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Will having a different OC in year two help or hurt Drew Lock?

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A look at the history of four QBs who faced a similar situation to Lock and how they fared in year two.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Since 1990 there have been 34 quarterbacks who have made their first five starts all in the final eight games of the regular season as Drew Lock did in 2019. Many of those never became regular starters for their team (or any other team).

Of those who did, four of them had a different offensive coordinator in year two than they had in year one. This will look at all four of them in the hopes of finding hints as to how this change at OC will affect Drew Lock.

Jake Plummer

Jake Plummer, like Drew Lock, was taken with the 42nd overall pick (just in the 1997 draft) by the Phoenix Arizona Cardinals. Despite that he was the second overall QB taken (behind Jim Druckenmiller at 26) in a draft that was historically bad for QB talent. Plummer made his first start in game 8 for the flailing 1-6 Cardinals with Vince Tobin as the head coach and Dick Jamieson as the offensive coordinator. Fellow former Bronco, Kent Graham, would start six of the first seven games for the Cardinals and play poorly (passer rating of 65.9). Plummer would get his chance to start after almost leading the Cardinals to a late-game come-back in game seven (a 13-10 loss to the Eagles).

Plummer finished his rookie season with fifteen TD passes and fifteen interceptions along with 216 yards rushing and two rushing TDs. His play would be enough of an improvement over Graham (and Stoney Case) that he would get the full-time starting job for the Cardinals in 1998.

The 1997 Cardinals would finished the season 25th in the scoring. That performance led to the firing of Jamieson and the insertion of “veteran” offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman, as the new OC. Trestman had been the offensive coordinator for the 49ers. Trestman would become the Bears head coach 15 years later.

Trestman and Plummer were a good combination and the Cards ended up with a 9-7 record and finishing the season 15th in scoring (a significant improvement from 25th). The Cards would make the playoffs and win the wild card round only to lose to the Vikings in the divisional round. The Vikings would get upset by the Falcons in the NFC Championship game and the Falcons would get whipped by the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Plummer’s stats would be mostly similar to those that he posted as a rookie with the exception of his completion percentage (59.2 up from 53.0). Plummer would lead the league in both game winning drives (seven) and fourth quarter comebacks (five). His late-game heroics would be a key reason for his team’s success in 1998. Plummer’s mobility and his ability to extend plays would be a critical part of his success in 1998, but it would lead to him developing bad habits that would lead to his terrible second season as full-time starter in 1999. Plummer threw nine touchdown passes and twenty-four interceptions in sixteen starts in 1999. He did run for two touchdowns.

Honestly, if Lock is able to perform comparably in first full year as a starter to what his did in 2019, like Plummer did, that would be ok. Maintenance, or marginal improvement, would mean that Lock has found the ability to adjust his game to beat the adjustments that defensive coordinators will have made to beat him.

Lock had some bad habits as a rookie that could get him in trouble if he does not correct them. I would hope that the combination of Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula can break him of those before they get exploited by defensive coordinators in 2020. Plummer was able to correct them later in his career, but not before he had a terrible second full season as an NFL starting QB.

Shaun King

Shaun King was the 50th overall pick by the Buccaneers in the 1999 draft. Tony Dungy was still the head coach in Tampa Bay and he had led the Bucs to an 8-8 season in 1998 based largely on a stout defense that finished the season 5th in points allowed. That defense would get the Bucs a Super Bowl title in a few years after Dungy had left. Trent Dilfer, who was the 6th overall pick by the Bucs in 1994, started all 16 games for the Bucs in 1998, but it was clear that he was never going to be a player who could win with his arm if your team needed it. So the Bucs took King in the second round in a year when QB’s were taken with the first three picks (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith). Two more QBs were taken in the top half of the first round (Dante Culpepper and Cade McNown). King was the sixth QB taken and he would sit for the first half of the year while the Mike Shula offense with Dilfer taking the snaps in ten of the first eleven games (Eric Zeier would start in one game when Dilfer was hurt - and lead the offense to 3 points).

