One of the parts of my job that I most enjoy is getting a chance to learn from and chat with some of the best and brightest analysts covering the NFL on a day-to-day basis. Over the summer I was lucky enough to connect with Steven Ruiz, who’s the lead writer of USA Today’s For the Win. He’s a rising star who can analyze film, see through the noise to what analytics matter, and write it in a way that even I can understand it.
So of course, it was impossible for me to miss when he pointed out some alarming observations about the Broncos’ rookie phenom Drew Lock.
Denver Broncos: Drew Lock’s gaudy stats are fool’s gold
This may have been the worst 300-yard, three-touchdown performance I’ve ever seen. Obviously, the bar is extremely high there — those games are usually pretty good — but I don’t know if anything that Lock put on tape, outside of that strike to Fant and a few out-of-structure plays, should have Broncos fans enthused about his prospects.
Reading the article through twice, I couldn’t help but find that he and I shared many of the same concerns. So of course, I felt the need to pick his brain and he was kind enough to take the time to elaborate on some of his thoughts.
1st and 10
You mention in your article how Drew Lock has no feel for the position. Do you think any of that is attributable to the time he missed because of injury, or is he just hopeless?
Ruiz: It’s hard to attribute that to injury when it was all over his college film, too. The feel thing is my big issue with him and why I’d be concerned about his future. It’s not like I’m criticizing him for being fooled by a Vic Fangio coverage or struggling to keep his poise against a muddied pocket -- those are issues you expect a rookie to have. But he’s struggling to throw a five-yard out on time against a corner playing off before the snap. He’s throwing to a covered receiver with a safety, who doesn’t even try to disguise his intentions, buzzing over the top. This is basic-level stuff that the good NFL quarterbacks have down before they even leave college.
I don’t want to say he’s entirely hopeless. That would be foolish, but he’s definitely behind the curve, and these guys rarely (if ever) catch up.
If you want to remain excited about Drew Lock do not watch the all22 of his game against HOU and just watch replay the first TD throw over and over again. Lot of bad process that ended up working out.— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) December 11, 2019
2nd and 7
Right after the game, Lock was asked about that first throw to Fant. He said
“We set up, had an awesome protection on it to where I saw both, run with Courtland (Sutton) for a couple of steps, and as I’m winding up mid-throw you can see the corner fall off to where you know you can’t put it to the sideline; he’s just going to shoot in front of Noah (Fant), gotta put it behind him, use Noah’s body for leverage, and we put it behind him and Noah made the awesome catch.”
Does that impact your thoughts on the play at all, why/why not?
Ruiz: Yes, it does. If he’s processing all of that information in fractions of a second, it’s super impressive, obviously. But I’m skeptical. Why isn’t that quick thinking showing up on plays that don’t require nearly as much thinking? If you look back at that play, the DB doesn’t start to break until Lock is already throwing the ball, so I wonder how he knows which side of Fant the defender will attack. The decisions seems to based on guessing what the defender would do … and if Lock guessed wrong, it’s a pick.
If I’m wrong and he is thinking at that level at this point in his career, he’s going to be a lot better than I think.
Was Drew Lock lucky or good here? pic.twitter.com/4TrJgYybtp— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 13, 2019
3rd and 11
One thing you and I do agree on is that Lock is late on some of his throws. I had a note about him coming out last April that he was a “see it, throw it,” passer. So far he’s gotten away with it, but he had a few plays against Houston where it hurt the offense and could have led to disaster. What are the chances he can tighten that up as he gets more acclimated to the NFL and receives more coaching?
Ruiz: This goes back to the feel thing for me. In most cases, it’s a feel thing that’s really hard to coach. But I do think coaches can help him through play design. You’re seeing that in Buffalo this year, where Josh Allen has had similar issues with hanging on his first read too long.
What the Bills have done is design longer-developing checkdown options into their play designs. They’ll have a route concept frontside and after Allen takes three seconds to decide if his first read is open -- OK, that’s a slight exaggeration -- he then has a receiver coming from the backside and running a drag route into his line of vision.
There are other ways of working around a quarterback’s slow process. If the Broncos can work those into their play designs, I think the slow processing thing becomes less of an issue.
4th and inches
What should Broncos Country hope to see over these last three weeks to hint that things could improve for Lock? What do you expect to see?
Ruiz: I want to see him get the ball out on time. I want to see him synching his drops with the routes his receivers are running and him letting his feet tell him when to make a throw and when to move on to the next guy in the progression. I’d also like to see him step up in the pocket rather than drifting back and making things more difficult on himself. I know he has a special arm. That was evident in college. Show me something that I didn’t see on the Missouri tape. That hasn’t happened yet.
As for what I expect to see … I obviously have a more pessimistic outlook, so I don’t expect to see these changes over the next few weeks. But If I do, I’d be willing to change my tune. And, honestly, I’m hoping he does make those improvements, because he’s a fun player and the NFL is better (and my job is more enjoyable) when there are more good quarterbacks.
Are you sold on Drew Lock?
This poll is closed
Elway finally found his heir apparent.
He’s going to bust.
It’s a promising start, but we’ll see.