Just five months removed from hoisting the Lombardy Trophy, who would have predicted on that warm sunny evening in Santa Clara that the newly crowned Denver Broncos would soon find themselves in the middle of a training camp battle royale at Quarterback. The contest is between a rookie who many are predicting will have to redshirt his first season, a player who is more famous for his ‘butt fumble’ than his trip to the AFC Championship game as a rookie and sophomore; and a player who was taken with the 250th pick just one season again. The Denver Bronco’s and John Elway have found themselves in a hole following the planned retirement of Peyton Manning and the defection of Brock Osweiler to the Houston Texans. It is clear that Elway and co. will need to find a starting Quarterback amongst the current trio who they are comfortable with by the start of the regular season or the Broncos could find themselves forfeiting any chance of the playoffs before their season has even begun.
The current situation in Denver
Gary Kubiak’s offence has often been credited with producing 1,000-yard rushers and tailored around the strengths of the starting Quarterback. It is clear that in 2016, Kubiak will not ask much of his starting QB and will keep the playbook simple by either splitting the field in half or having only a few progressions coming off of play-action in order to make it easier for the QB to go through his reads. Gary Kubiak understands that in the coming season, the Broncos have a strong stable of Running Backs and with most of the core pieces of his Super Bowl winning Defense still in place, the D will continue to perform at a high level. For the Denver Broncos it may be the Quarterback who will limit the number of turnovers who could end up getting the starting job. Alongside a top 3 Defence, a strong Running attack and with playmaking ability in Wide Receiver’s Demaryius Thomas, Emanuel Sanders and Tight End Owen Daniels, it is clear that whoever wins the starting job will have weapons to work with in 2016.
Broncos QBs have so far been splitting first-team reps despite Kubiak earlier stating that Sanchez would work with the first-team. Yet Trevor Siemian has taken snaps with the first team throughout the first few days of training camp. It is clear after the first five days that so far it is Mark Sanchez’s job to lose.
So let’s see the challengers of who will hope to take the over the reigns from Peyton Manning and attempt to steer the Bronco’s once more into the NFL play-offs.
The Veteran: Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez has had a rollercoaster NFL career. Sanchez’s early career followed a steady upward strategy as after being named the nation’s top quarterback coming out of High School, and redshirting his first season he eventually started for the Pete Carroll led Trojans. Sanchez had his best year in 2009 as he led the 12-1 Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State and three months later was taken fifth overall by the New York Jets who had traded up. Sanchez led the New York Jets to the AFC Championship game as both a rookie and a sophomore, however, since then he has routinely struggled and ended up spending two seasons in Philadelphia before arriving in Denver this offseason.
Mark Sanchez is a Quarterback with good pocket mobility which should bode well in playing in Gary Kubiak’s Offence. The Broncos offence will most likely heavily feature bootlegs and Sanchez is a good in play action QB. Kubiak and Elway will hope that the Broncos strong Rushing attack in the upcoming season will keep Defenses true and biting on the run so that Sanchez could find his receiving threats downfield, as they would look to exploit one-on-one match ups. The biggest advantage Sanchez has going for him is that he is a six-year veteran who during his first two seasons proved that no stage was too big for him as he guided the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games. His experience around the league will bode well when compared to competition from Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian, however, it is also this time that he has spent in the league and the reputation he has earned that could be his own worst enemy.
Mark Sanchez has a reputation as a Quarterback who struggles to protect the football and his career has been plagued by turnovers and the term ‘butt fumble.’ Butt fumble is something that Sanchez has never managed to shake as it is widely mocked by the media and even has its own Wikipedia page. While the play would no doubt have gained attention owing to its comical nature where Jets QB Mark Sanchez ran into his own Offensive Guard Brandon Moore’s behind and the resulting fumble was recovered by the Patriots for a Touchdown, it was even more unfortunate that this occurred on Thanksgiving in a prime time game.
Yet the butt fumble aside, Sanchez has consistently struggled to protect the football and in his six seasons as a Pro, Sanchez has posted 86 Touchdowns and 84 Interceptions. He has also struggled to throw the ball deep and suffers from lapses in concentration as he is often lackadaisical with the football and misreads coverage’s resulting in turnovers. This combined with his inability to throw the deep ball and an apparent lack of touch on the football is something that can be seen below during his time at the Jets.
Yet at the minute Sanchez is competing against a rookie and a sophomore for the starting job. John Elway clearly knew what he was doing when he brought in Sanchez as a Veteran option and Sanchez did have success at times during his brief tenure in Philadelphia. In 2014 he was guided by Chip Kelly’s extremely Quarterback friendly system and went 3-1 as a starter before crumbling towards the end of the season. Sanchez offers the Broncos a veteran plug-gap option while Paxton Lynch learns the Offence and adapts to life in the NFL. It will be intriguing to see if Sanchez manages to hold onto the job, as at the minute he could be his own worst enemy and play himself out of a starting gig.
The Rookie: Paxton Lynch
General Manager John Elway and the Broncos organisation clearly felt confident in trading up a few spots to take Paxton Lynch 26th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. Jerry Jones later commented that he regretted that the Cowboys had not done more to trade up and nab Paxton before the Broncos came calling. As a Rookie Paxton Lynch will clearly not be polished mechanically and he will need to work on his footwork in terms of three-step and five-step drops.
