Lock will begin as backup in Denver, but history shows that could change
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Broncos general manager John Elway didn’t want to give anyone in the football world much of a chance to speculate.
Joe Flacco is his starting quarterback, Elway said in a press conference shortly after he traded up for former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round of the NFL draft. Lock will be an understudy and compete to back up the Super-Bowl-winning quarterback, Elway tweeted immediately after the pick.
“We kind of look at it as a Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers-type situation,” Elway said. “He is going to have time to sit and watch Joe and take his time to learn and continue to get better.”
Although Elway makes it sound as if Lock will have plenty of time to acclimate to the NFL, history says otherwise. Thirty-seven of the 40 quarterbacks selected in the first or second round of the NFL draft over the past decade have started at least one game during their rookie season, according to research compiled by the Missourian.
Twenty-nine of the 40 also did so after replacing or beating out a veteran quarterback. Most of these rookies replaced the veteran because of poor play. Some filled in as injury replacements.
The latter occurred in 2018 in Baltimore when Flacco missed time with a hip injury. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson replaced him in the lineup, and Jackson stuck. Jackson’s success prompted the Ravens to trade Flacco to Denver this offseason.
The transition from Favre to Rodgers happened in a fairly different manner. Rodgers seldom played in his rookie year and served as Favre's backup for a total of three seasons before taking over in 2008 when the Packers traded Favre after he came out of retirement.
Having time to learn is the route most teams have in mind when adding a rookie quarterback to a room that already has a veteran. Then, the draft pick can have time to transition smoothly from the college game to the NFL. This also means the veteran quarterback is healthy and playing well.
That’s how Elway and Broncos coach Vic Fangio both said they hope this situation with Flacco and Lock plays out. Especially because Lock has areas in which they see room for improvement, even though they called him “the future.”
First, Denver will have to help him become more comfortable under center, Elway said. They also want to help him focus on his technique and throwing in rhythm, two things that Elway says will help with accuracy. The former Missouri quarterback finished 2018 having completed 62.9 percent of his passes while first-round picks such as Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins both completed about 70 percent of their passes during their senior year. Accuracy is something that has been a knock on Lock, despite the improvement he saw in his accuracy during 2018. Fangio said Lock will need to learn how to improve his short throws, too.
“Drew has obviously got a lot of talent,” Elway said. “He’s got a lot of arm talent, but he has to work on a lot of different things, too.”
Lock will get to start that work with the new Denver coaching staff in early May when the Broncos hold their three-day rookie minicamp. As a Bronco, Lock will work with new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who joined Fangio’s staff after two seasons as quarterbacks coach in San Francisco. T.C. McCartney, who also worked with the 49ers as an offensive assistant, will be Lock’s quarterbacks coach.
Lock will have a chance to work with two other offensive draft picks who the Broncos selected ahead of Lock: first-round tight end Noah Fant and second-round lineman Dalton Risner.
Other young offensive weapons include second-year players in running back Phillip Lindsay and wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. Sutton caught 42 passes for 704 yards and four touchdowns.
Lock will also have a chance to reunite with former center Connor McGovern, who played at Missouri during Lock’s freshman year.
The rookie quarterback, of course, likely won’t have much of a chance to play with any of these players. At least not initially. Lock will be busy learning the Denver offense and competing with Kevin Hogan for snaps. When Denver kicks off training camp in mid July, it will be Flacco who is practicing primarily with the first team.
Lock will just have to sit back initially and take notes.
He’ll want to make sure they are good notes, though. Whether it’s because of injury or the struggles of Flacco, Lock could easily find himself thrust into the starting spot.
He certainly would not be the first.