One year ago, the Denver Broncos were in uncharted waters with regard to their quarterback situation. Just a couple months removed from winning Super Bowl 50, Denver lost Peyton Manning to retirement and Brock Osweiler — the heir-apparent — to the Houston Texans in free agency.
That left GM John Elway in a football quandary. How is a team supposed to defend their World Championship with an unknown quantity at quarterback?
With only Trevor Siemian on the roster — a former seventh round pick heading into just his second year — Elway decided to give up a conditional seventh round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the much-maligned veteran signal-caller Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez's arrival ostensibly gave Denver a short-term bandaid but Elway still wasn't comfortable with the quarterback situation. The Broncos needed a long-term answer.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1766349-interpreting-elway-s-comm... When the NFL Draft rolled around, buzz began to heat up that Denver was going to take a quarterback. The question was — how high?
Most draftniks and scouts had two quarterbacks as sure-fire first-rounders — Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Some scouts (not all) gave Memphis gunslinger Paxton Lynch a first round grade, while Dak Prescott was expected to go somewhere between the second and fourth round.
The Broncos liked both Lynch and Prescott.
Goff and Wentz went No. 1 and 2 overall, respectively. And as each pick began to fall through the first round, Lynch remained on the board. As World Champions, Denver sat with the 31st pick in the first round — New England forfeited their first rounder due to Deflategate sanctions.
Elway began working the phones at pick 17, looking for a trade partner to move up and take Lynch. Dallas was also interested in the 6-foot-7 gunslinger, putting some pressure on Denver to wheel and deal.
When Lynch fell to within striking distance, Elway managed to package a deal with Seattle, giving up their third round pick (No. 94 overall) to move up to pick 26 and select Paxton Lynch. Dak Prescott inexplicably fell to Dallas, who selected him with the No. 135 overall pick in the fourth round.
Because Denver and Dallas shared an interest in both Lynch and Prescott, these two young quarterbacks will be compared to each other for years to come.
Lynch was Denver's pick, however, and he soon found himself immersed in not only learning a complex West Coast offense, but also in a three-way competition to be the starter. Lynch would have to beat out Sanchez — an eighth-year vet — and Siemian, a quarterback with a personal connection to Head Coach Gary Kubiak.
Lynch put up some prolific numbers in college, playing predominantly out of the shotgun in Memphis' spread offense. There was little doubting that just learning to play under center — reading the defense, and the footwork required to drop back — was going to be a significant obstacle to Lynch as a rookie.
One of the most daunting aspects of a rookie quarterback's assimilation to the pro level is learning the system. The vast majority of young quarterbacks have to go from playing out of the gun — where foot technique is under-developed — to learning to play under center. That's hard enough.
But the biggest factor that delays a rookie quarterback is learning the playbook — plain and simple. Going from a collegiate system wherein the calls are often single words to learning a long, complex nomenclature can be overwhelming.
Such was the challenge presented to Paxton Lynch as a rookie. Lynch was far behind both Sanchez and Siemian in the competition. Sanchez had played in various forms of the West Coast offense throughout most of his career, while Siemian already had a year in Kubiak's system under his belt.
In training camp, it was easy to see what drew Elway and the Broncos to the big gunslinger. Lynch put his arm talent, athleticism and mobility on display but struggled with his drop-backs and reading the defense from under center.
However, by the time the preseason games swung around, Lynch had begun to close the gap. When it was all said and done, Siemian won the competition in the eyes of Coach Kubiak, but the team was confident enough in Lynch's progress to release Sanchez by preseason's end.
The Broncos signed veteran Austin Davis to serve as the veteran fail-safe and embarked on their 2016 bid to "chase the next one", in the words of Kubiak. Siemian would be QB1, with Lynch as the backup. Davis dressed only a couple of times during the regular season.
Denver got out to a 4-0 start under Siemian's leadership, but the former Northwestern product struggled with the injury bug. Lynch was cast into action on three occasions as a rookie.
Lynch's first opportunity came in a Week 4 road trip at Tampa Bay, after Siemian suffered a shoulder injury. Lynch stepped in and looked the part of a first round pick, passing for 170 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos emerged victorious.