In terms of assessing Paxton Lynch, it will be more beneficial to go off his College tape than his first few days of training camp as we can assess his ability during a live game scenario. The first thing that will strike most people is Lynch’s height as he stands at 6 foot 7 and is remarkably nimble and quick footed for his height. It is this length that will allow him to stand tall in the pocket and scan over Linemen in order to read what is going on down field and should make it easier for him going through his progression (checking from receiver to receiver). He is also very athletic and despite running a 4.86 at the combine, his tape from college shows that he is able to escape pressure. Yet unlike other mobile Quarterbacks who are prone to simply scrambling for the first down with their feet, Lynch uses his feet in order to create more time to find a pass down field and allow his receivers to get open. Below is a perfect example of Lynch scanning the field (watch his head turn as he goes through his progressions) and then while using his feet to escape pressure he keeps his eyes downfield before at the last minute tucking and running for a first down.
Paxton Lynch also presents the ability to throw open Denver’s playmakers as unlike Mark Sanchez he can hit the deep ball on time and in stride with his receivers. It is this ability to blow the top off Defenses that combined with the play actions which Denver will run is something that if Lynch can consistently hit during training camp and the preseason will have him pushing for reps with the 2nd team and eventually for the starting job. Below is an example from College of Lynch combing with a receiver on the deep ball off of play action.
However, Lynch is by no means ready to be a starting Quarterback in the NFL. Despite it becoming a trend over the past several years that first round picks have been week 1 starters in the NFL, it is incredibly difficult for Quarterbacks to be ready to start come week 1. This is due to the steep learning curve Rookie Quarterbacks face as they are required to learn an entire new system which is often much more complex than the watered down versions they often use while at College. They are also required to learn how to read NFL level Defenses which are much more intricate than any they have encountered in College and who mask what they are doing until the last minute. This is why it is so common to see rookie QB’s posting high interception numbers as the speed of the game, the amount of window they have to throw into as well as Defenders masking their intentions often leave rookies red-faced wondering how they did not see the Safety or Corner breaking on the ball.
Paxton Lynch has most of the physical tools to be a starting Quarterback in the NFL. However, his accuracy is something that will have question marks coming into training camp as well as his release as he does not throw the tightest of spirals making it as times difficult for his receivers to catch the football.
Yet for Lynch the biggest area for improvement appears in his mental make up and trying to make the adjustment to playing in the NFL. Despite at times showing he could go through his progressions, these will need to be sped up if he is to survive in the NFL as the speed of the game increases significantly. Playing in the AFC West the words ‘Khalil Mack’, ‘Tamba Hali’ and ‘Justin Houston’ could soon haunt Lynch as he will be forced to quickly progress through his reads and release the ball quickly. If he could polish up his technique and improve the speed with which he goes through his reads, then it will all be up to Lynch to do his homework and master Gary Kubiak’s playbook in order to push for the starting job come the season opener.
The Wildcard: Trevor Siemian
Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos starting Quarterback. I am sure if you uttered these words to any Broncos fans in February you would have been met by derision and outright laughter. However, this is now a very real possibility following Brock Osweiler’s departure for the Houston Texans and John Elway seemingly swinging and missing on Colin Kaepernick earlier in the off-season. Siemian who was taken 250th overall by the Broncos in 2015 in the depths of the Seventh Round could be the wildcard of the trio and win the starting job. It is the type of Cinderella story that the media loves and therefore early speculation about any success of Siemian should be treated with caution, as we will not have a clear indication until the start of the preseason games.
It is clear that Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak likes Trevor Siemian. The story goes that Kubiak during his time in Baltimore saw Siemian play on TV one morning and pencilled the name down. When the fifth year senior finally declared for the draft and was found still available late in the Seventh round, Kubiak took a chance on the arm that he liked so much he wrote it down and filed it away. Siemian is currently splitting reps with Sanchez for the first-team and had his best day of training camp Monday when he turned heads by making plays over the middle. Siemian’s teammates have praised his understanding of the playbook as well as his arm strength.
Little is known of the Quarterback who applied his trade at Northwestern. In the 2015 pre-season, Siemian appeared in three games and went 23 for 40 with 283 yards, 2 Touchdowns and 1 Interception. Below is the Touchdown he threw against Houston and his incredibly shaky release is something he will need to work on. However, this could be the fairy tale story of the offseason as Siemian could place himself as the moderate choice between the rookie Paxton Lynch and the erratic Mark Sanchez.
The Ultra Wildcard
Look out for some activity from the Broncos throughout training camp, as I believe that in no ways is John Elway finished attempting to address the Quarterback position. With the recent release of Nick Foles by the Los Angeles Rams, I am sure Elway may find it attractive to pair Foles with Kubiak’s Offence and a Defence that is just coming off a Super Bowl win. If Elway is unhappy with the current trio and the money Nick Foles may demand, we could see a different veteran such as T. J. Yates, Matt Flynn or even Michael Vick brought in to compete for the starting job.
It is clear that the starting Quarterback job for the Denver Broncos is Mark Sanchez’s to lose. A player whose career has been characterised by turnovers may just play himself out of a job. Paxton Lynch’s chances appear a race against the clock, as he will hope to become as comfortable with the playbook as time allows. Lynch clearly has the physical tools necessary and it all depends on how well the player can get to grips with Gary Kubiak’s system and whether he matures enough as a player to warrant starting either week 1 or further down the line. However, if Lynch does redshirt his rookie season, then the Cinderella story of Trevor Siemian could present itself as he may emerge as the safer option to start ahead of Sanchez if his old turnover problems persist. It is clear that with a dominant Defense, a system that favours producing 1,000 yard rushers and a backfield that features C. J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and promising rookie Devontae Booker, then Kubiak may favour the player least likely to throw games away with costly interceptions. For now it appears that a player whose name is associated with ‘butt fumble’ could attempt his NFL redemption with the reigning Super Bowl champions. Watch this space.