Denver Broncos Season Review:  Quarterback

Kyle Orton

The Denver Broncos and the quarterback position will always, fair or not, be associated with the great John Elway.  Not so much for first-year Bronco Kyle Orton, who spent the entire season receiving comparisons to former Bronco Jay Cutler, the player for whom he was traded nearly a year ago.

You could argue that the quarterback position is the biggest point of emphasis when talking Broncos football.  Head coach Josh McDaniels earned the reputation he has as an offensive guru by coaching Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in New England.  Orton has been under the most scrutiny of any player on Denver's roster this year, and let's not forget about Cutler.  He is still often mentioned with the Broncos and the quarterback position.

Despite his less-than-stellar performance with the Chicago Bears, a lot of Broncos fans had high expectations for Kyle Orton when he arrived in Dove Valley due to the vast amount of offensive talent the Broncos possess, and because of the prior success McDaniels has had with quarterbacks who aren't the most highly touted prospects.

While Orton was far from stellar with the Broncos, he was also far from a backup to Chris Simms, which some fans thought him to be prior to his arrival.  In fact, the soon to be free agent Orton may have earned himself another year or two as a starting quarterback in the NFL.


When you look at the numbers, it's pretty easy to tell the result of McDaniels' system on quarterbacks, even their first year running the offense.

Here is a look at every quarterback statistically in their first year under McDaniels:

Player (year) Att Comp Pct. Yds. Avg. Yds/Gm TD INT Sack Rat Playoffs?
Tom Brady (2005) 530 334 63.0 4,110 7.8 256.9 26 14 26 92.3 Yes (lost to us)
Matt Cassel (2008) 516 327 63.4 3,693 7.2 230.8 21 11 47 89.4 No
Kyle Orton (2009) 541 336 62.1 3,802 7.0 237.6 21 12 29 86.8 No

 Obviously after having Jay Cutler for three seasons, we were used to having a quarterback who can make things happen and sometimes even win games with his arm alone.  But let's not all jump to conclusions (myself included) on Kyle Orton just yet.  Orton wasn't flashy, but he kept pace with some pretty good company statistically, and though he didn't always have the "killer" instinct this season, he was effective and for the most part efficient.

It's no coincidence that under the tutelage of McDaniels, Tom Brady and the New England offense orchestrated arguably the single greatest statistical season of any unit in NFL history.  Also, think about the comparison between Orton and Cassel directly.  Orton is a couple of months younger than Cassel, had better statistics for the most part, and Cassel was named New England's franchise player.

Am I saying that Orton is a franchise player?  Not necessarily, but I have even convinced myself to give him more time to adapt and grow in this offense, and Broncos fans should as well.  Orton has put up very similar numbers in McDaniels' offense as Brady and Cassel, and he is younger than either of them were in their first year under our young head coach.

Another testament to McDaniels' greatness as a quarterbacks coach is the effectiveness of Matt Cassel and Tom Brady without their mentor.

I don't know if you could call Cassel a bust for his first year with Kansas City, but the numbers do not lie.  He was significantly worse in 2009 than he was under McDaniels in 2008.  As for Tom Brady?  I will give him the benefit of the doubt, having just come off of a serious knee injury, but his production has been nothing near 2007 (though it might never be) in 2009. 

Looking back at the 2009 season, it is apparent that the quarterback position in Denver simply needs two things:

  1. Time to Develop
  2. Time to Throw

Orton's pass protection this season was worse than 2008 with Chicago, which is unacceptable given the talent of our starting offensive line.  Denver struggled on the interior this year, and that can be expected given the lack of experience of our undersized veterans in the middle in this kind of offense. 

After Orton's first season in Denver, and given all of the scrutiny and pressure he was under, I would give him a final 2009 grade of B

In addition to Orton, the Broncos' roster contained backup Chris Simms and rookie third string Tom Brandstater.

Simms could not have been more of a disaster in the three quarters he played for Denver this season, and Brandstater has not taken a snap since the preseason.  He seems like a promising developmental quarterback, though he is already 25 years of age.

Moving forward, it seems the Broncos need to do everything they can to ensure Orton is around for the next couple of years.  I will go ahead and make a bold prediction that Denver signs Orton to a two year deal.  Turns out he wasn't as bad a "throw in" for the Cutler trade as the Bears might have anticipated.

While Orton will likely receive an extension, Simms will most likely be receiving a pink slip.  The Broncos could try to fill Simms' roster spot through free agency again, but many Broncos fans and critics alike think Tom Brandstater is ready to step in as the team's backup, and I do too.

With Brandstater likely moving up the depth chart to become Orton's backup, the Broncos are left with an open roster spot at quarterback that will likely be filled by a rookie.  One prospect the Broncos have been scouting since August is Fordham quarterback John Skelton.

Skelton is a physical marvel at 6'5" 256 pounds, and he has some of the best footwork I have seen from a quarterbak in this draft class.  Denver could likely be targeting a quarterback again in the 5th-7th rounds, and that is right about Skelton's range.  Keep an eye out for this kid on the third day of the draft, and some of these other names as well:

  • Sean Canfield, 6'4" 216, Oregon State
  • Dan LeFevour, 6'3" 226, Central Michigan
  • Levi Brown, 6'4" 220, Troy
  • Bill Stull, 6'2" 215, Pittsburgh
  • Tim Hiller, 6'5" 230, Western Michigan
  • Ryan Perriloux, 6'3" 230, Jacksonville State
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