It’s the annual NFL owners meeting and guess what Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph is talking about?
Because even with the free agent signing of Case Keenum two weeks ago, there is still major potential for the Broncos to take a possible franchise QB with their No. 5 pick in the draft a month from now.
“I can’t say,” Joseph told reporters Tuesday about how the team will use that pick. “Right now we’ve got three guys on our roster that we feel really good abou. Obviously the draft is coming up and we’ll see.”
What Joseph does know about his current QB room is that Keenum is the man.
“When you watch Case play quarterback, the first thing you see is big plays,” Joseph said, noting it was a trait of Keenum’s since college. “He’s got a gunslinger’s mentality. He is not afraid to push the ball downfield, but with that being said, as I watched him this year, he was also different in that he was patient also. When he was a young guy, it was crazy watching him play. But watching him play currently, he’s still aggressive, but he’s also smart with the football.”
Joseph pointed out that Keenum’s experience is going to be great for Paxton Lynch, the 2016 first-round pick for the Broncos who has spent most of his time in the pros backing up Broncos’ 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian. With Siemian traded to the Vikings, the QB hierarchy in Denver is more clear.
“Right now [Lynch] is the No. 2. ...That two has to be ready to play. We’re looking forward to him getting in the OTAs and getting into training camp and getting better this year,” Joseph said, adding that the backup is a “valuable member” who has to be ready to play. “He’s working hard it it also. That’s the thing no one sees. He’s a hard worker. He’s working at it.”
Keenum’s experience as an NFL journeyman before having a breakout year at Minnesota last season will be an invaluable example for Lynch, Joseph says.
“Case has been through hell and back as a quarterback. This is Case Keenum’s first time walking into OTAs and actually being the guy. ...So he’s excited about that opportunity,” Joseph said. “Case is gritty. That helps a young quarterback to say, ‘You know something, man? Forget the world. It’s about you grinding and getting better every day.’ If Paxton gets that from Case, he’s going to be better for it because Case is a gritty dude. That’s going to be good for Paxton to see and be around every day.”
And Joseph definitely believes having Lynch and Chad Kelly on the roster heading into the draft could be a factor for which position John Elway goes in the first round.
The head coach was quick to defend his inexperienced quarterbacks, noting that in the midst of our age of instant gratification, it takes time for college quarterbacks to develop - a fact he emphasized in several comments.
“Paxton’s had four to five starts, and to deem Paxton not capable, that’s not fair … it takes time to [be a] good quarterback in this league,” Joseph said. “I think once Paxton gets more time he’s going to get better as a quarterback. By no means is Paxton Lynch done.”
Looking to Lynch’s ability, Joseph emphasized “he’s got that part.” Now he’s looking for Lynch to become an NFL-ready quarterback, and he doesn’t like fans and media insisting that that has to happen year one in the pros.
Joseph mentioned the five likely college quarterbacks to be drafted in the first round - including Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson - and noted they are in their 20s, compared to 41-year-old All Pro Tom Brady.
“I’m just saying they need time to develop quarterback skillsets, not just physical skillsets,” Joseph said. “The mental part of the game is huge. Once they get that they can play. But what happens is the kids come in, we play them too soon, they get burned, they lose their nerve and they can’t recover from it.”
But Joseph didn’t rule out the fact that some guys can come in and play right away - which gave him room to be able to name a rookie QB starter if the Broncos were to take a quarterback in the first round and decide at some point he was ready to start as a rookie.
Joseph gave no such hints, however, which way the Broncos were leaning - or even which quarterback they may take if they did go QB.
But he did have some answers for questions about Jackson and Mayfield
On Jackson - who he watched at a Pro Day - the coach was impressed with his ability.
“He can do things that most guys can’t do - running the football, throwing the football with accuracy. He’s got a bright future. As a person, he was a fun-loving guy,” Joseph said. “But, again, 20 years old. I have a 16-year-old daughter. She’s not ready to be any kind of professional. ...But he’s a good kid and obviously talented. I wish him luck.”
When it comes to Mayfield, Joseph likened his accuracy to that of Drew Brees. Again the coach was hesitant to put too much stock in a college player who hasn’t yet played a pro defense.
“That is the story with these young quarterbacks,” he added. “You watch them in the Pro Days and you watch them play college, but you won’t know if they’re going to be like a Drew Brees until they go out there and play against NFL competition, which is different than college competition.”
Joseph called going from college football to pro football “the PhD” of football education. As young quarterbacks move into pro ranks, the defense is suddenly more complicated, and learning how to dissect it is no small task.
“That’s the biggest challenge. When you watch these kids throw at the combine, one to 20 can throw the football,” he said. “That’s never the issue as far as physical talent, but it’s always the experience of figuring out defenses and figuring out where to throw the football even before the snap. That’s hard to do for young guys.”
Again Joseph referred to two of the best - Brady and Peyton Manning - to compare the difference in experience. Although both future Hall-of-Famers are the pinnacle of “good quarterback example,” they haven’t always been perfect in their throwing.
But Brady and Manning rarely misread where the ball should go.
“That’s pre-snap and that’s experience and that’s knowing defenses,” Joseph said. “As a defensive guy, I know when I’m game-planning, I am trying to create confusion for the quarterback. ...Everyone has talent, but you’re always playing the quarterback. That is who has the ball every snap. If you’re not playing the quarterback, you’re wrong on defense.”
Though John Elway may be ready to pull the trigger on a quarterback in round one of the draft, Joseph may not be as ready to let the young guy have the starting job as his boss may be.
“That is why you draft them in the top rounds or top-10 because they’re so talented,” Joseph acknowledged. “But you can’t predict how they’re going to play versus complicated defenses, which we all have in this league.”