When the Denver Broncos first drafted Paxton Lynch in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft most “experts” warned us all that he would be a 2-3 year project. That timeline was likely under the best of circumstances.
What Lynch got was the worst of circumstances. He entered a locker room that had a massive void that used to be filled by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Peyton Manning and found himself outsmarted and out quarterbacked by a seventh-round nobody named Trevor Siemian.
The blow to his confidence likely intensified when he lost another offseason battle with Siemian last year and had to watch from the sideline as the team imploded en route to a 5-11 season. Those struggles were a constant theme when Lynch spoke to the media this week at the conclusion of their OTA’s.
Many, myself included, has all but written him off as a potential option for the Broncos any time in the near or long-term future. However, maybe, just maybe, all he needed was a veteran leader to show him how to actually succeed in this league. And Lynch may have found that in Case Keenum.
“I was really excited actually when we got Case just or the fact that he’s a veteran guy whose kind of been through it a little bit,” Lynch said of his reaction to Keenum being signed. “He’s had his ups and downs but the way he carries himself and the way he handles himself, he’s a pro and I think that only benefits me and other guys in the locker room and other guys in the quarterback room being around that. I think that that’s a really good addition to our team to help everybody.”
Under Keenum’s leadership, Lynch has received a bit of mentorship just from being in Keenum’s presence. Being able to learn from him and see how he carries about his day-to-day business as an NFL quarterback.
“Like I just said, I just think it’s really good to have a guy like that, especially someone who’s had ups and downs in his career and had a hell of a season last year,” Lynch said of Keenum. “Took the Vikings to the playoffs and had a big win against the Saints too. But also, the way that he carries himself, how he’s in the building, how he works with these guys and how he interacts with these guys. It’s good to see, especially for me. I didn’t really have an opportunity to be around somebody for a long time that had been in the league for a while. So, I think it’s really good and Case is a really good dude and he’s a really hard worker too.”
The biggest thing lacking now that Siemian is gone is the innuendo from many in the local media about Lynch’s lack of work ethic and maturity. Instead, he’s quietly been putting together a string of quality practices and a strength of character. Qualities he might just be picking up from being around Keenum every day.
“The way he interacts with guys, how he talks to guys and how he helps them learn and get on the same page that he’s on, as well as doing extra meetings with the guys and watching film with those guys,” Lynch said of what he has learned from Keenum. “I think that’s only beneficial to everybody. Like I said, I think that Case is a great addition to the room. Not only the room, but the team.”
Being able to relax a bit and focus on his own development is clearly helping Lynch. He has reportedly looked more comfortable under center and is making plays with the two’s that have complemented the plays Keenum is making with the one’s.
Part of it is likely Lynch taking cues from Keenum, but another part is Lynch feeling comfortable under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense.
“Very comfortable, very comfortable,” Lynch said of Musgrave’s offense. “It’s good to have that. Last year toward the end of the season when he took over and started calling some plays, it was really good to kind of have that under my belt and to get some game reps under that too. [There is] some roll-over in this offense even though there’s a lot of different things, but there’s some similarities.”
Without the pressure to win the job, Lynch is entirely invested in improving as a quarterback. As a franchise, the Broncos may have lost two full years of potential development for Lynch, but it may not be too late to fix that.
“I think there’s always room for improvement,” Lynch said of his progress this offseason. “I obviously believe that I can go out and play right now. But that’s not my job right now. Right now, Case is the guy and I’m doing everything I can to make the team better and make myself better. I’m confident in what I can do and I’m confident in my abilities. I’m hanging my hat on that and I’m going to be ready.”
If Lynch can bring it all together and continue to grow, he may very well develop into a starting NFL quarterback. He isn’t there yet and that 2-3 project warning from the ‘experts’ in 2016 may very well turn into a four-year deal.
However, if it takes four years for the Broncos to have a legitimate franchise quarterback emerge onto the scene is that so bad? Lynch’s progress is definitely something we should keep an eye on.
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