to be an heir to Philip Rivers, or New England to be an heir to Tom Brady.
But he didn’t.
He fell to the 10th pick of the second round, an unprecedented value for a player of his caliber at the quarterback position in this day and age of the NFL.
Though it was about 32 picks later than he would have liked, Lock got to go to the NFL team he wanted to go to all along. Some type of divine intervention prevented John Elway from waiting until day three of the NFL Draft to take someone who would never compete for the starting job and afforded him the opportunity he needed to take his quarterback of the future.
Which I believe Drew Lock will unquestionably be.
Lock carries himself as a quarterback should. He has a perfect combination of intensity and likability, football ability and just natural athleticism.
Lock has every quality I would look for in a franchise quarterback, and not even the ghost of Paxton Lynch or Brock Osweiler could scare Elway from shaking this tree.
There is so much of this story yet to be told, and Lock has a long way to go before he can prove he deserves the title of ‘franchise quarterback’, but this is a kid worth betting on.
Everything was laid out perfectly for Elway to make this pick. We could be looking back on this draft situation four or five years from now wondering how in the world it actually happened the way it did.
Lock, a seemingly reincarnated version of Jay Cutler with a peppy spirit, has a chance to become John Elway’s first home run at the quarterback position in the NFL Draft.
Every power hitter’s going to hit the sweet spot at some point, and the rest of the NFL just hung a breaking ball in the zone.
Elway’s done enough swinging and missing.