With the Bucs sitting at 7-4, the decision would be made to hand the offense over the rookie Shaun King. Before getting benched, Dilfer threw 11 TDs and 11 INTs in 10 games. This move of starting the unpolished rookie QB was risky because the Bucs were very much in the playoff hunt.

King would play well enough to lead the Bucs to a 4-1 record down the stretch and the 11-5 Bucs would win the NFC Central (the NFC South did not exist yet). King would get the start in the wildcard game, a 14-13 win over Washington in the divisional round, and then he would start in the NFC Championship game against St. Louis. The Bucs would lose that game 11-6 with King playing poorly, throwing two picks and fumbling twice (both recovered by the Bucs). The poor offensive showing in the playoffs and the regular season would lead to the firing of Mike Shula as the offensive coordinator. The Bucs finished 1999 with the 27th ranked scoring offense. Les Steckel would replace Shula as the Bucs’ OC in 2000.

Shaun King did enough in his seven starts (five regular season and two playoff) to be given the starting QB job for the Bucs in 2000. Trent Dilfer was allowed to leave as a free agent (he was signed by the Ravens). King would actually play worse in his one and only full season as regular starting QB in 2000 than he did as a rookie. He regressed in most stats including completion percentage (61.0 to 54.4), interception percentage (2.7 to 3.0) and passer rating (82.4 to 75.8). However, the Bucs would still finish the season 6th in scoring because of a decent running game (of which King was a significant part - 353 yards rushing) and a ball-hawking defense. The Bucs would score 43 touchdowns in 2000 with seven of those coming from the defense (five) and the special teams (two).

The 10-6 Bucs would finish second to the 11-5 Vikings in NFC Central in 2000 and then their offense would get stymied by the Eagles in the wildcard game where they would lose 21-3. King would play poorly enough that the Bucs would bring in free agent QB Brad Johnson in the off-season who would start all 16 games for them in 2001. King would stay on the Bucs as the backup QB and would retire after the 2004 season having only started three more games during his NFL career.

Hopefully Drew Lock’s story does not go like King’s story went.

Nick Foles

Unlike the previous two guys, Nick Foles was drafted in the third round not the second. Taken by Andy Reid and the Eagles with the 88th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Foles stepped into a situation where the Eagles had gone 8-8 the year before with a combination of two #1 overall picks starting at QB, Michael Vick and Vince Young. Vince Young retired after playing horribly in 2011 and Reid liked what he saw in the lanky Foles, who at 6 foot 6 was a stark contrast to 5 foot 11 Vick.

The Eagles would start the season 3-4 with Vick getting injured in game seven against the Cowboys. Foles would play most of that game, which ended with the Eagles getting blown out, and then start games ten through fifteen. The Eagles would go 1-8 after the Vick injury and Andy Reid would be fired after a horrible 4-12 season.

Foles would finish his rookie season with having accounted for seven touchdowns (six passing, one rushing) and five interceptions. Foles passer rating as a rookie was 79.1.

Chip Kelly was hired as the new head coach for the Eagles and his up-tempo college system that he brought with him from Oregon would be a better fit for Michael Vick then Nick Foles. Kelly would hire Pat Shurmur as his offensive coordinator, but Chip Kelly called the plays. Vick would begin the season as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, but he would get hurt again, this time in the fifth game, and hardly play the rest of the season. Foles played most of game five for the Eagles and led them to a 36-21 victory over the Giants. Foles proceeded to tear the league up during the next six games (all starts for him) in which he threw sixteen touchdowns, threw zero interceptions, ran for two touchdowns and compiled a passer rating of 125.7. Foles would lead the Eagles to an 8-2 record in his ten starts and the Eagles would finish the season 10-6 and win the NFC East. Foles would start, and play well, in the 26-24 wild-card loss to the Saints.

Foles would finish his second season in the NFL having thrown 27 TD passes and only two interceptions. His passer rating of 119.2 would lead the league. Foles’ 2013 season is still one of the best seasons ever by an NFL QB in terms of TD:INT ratio.

