Many are expecting the Denver Broncos to be in the market for a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, but according to one prominent former player closely associated with the team, that’s probably not the case, at least in the first round.
In an interview on The Rich Eisen Show, Broncos Super Bowl champion and Fox Sports analyst Mark Schlereth spoke about how he believes new general manager George Paton will approach the draft.
“I think [Paton] is more apt to trade out of No. 9 back, and pick up more draft capital than he would be to move up and chase a quarterback,” Schlereth.
While Schlereth didn’t specifically cite any particular source with knowledge of the Broncos’ thinking, he’s been affiliated with the organization for a long time. The legendary QB he used to block for, John Elway, was Paton’s predecessor, so you can bet Schlereth knows better than most what Denver is likely to do.
Denver Broncos’ lack of continuity should buy Drew Lock time
Drew Lock is entering his third season in the NFL. He was a second-round pick in 2019 and wasn’t expected to do much as a rookie. Instead, he stepped in and went 4-1 as a starter, which inspired confidence that he could finally be the long-term answer under center the Broncos have sought since Peyton Manning retired.
But head coach Vic Fangio went in a different direction for 2020, hiring Pat Shurmur as the new offensive coordinator.
Shurmur is an old-school coach like Fangio, and you can bet your bottom dollar Shurmur would never adjust his unnecessarily verbose West Coast offense play calls to help Lock along as an NFL sophomore.
Predictably, things went awry. Due in part to an offensive line that was 25th in Pro Football Focus’ rankings, No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton going down for the year in Week 1, Lock being out injured for three games and the team counting on two rookie receivers to play huge roles, it wasn’t the season everyone was hoping for.
Combine all those elements with the fact that the 2020 offseason was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’d think Denver could give Lock another shot in 2021, with another year to learn under Shurmur and hopefully a better common understanding between the two.
The case against the Denver Broncos trading back in the 2021 NFL Draft
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second here, though. All the excuses about Lock could’ve been made for, say, Justin Herbert, who was thrust into action very suddenly last season and wasn’t even expected to play. Herbert responded by winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and emerging quickly as one of the NFL’s brightest young stars.
Herbert’s brilliance doesn’t feel like a flash in the pan, whereas in retrospect, Lock’s stellar outing in his maiden pro campaign could be a mirage. At the very least, it’s dubious to suggest Lock has superior upside to any of the AFC West’s other QBs in Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr.
So, does Paton stay pat at quarterback and hope that Lock works out? It’s not like the young gun doesn’t have significant talent, and with a strong supporting cast around him, Lock should be in position to succeed if he is “the man.”
If Denver has a chance to upgrade over Lock and doesn’t do it, though, Paton’s tenure is already off to a rough start. Should it come to pass that a QB the front office loves is still on the board after the first three picks, Paton should trade up if anything.
At the very least, the Broncos absolutely shouldn’t trade back in the first round, whatever they do. They need a difference-maker, and with an early run on quarterbacks expected, one of the draft’s premier prospects will be on the board for them at ninth overall.
With relatively early picks in the second and third rounds, Paton can leverage trade-back options at that juncture to build superior depth. This is a prime situation to cash in on a premium asset, reaffirm another year of full commitment to Lock and do all that’s possible to win now.
Paton is inheriting a coach he didn’t hire, so if Fangio doesn’t win in 2021, he and Shurmur are likely gone, and Lock may be learning a new playbook in 2022. Probably not with the Broncos, either.