With Siemian out in Week 5 vs. Atlanta, Lynch received his first career start. It was here that we first saw signs of a hole in the boat. Whereas in Week 4, Kubiak called an offense for Lynch that played to his strengths, allowing him to work out of the shotgun, in Week 5, Lynch was tasked with staying true to Kubiak's system and game-plan under center.
Atlanta built a two-score lead early, putting pressure on the Broncos offense to answer. Unfortunately, Denver's rookie quarterback did not seem equal to his opportunity, officially earning his "welcome to the NFL" moment. Denver lost 23-16, but the game was not as close as the final score would indicate.
Week 5 was a total team failure, but Lynch absorbed the brunt of the criticism. Siemian returned to the starting job the next week, where he remained until Week 13. Siemian sprained his foot in Denver's disappointing Week 12 loss to Kansas City, giving Lynch his second career start on the road at Jacksonville.
With a potential playoff berth on the line, Lynch was clearly coached to "not screw it up". Ball security was hammered into him by the coaching staff. Although Kubiak called an ultra-conservative game-plan, to Lynch's credit, he protected the ball and led Denver to a 20-10 victory. But he did not light up the box score.
That was the last we saw of Paxton Lynch as a rookie. Siemian returned to preside over three consecutive losses. The Broncos would miss the playoffs for the first time in John Elway's tenure as a front office executive.
Lynch finished his rookie season 1-1 as a starter. Although his opportunities for playing time were limited, his numbers looked about how one would expect them to for a rookie quarterback.
|5 vs. ATL||23||35||223||65.7||6.37||26||1||1||81|
Lynch took his lumps as a rookie and likely learned a few harsh lessons. Lynch had to come to terms with the speed of the NFL game. He had to learn a complex system. And heading into his second season, he has to learn a new offense all over again.
Kubiak resigned following Denver's 9-7 finish. Vance Joseph was hired to replace him. Joseph, known for his leadership ability, made it clear upon his arrival to Denver that he believes in coaching players to their strengths.
Rather than fit a square peg into a round hole, as the Broncos tried to do with Lynch as a rookie, Joseph hired Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator, and Bill Musgrave as quarterbacks coach, to shape a system around the strengths of the personnel.
McCoy and Musgrave have been working to build an offense that will help Lynch capitalize on his immense physical talents. I have great confidence that this two-headed brain-trust will give Lynch all the tools he needs to succeed.
But Lynch has to want it. He has to come to terms with the leadership aspects of being the Broncos starting quarterback. He has to be the first one in the building and the last one to leave every day.
Lynch has to be the example to his teammates. He has to know the playbook. He has to be a sounding board to his teammates, when they're unclear about their assignment on a given play.
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Lynch has worked tirelessly this offseason to hone his craft and perfect his technique. He's spent time working with Charlie Taaffe down in Florida and it could pay off in spades this year.
Regardless of what happens with Tony Romo, right now, I can only analyze the players on the roster. With Siemian recovering from offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, Lynch could have a leg up on the quarterback competition.
An open competition there will be, according to Vance Joseph, and its unclear exactly when Siemian will be available to cross swords once again with Lynch.
The Broncos invested a first round pick in Lynch. With the pressures of defending a World Championship, the team decided to sit their rookie quarterback for most of the season, hoping to at least get to the playoffs where they could make a run.
It didn't work out. Siemian was a Kubiak guy. Lynch is an Elway guy. Much of how Denver has moved in the offseason has been structured for Lynch's benefit. The question now is whether or not Lynch has matured enough to capitalize on the immense opportunity the Broncos are giving him.
I know much of Broncos Country is down on Lynch. I'm not. I liked the Lynch pick then and I still do. His ceiling is ridiculously high.
With a team committed to his future and the depth and talent on the roster to help Lynch fight through his growing pains, the Broncos could be dangerous in 2017. But in order for the Broncos to fully commit to Paxton Lynch as the starter, he has to vanquish Trevor Siemian once and for all.
• Stay tuned for Part II in Broncos Draft Rewind, as we break down Denver's 2016 second round pick, Adam Gotsis.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.