On the one hand, Drew Lock looks the part of a franchise quarterback – Tall, strong arm, athletic. Talent isn’t an issue, as you can see below.
That’s a firm throw with good anticipation. A far-hash deep comeback – the litmus test for arm strength in the NFL.
Below, you can see what Lock is capable of doing when his feet aren’t firmly underneath him.
That throw was all arm. Quarterbacks don’t always get to operate in perfectly clean pockets in the NFL, so the ability to make these types of throws is a nice trait to have.
On the other hand, arm strength isn’t the only thing that matters, as we all should know by now. Despite a good overall showing in Lock’s 5 starts at the end of 2019, he was very raw in some critical areas, including ball placement, decision-making, and progression reading.
When it comes to ball placement, we saw too many inaccurate throws out of Lock last season (and also in college). Inaccurate throws obviously lead to incompletions and interceptions. They also lead to missed opportunities on completions, as you can see below.
Instead of hitting his man in stride here, Lock’s throw forced his receiver to turn his body around just to make the catch, negating any chance of getting upfield and turning this into a bigger play. Putting receivers in position to maximize yards after the catch can help separate the good quarterbacks from the great ones.
Lock forced a fair amount of throws last year as well, including this inexplicable interception against the Texans. You can see that he looked to the right at the snap and never moved off his receiver despite the safety playing over the top.
Sure, Lock was making his second start here, but he clearly forced this ball into a window that didn’t really exist at any point in the play. It seemed like he predetermined that he was going to make this throw pre-snap come hell or high water.
Which brings us to a troublesome area of Lock’s game. He doesn’t move through his progressions quickly and easily (which explains why he often predetermines his throws). He consistently stuck on his receivers for too long last season. If the first read wasn’t there, he’d either leave the pocket early (something we saw frequently) or force a pass – Like on this interception against the Chargers.
That underneath defender didn’t really move out of the area. Instead, Lock’s eyes brought him to the ball.
On the below play against the Lions, Lock missed a potential touchdown. Keep your eye on the receiver at the top of the screen. Detroit ended up blowing this coverage. Lock didn’t see it, though, because he stayed on his receivers in the middle of the field for too long.
From the end zone angle, watch how Lock’s head didn’t move away from the middle despite a clean pocket and time to scan.
Even the best quarterbacks miss wide-open receivers on blown coverages from time to time simply because their read takes their eyes elsewhere. That’s not what’s concerning about this play. What’s concerning is that Lock did not move off of his initial read despite ample time and space to do so. This was a consistent theme from each of his starts last season.
Because of this current hole in his game, Lock will likely see defenses use lots of disguises and post-snap movement in order to disrupt the design and timing of the play. It will be difficult for him to get any consistency against these types of looks unless he improves at moving through his progressions and predetermines fewer throws.
The Broncos put Lock in a position to succeed in his first five starts by utilizing lots of play-action, half-field reads, screens, and defined throws. That type of offense can get you through a small sample of games. The playbook will have to expand in order to challenge defenses this season, and Lock will have to be more refined in order to capitalize.
The good news for Lock is that his new offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur) has a history of helping young quarterbacks flourish. Say what you want to about Shurmur as a head coach, his steady track record of success with young quarterbacks speaks for itself. Donovan McNabb developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with Shurmur as the quarterbacks coach of the Eagles from 2002-08. Sam Bradford won Offensive Rookie of the Year with Shurmur as the Rams Offensive Coordinator in 2010. Nick Foles‘ breakout 27 TD/2 INT season came with Shurmur as the offensive coordinator in 2013. Shurmur was the 2017 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year with the Vikings, helping turn journeyman Case Keenum into an attractive free agent (who the Broncos promptly signed to a 2-year, $36 million deal). In New York last season, Shurmur helped Daniel Jones set multiple rookie records despite a suspect offensive line and oft-injured receivers.
The Broncos also did a great job of adding significant talent around Lock this offseason, including wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and running back Melvin Gordon. Defenses can’t double-team every receiver, which means Lock will find plenty of advantageous 1-on-1 situations regardless of his ability to read through his progressions. This should help him still be an effective quarterback as he continues to refine his skills.
In his first NFL action, Lock showed himself to be a great but raw talent with plenty of room for improvement. While he has a long way to go, Lock’s situation in Denver is an ideal one for developing as a young quarterback.