The worst kept secret out of Dove Valley has John Elway’s infatuation with Drew Lock. The Missouri Tiger has come out for the draft after throwing for 12,193 yards, 99 touchdowns and 39 interceptions during his collegiate career. He has the kind of game that’s easy to love if you’re looking for the Hollywood portrayal of a quarterback. He stands at 6’3 and weighs in at just over 225 lbs with one of those laser rocket arms Peyton Manning once joked about.
Last week, I discussed player comparisons because all offseason I’ve seen a good bit of concern about the fact that some who cover the draft see likeness between Drew Lock and another player who Elway fell for: Paxton Lynch.
Before we dive too far into this GIF Horse, let me throw a quick tangent out there. Player comparisons are not predictions about a player’s career. I can tell you that Dwayne Haskins reminds me of Nick Foles without predicting he’ll win a Super Bowl on his second stint with the team that drafted him. A player comparison is just a short hand way of explaining who that player reminds the scout of on the field.
The NFL has been around long enough that very few players are true firsts. Everyone kind of looks like someone else. Even if they are the first of a kind, it’s generally looked at as a negative. Decision makers in billion dollar industries see it as a risk. So the best way to sell a player is to say who they’re like, and then elaborate on what makes them unique.
With that in mind, let’s get back to Lock, who reminds me of Cutler. Like I just said, that doesn’t mean he’s destined for reality TV. What I mean by that comparison is that on a play to play basis you’re as likely to love him as hate him.
I’m not sure Lock has Cutler’s natural arm strength, but he has plenty of mustard to make all the throws. He also has bad footwork and his tape is full of the kind of questionable decision making that could haunt him at the next level.
Some see a different JC when they look at Lock, and I get it. He’s made some breathtaking throws and there is a lot to like about Lock’s tape. When he’s on, he has the ability to make every NFL throw in the playbook. Back when the trade occurred, I mentioned that one of the big reasons Elway and Rich Scangarello seemed to like Joe Flacco is for his ability to open up the vertical game. If that’s still important come draft time, Lock and Kyler Murray are the ideal first round prospects for the Denver Broncos’ new offense.
Lock also has plenty of moments where he looks comfortable throwing on the run and has the kind of arm to make off platform throws. Another reason Broncos Country should be excited if he’s in orange and blue this Fall? Lock has that Brett Favre mentality to look for big plays and has flashed improvisational skills that a certain AFC West rival QB was celebrated for all of 2018.
Ironically, this strength of his also exposes one of his biggest weaknesses. Far too often he doesn’t connect his lower body with his upper as he’s making throws. This leads to wild bouts of inaccuracy and long term concerns about him as a QB prospect.
While some could say, “Well, that’s Alabama, everyone struggles against them,” the issues with Lock are significant enough to catch the attention of Pro Football Focus.
Notable @PFF grades when QB is moved off his spot (draft class only):— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) March 14, 2019
Kyler Murray 84.7
Trace McSorley 82.3
Gardner Minshew 65.9
Ryan Finley 54.8
Dwayne Haskins 54.1
Drew Lock 50.7
Daniel Jones 39.0
Jarrett Sitdham 35.0
Brett Rypien 32.2
Clayton Thorson 32.0
Will Grier 31.5
The 4th and 4 interception in the video above shows another glaring issue: Lock has troubling stretches where he’s far too reckless with the ball. It’s one more reason why the Cutler comparison sticks to him, because they both will trust their arm enough to give defenses chances.
A big part of Lock’s game is that he will make some throws that other quarterbacks won’t even try. If there is one single trait that has hooked Elway, it’s probably that confidence. Even with the rest of the question marks, it’s fun to watch him play. It certainly isn’t boring.
You could also make an argument that he should have more touchdowns than the 28 he accumulated his senior year. Emanuel Hall had a few rough drops, and this throw against South Carolina should have been a score.
If what I’ve said so far leads you firmly into the Drew Lock camp, I totally understand. After all, he’s a talented quarterback who will iron out all of the mechanical and placement issues with coaching, right? He’s also aced the postseason interview circuit. Plus, he hasn’t flunked the t-shirt and short throwing sessions. How could such an affable dude break your heart?
The first time I watched Lock’s 2018 season, I saw a guy with a very natural arm and the kind of “wow” plays that can win games. However, between those confident throws were the kind of maddening inconsistencies that can’t continue if he’s planning to succeed at the next level. Far too often he has made throws off his back foot or launched balls into traffic. I suspect he’d be an MVP candidate in a 7 on 7 league, but there’s a pass rush in the NFL. He’s the likeliest first round prospect in this class to show up on defender’s highlight films next year.
At the NFL level, you need a quarterback who’s able to make routine throws in the face of pressure often enough to keep you out of situations where only heroics will save the day. Unless Lock has the kind of NFL apprenticeship that Patrick Mahomes did, he’s going to strap a team’s fan base onto the front end of a roller coaster game after game.
Ultimately, I still believe Elway is completely Lock’ed in if the Tiger is attainable. I suspect he’s available at ten, but it wouldn’t shock me if the Broncos front office makes a trade to ensure they get their man after missing out on Sam Darnold last spring.
In that situation, I hope that learning from Rich Scangarello while serving as the backup behind Joe Flacco helps to polish the glaring inconsistencies in Lock’s game. He’s dependent on scheme fit and significant improvement, but does have franchise quarterback potential.
Unfortunately, what’s far more likely is Joe Flacco gets hurt or benched, and Lock is thrown into the fire his rookie season. It will be rationalized as, “He’s not going to learn anything from the bench. Fangio needs to see what he has before the season’s over, yada yada yada.”
At that point, all bets are off. Much like Cutler with the Chicago Bears, Lock could find himself relying on all the same mechanical inconsistencies he developed thus far in order to survive each down. Eventually, he’s a league average passer who has good days that keep you hooked and bad days that leave you crying into your beer. Denver will be in a better situation than they are right now, but still wanting under center. Jersey sales will be up, yet playoff wins will still be hard to come by.
I believe Lock’s ceiling is someone like a Matthew Stafford level of player, a fringe top 10 quarterback who’s good enough to win if the supporting cast isn’t horrid. If Lock can reach that level of play, the Broncos are probably playoff contenders most years with a Fangio defense to bail him out on the worst days.
Thoughts on @DrewLock23 Pro Day— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) March 21, 2019
1. “Wow” thrower w/A+ arm talent
2. B/B+ AA makes him a great fit in Shanahan-like system (bootlegs/nakeds/play-actions)
3. Still a work in progress, but intriguing due to physical tools
New school QB w/Matthew Stafford-like game and potential