Is Drew Lock “the guy?” We don’t know yet. That’s a problem. | Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images
We don’t know if Drew Lock’s “the guy” yet. The clock is ticking.
Facing 3rd and 7 down early in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pat Shurmur dialed up a Double China concept. The play call made a ton of sense with the Broncos on the outskirts of the red zone. Noah Fant is the kind of athletic mismatch that gives both linebackers and safeties fits, and with the two receivers in routes, there’s ample space for the Broncos’ tight end to get open.
Unfortunately, the play depended on Elijah Wilkinson blocking T.J. Watt from a wide-9 alignment. The Steelers’ All Pro exploded out of his stance and quickly performed what’s called a “ghost-technique” to skirt past the overmatched right tackle. The pressure forced Drew Lock to make a decision: deliver a pass to where Fant’s making his cut to, or else scramble to buy time.
When Drew Lock went down awkwardly, Broncos’ Country held their collective breaths.
The entire franchise built its 2020 roster around finding out if he could be the answer at quarterback. To lose him 72 snaps into the campaign would be disastrous for every facet of the organization and force them into the worst possible outcome: entering 2021 with no clue about their quarterback position.
Fortunately, the worst did not come to pass and Lock is set to return. It’s time to find out if he’s the guy. So what should we expect from the second year passer upon his return?
What does Lock do well?
Standing 6’3 and weighing in at 228 lbs. with good mobility, Lock has the athletic tools to succeed at quarterback. Lock’s arm talent is good enough that analysts like Football Outsiders’ Derrik Klassen expected him to be a first round pick back in 2019. Lock’s ability to throw off platform can make him dangerous on the move because he can evade a rusher and either reset or throw on the move, such as on this 3rd and 1 against the Tennessee Titans.
The Broncos come out in a 3X1 bunch left set with Tim Patrick alone on the backside. On the snap, Patrick and Jerry Jeudy run a Mesh Concept right in front of Lock while DaeSean Hamilton runs a vertical route. Lock’s first read is to Melvin Gordon in the flat, but he feels pressure from the looping Jeffrey Simmons and bails out of the pocket. Scrambling gives Patrick time to get to green grass behind the backer. Lock rips it on the move and Patrick reaches back to haul it in. First down.
Josh Rosen and Dwayne Haskins serve as proof that quarterbacks who can’t adjust when plays go off script won’t survive in today’s NFL. It’s one reason why I preferred Lock to Haskins when both were coming out.
One area where Lock has exceeded my expectations for him so far in his career is how strong he’s looked on his first read to horizontal breaking routes. This is one reason why Lock has looked consistently good in the quick game. He’s playing delivery man to a pre-determined read.
What does Lock struggle with?
There are a number of things Lock needs to improve upon to be a starting caliber quarterback in the NFL.
First among them are Lock’s issues seeing the field and his decision-making. Part of this stems from his inexperience, but it doesn’t excuse his propensity to lock onto a pre-determined target when the throw isn’t there. While part of me wonders how much of this issue is tied to Lock’s familiarity with the playbook, it’s been a consistent issue across his games in the NFL and crops up across his Missouri tape.
Lock is what I call a “see-it, throw-it” passer. Which is to say, he rarely throws with what I’d consider ideal anticipation. It creates issues for Lock on passes outside of the quick game because it gives pressure more time to alter his mechanics, which hurts his placement. This makes the receivers’ jobs harder because they’re often forced to catch a pass after defenders have broken on the ball.
Far too often Lock’s reaction to the rush is to drift in the pocket. This often leads to him creating pressure on himself because he shows an affinity for bouncing out to the right. Other times this pushes him farther away from his targets and makes life harder on his tackles, as the edges can push upfield to get past them. There are instances where he’ll drop his eyes from downfield to see the pass rush. Even worse: Lock will frequently fall out of what would have been a clean pocket if he’d only stepped up. Fans routinely point out how he’ll try to make throws off his back foot, but all these issues are interconnected.
Facing 2nd and Goal from the 2-yard line, the Broncos come out in heavy personnel with three tight ends, Andrew Beck, and Melvin Gordon in the backfield. Drew Lock fakes the give to Gordon and the backs lead block to the right to fill in for the vacating tight ends. Both Nick Vannett and Gordon fail to adequately impede Jadeveon Clowney’s path to the quarterback and Garett Bolles is beaten wide, but there’s a clean pocket in front of Lock. Instead he drifts backwards into harm’s way and misses two wide open receivers, which leads to the 4th and 1 Denver fails to convert.
What does Lock need to do going forward?
In the most simple terms, Lock needs to improve.
Over the course of the remainder of the season, the Broncos need to see enough from Lock to commit to him in 2021. He needs to show off better mental processing, poise under pressure, deep accuracy, ball placement, and more consistent mechanics. There’s no escaping that, even if Lock’s most ardent defenders will cling to his 4-3 record as a starter.
I know it isn’t popular because Lock is an affable player and has been exciting, but the truth of the matter is he’s a C-tier prospect from a weak quarterback class who hasn’t shown enough yet. Most of the warts he flashed coming out of Missouri have only grown in the league.
As it stands, the Broncos are more likely to land a top five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft than find themselves in the playoff race. If Lock continues to play as he has across his first seven games, Elway and Fangio will need to have an honest conversation about the quarterback position in the spring.