I do not expect Drew Lock to make a quantum leap in year two like Foles did, but I will be overjoyed if Lock comes anywhere close to matching Foles’ performance as a second year QB in the NFL. The connection to Pat Shurmur, who was listed as the offensive coordinator for Foles historic 2013 season, is interesting and is something to watch moving forward into 2020.

Jared Goff

Speaking of #1 overall draft choices, our next QB, Jared Goff was taken with the first overall selection in the 2016 draft. The 2015 Rams had done what Jeff Fisher teams do; they finished the year at roughly 500, going 7-9. The Rams liked what they saw in Goff so much that they spent a great deal of draft capital to move up to #1 overall in order to select him. Here is the breakdown of the trade that allowed the Rams to get Goff.

April 14, 2016: Traded by Titans as 2016 1st round pick (1st overall) with 2016 4th round pick (113th overall subsequently traded, Nick Kwiatkoski) and 2016 6th round pick (177th overall, Temarrick Hemingway) to Rams for 2016 1st round pick (15th overall subsequently traded, Corey Coleman), 2016 2nd round pick (43rd overall, Austin Johnson), 2016 2nd round pick (45th overall, Derrick Henry), 2016 3rd round pick (76th overall subsequently traded, Shon Coleman), 2017 1st round pick (5th overall, Corey Davis) and 2017 3rd round pick (100th overall, Jonnu Smith)

Notice that Derrick Henry, Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith have all been major contributors to the Titans’ run to the AFC championship game.

The 2015 Rams had a combination of Nick Foles (who had turned back into a pumpkin at that point) and Case Keenum (who hadn’t found his glass slipper yet) starting at quarterback for them. Offensive coordinator Rod Boras did not want to suffer through another season with those two at QB so the Rams traded up to get Goff. Foles, as the odd man out, contemplated retiring, before he was brought in by Reid to be the back-up QB to Alex Smith in KC. The 2015 Rams were 29th in scoring.

Goff was not ready to start in game one as a rookie, so former undrafted quarterback (and future Bronco) Case Keenum started the first nine games of the season and led the Rams to a 4-5 record. The physically-limited Keenum would account for ten TDs (9 passing, 1 rushing) and eleven interceptions during his nine starts and the decision would be made to hand the starting job to Goff in game ten. Goff would actually play worse than Keenum and the Rams would go 0-7 in his starts to finish the season 4-12. This would lead to the firing of Jeff Fisher with three games remaining in the regular season. The 2016 Rams finished dead last in scoring which was actually worse than they did in 2015, despite having traded up to take a QB with the first overall pick in the draft.

The Rams would hire a fairly young and relatively unknown candidate, Sean McVay, as head coach. McVay was the offensive coordinator in Washington for the three seasons prior to that. McVay would bring in Matt LeFleur as his offensive coordinator and hire former Bronco head coach and defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, as his defensive coordinator.

McVay and LeFLeur would mold Goff and Goff would improve dramatically in his second season relative to his first, improving in every statistic. In seven starts in 2016 Goff would throw as many interceptions (seven) as he would in fifteen starts in 2017. Goff would make the Pro-bowl in 2017 and the Rams would play well enough that at 11-4, they could rest their starters in week 17. The 2017 Rams led the league in scoring. The year over year offensive improvement from worst to first was the best ever seen in the NFL.

Goff would play poorly against the Falcons in the wildcard game, ending his second NFL season with a whimper, but his year over year improvement would be dramatic.

Goff made a similar jump to Nick Foles in year two with a new OC. I am not expecting Lock to make that big of a jump, but I would be extremely happy if he did.

Conclusions

This is a limited study (only going back to 1990), but there are some things that you should take away from this study. In three of the four cases, the quarterback improved as a second year starter despite having a new offensive coordinator (and in two cases a new head coach). I did not look to see how much of a change in offensive system was involved in each move.

Other writers at MHR have already delved fairly deeply into how the offenses that Pat Shurmur has led compare to the offense the Rich Scangarello (and Drew Lock) ran in 2019. Based upon this fairly limited historical study, I would be cautiously optimistic that we shall see some improvement in both the play of Drew Lock and in the performance of the Bronco offense overall in 2020.