Everyone knows that the quarterback battle is the big story with the Denver Broncos this offseason. Is it going to be the second-year player who they invested a first round pick in, or the seventh round pick who started last season?
Listening to the fans, there seems to be a pretty even split down the middle for who they support, even though they should back the team first and foremost — no matter who ends up starting.
To really get into the battle this offseason, we have to go back to when the Broncos were on the clock in the 2016 NFL Draft. They moved up in the first round to select a quarterback out of Memphis named Paxton Lynch.
The Broncos were in a bad spot and everyone knew it. Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset and retired after his second Super Bowl win. Brock Osweiler took off for greener pastures in Houston. All the Broncos had was a seventh round pick from the year before out of Northwestern, Trevor Siemian.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1785303-coachspeak-interpreting-j... They acquired Mark Sanchez from Philadelphia, but that didn’t stop them from trying to get other veteran quarterbacks, with San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick the focus. The quarterback position was weak, so they thought at the time, to make a run for back-to-back Super Bowl wins. This led them to Lynch, whom GM John Elway loved and in fact reminded Elway a bit of himself.
When the selection was made, everyone questioned Lynch’s fit with then-head coach Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme. Lynch was a bit of a project, who rarely took snaps under center but he had the athleticism and arm strength that blew people away.
On the flip side, there was a lot he needed to work on. Reads, accuracy and footwork stood out as his biggest concerns. Still, there was a reason multiple NFL executives thought he had the highest upside of that year's Draft.
Well, Lynch wasn’t ready come time for the season, Sanchez did everything he could to throw the job away and Siemian was named the Broncos starter. Siemian didn’t have a bad season.
Siemian's Fair-To-Middling Season
In 14 starts he went 8-6, with 3,400 yards and 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Not a bad year, but not a good one either. Denver had a lot of issues on both sides of the ball, like their offensive line, lack of run game and inability to stop the run on defense. However, quarterback play also was an issue.
Many fans who support Siemian are quick to point out dropped passes by the offense. Denver had 14 dropped passes total — 12 of them were with Siemian at quarterback. That is tied with three other quarterbacks for 21st in dropped passes — far from the worst in the league.
When pointing out drops, many are quick to forget that defenders dropped interceptions. Siemian led the NFL dropped interceptions with 21 — nine more than his teammates dropped. When you convert that to percentages, it puts Siemian alone at 21st and the Broncos as a team at 24th.
Another stat that shows Siemian was just average is bad pass percentage. At 18.5 pad pass percentage, Siemian was fifth-worst in the NFL last year. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick and Case Keenum were the four ahead of him.
90 of Siemian's passes were deemed bad pass attempts. He had 15 batted at the line, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, and a few of these led directly to interceptions.
Some of his issues can be put on the offensive line troubles, lack of run game and lack of experience. The simple fact of the matter was that his year wasn’t the kind of year that cements him as the starter moving forward, which brings us back to Lynch in this circle.
Lynch Slow On The Uptake
Lynch saw action in two and a half games. In no way, shape, or form is that enough to deem him a bust as many Broncos fans have claimed. His time starting wasn’t very good. With a 59 completion percentage (Siemian had a 59.5) Lynch had two touchdowns to one interception. With how little he played, advanced metrics are rendered useless.
It was clear he still had issues with multiple aspects of the game, including being in a playbook that didn’t fit him. Coaches limited him, and it showed. When they did cut him loose at times, his accuracy issues didn’t help matters. They let him show off his arm strength, but his lack of touch didn’t see many connect deep.
But, that was all last season and during their time off this year, Lynch put in a lot of work to improve. Coaches and teammates have praised him for looking like a completely different quarterback so far this offseason.
His footwork is cleaner, and much improved. He is throwing with better anticipation and touch. His work in the film room has stood out, with few issues reading a defense. He somehow got labeled as lazy and dumb, which, considering what he's done, proves those labels to be incorrect.
The Story So Far
So far, this battle has been a lot of back and forth. Siemian has had some up and down moments, and Lynch has as well. Their differing styles of play have been very clear to coaches and media, when the practices have been opened up to them.
Everyone has spoken to their differences, which is a big reason this quarterback battle is so enticing. Of course, the Broncos being a quarterback away, so they say, from another Super Bowl run helps make it so compelling.
Siemian plays it safe. Taking the short, easy throws and moving the ball that way. Dink and dunk. He won’t challenge you deep, mainly due to arm strength issues when attempting passes 15-plus yards downfield.
Low risk, low reward. Harder to get picked off when finding the open man within seven yards of the line of scrimmage.
Lynch, on the other hand, has a strong arm and he isn’t afraid to use it. He takes a lot of risks, which sometimes bites him. When he does make a mistake, he is quick to recover, which coaches have touched on.
He has shown a huge improvement with his touch on deep passes, and tends to connect on at least three 20-plus yard passes every day in practice. What will it take for each quarterback to win the job?
The biggest thing for Siemian is seeing him taking some calculated risks in practice. Trying to squeeze a pass into a tight window, or taking a shot downfield at times. These were issues we saw of him last year, and they have continued this offseason.
He has the experience, and his work in the film room is exceptional. If he can show that he is willing to take calculated risks, and execute them, it’ll go a long way toward helping him win the starting job once again.
Another issue with Siemian, that many overlook, is his accuracy. Again, last year Siemian completed jsut 59.5 percent of his passes in 14 starts. That wass sixth-lowest in the NFL last year. In addition to that, a good number of his passes weren't truly accurate.
They may have been caught, but they were placed poorly and the receiver had to adjust, or the defender could’ve made a play. There was a lot of luck with Siemian last year.
Placing balls better, limiting the chances for defenders, and raising that completion percentage are musts for Siemian. The good news is, so far he seems to be doing a lot better job this than he did a year ago. Some of that comes with his experience.
With Lynch, the biggest thing is he needs to show he is ready and that the moment isn’t too big for him. He improved upon his footwork and technique, but he needs to be more consistent with it.
His work in the film room has showed out on the grass and he is looking better when making reads on the field. His accuracy and timing with receivers have improved — all of the big concerns from a year ago have improved.
That doesn’t mean he is ready, however. He needs to continue to show consistency, keep a level head, and be the leader teams need from the quarterback position. He has had some really high highs in practice, but really low lows as well.
Balance that out and the job is likely his. The Denver front office made personnel moves with the objective in mind of Paxton Lynch as the starter and to help him become the quarterback. He needs to finish doing his part.
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At this point, with OTAs and mini-camp in the books, both signal-callers stand neck-and-neck. Both have made great plays, and bad plays. Lynch has shown tremendous improvement and is a completely different player from a year ago, while Siemian has taken small strides forward, so far.
Of course, when you are implementing a new offense the quarterbacks are going to be on even ground to start. Training camp and preseason are the true tests and that will be where the job is won, or lost.
Predicted Winner: Paxton Lynch. Yes, he will make mistakes, but he has remained composed and has bounced back from them tremendously.
The Broncos want him to be their starter, and they continue to do everything they can to get him ready. He is getting to the point where experience is going to be the best way to continue his growth. Trevor Siemian will be ready when called upon.
One thing is for sure, whichever quarterback starts, fans should be rooting for them to succeed. Their success corresponds directly to the success of the team, and the success of the team is what all fans really want. Isn’t it?
Erick Trickel is the Senior Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ErickTrickel.