Ever since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season, the Broncos have been looking for their next franchise passer. In the immediate wake of Manning’s retirement, the team rotated through Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler. None were the answer. Neither was Case Keenum, who was brought in as a stopgap measure in 2018. Nor was Joe Flacco, who was signed this offseason but was never much better than average before a neck injury ended his season in Week 8.
But in Drew Lock, Broncos executive John Elway may have finally found his guy. It’s extremely early in Lock’s career (a hand injury caused him to miss the first half of the season, so he has only two starts under his belt), but the rookie is already showing potential. Lock, who was drafted out of Missouri with the 42nd overall pick in the 2019 draft, played about as well as any rookie passer has in years in Denver’s 38-24 win over the Texans on Sunday. He completed 22 of his 27 pass attempts for 309 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. The final score looks closer than the game actually was—Denver thrashed Houston, which is supposed to be a playoff team and maybe even a Super Bowl contender, thanks in large part to the electric play of their rookie under center.
Lock’s most tantalizing trait entering the draft was his arm strength, and he showed off his incredible ability to sling passes into tight windows against the Texans. His first touchdown of the game was a rifle to fellow rookie tight end Noah Fant:
Get used to hearing this.@DrewLock23 finds @nrfant for six! pic.twitter.com/4Kv4wKcdDY— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 8, 2019
There’s so much zip on Lock’s throws that it looks like the football is practically generating its own lift. Earlier in the first quarter, Lock rocketed one such pass to Fant, squeaking the ball past a defender for a big gain:
Rook to rook.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 8, 2019
Way to get us started, @nrfant! pic.twitter.com/dBoa9m2D1h
Fant finished with 113 yards and a touchdown, but just as the rookie-to-rookie connection was getting hot, Fant suffered a foot injury that required him to be carted off the field. X-rays on the injury came back negative.
Lock’s best plays against the Texans were the ones that utilized his arm strength, but the Mizzou product has shown off more than just his big arm. Last week against the Chargers, he demonstrated his touch on a deep touchdown to Courtland Sutton down the sideline:
Courtland Sutton makes Drew Lock's first NFL TD pass one to remember— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 1, 2019
Lock’s one interception against Houston came deep in the third quarter, while the Broncos led 38-10, so it didn’t have much of an impact, but it did embody one of the pre-draft concerns about Lock: a tendency to make mistakes. Lock forced a throw to Courtland Sutton, who was being blanketed by a corner and a safety. Lock trusts his arm completely, but that can be a double-edged sword.
The 2019 NFL season has shaken how we think about quarterback evaluation. Former no. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield has disappointed, while Lamar Jackson, the fifth quarterback taken in that draft, is the front-runner for the league’s MVP award. The much-derided Josh Allen has shown flashes of being the passer of the future for the 9-4 Bills. In Jacksonville, sixth-round afterthought Gardner Minshew II has outplayed expensive free agent addition Nick Foles. Some young passers have conformed to fans’ preconceptions (Kyler Murray has shown promise, for example), but there have been plenty of head-scratchers, and Lock can be added to that second category.
Two games into his career, Lock is outplaying two passers—Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins—who went a round above him. If Sunday’s dismantling of the Texans is any indication of Lock’s future, he’ll have a long career with the Broncos.