Denver’s Drew Lock will be a keystone player for fantasy football purposes this season. The success of all the wonderful skill talent in Denver will depend on Lock taking another step forward. Courtland Sutton is a budding star. Rookie Jerry Jeudy’s draft capital and talent profile puts him on a similar path. The Broncos also have a young catch-first tight end with plenty of long speed in Noah Fant. They imported Melvin Gordon to lead a young backfield that was already performing adequately. There is quality depth behind all these names.
Lock is, for whatever reason, a polarizing player. Some of his detractors are, in actuality, John Elway detractors. Elway’s lack of success choosing quarterbacks gets plenty of coverage. We all know the names. My question is, are Lock’s detractors creating buying opportunities for those of us who can keep our minds open? Can we count on Drew Lock?
While wrestling with this, I looked at six primary areas.
- Lock’s Skill Set
- The Broncos’ Skill Talent
- Pat Shurmur
- Mike Munchak
- Vic Fangio
- Pace of Play
LOCK’S SKILL SET
Lock is quite the appealing talent if you look at what he can do physically. I’ve watched a lot of his film. I’ve done a recent dive on what he did down the stretch with the Broncos. I came away impressed. Not only did the rookie show that his thumb was recovered, he grew over the five starts. By the end of the year he was showing more nuance to his game, namely using his eyes to manipulate defenders. If you watch his throws to Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, you can see what I’m talking about.
Physically, Lock checks boxes. He has size and mobility. His arm strength is well above typical. While he’s not quite on par with his most frequent comp, Matthew Stafford, he can definitely sling it. Another quarterback to think about with Lock is Tony Romo. Lock could exist in the space between those two guys–possessing some of Stafford’s physical traits while quick-processing the game like Romo. He’ll have some developing to do, obviously, but Lock had plenty of college starts coming into the NFL. He also played in three different offensive systems while at Missouri. It’s an additional plus that Lock got his feet wet last year as an NFL quarterback. Based on the evident talent combined with his experience, Lock shoud be ready to do more in 2020. The Broncos deserve credit for giving him all the tools that he could want. If there is an area of heightened concern, it would be his footwork as it relates to dealing with pressure. I’d like to see him maintain active feet more consistently. I’d like to see him climb the pocket rather than bailing. This is typical early career quarterback stuff. His new coaches have the proven chops to clean these things up.
BRONCOS’ SKILL TALENT
The Broncos have a deep offensive depth chart. Lock will have quality weapons. Even if there are injuries, the depth should hold up nicely. That being said, what makes this situation most enticing is the elite talent around the second year passer. Leading the way is Courtland Sutton, but his presence is balanced out by 2019 first round tight end Noah Fant and rookie first round receiver Jerry Jeudy. All three of these young players have long term star potential. Fant ran a 4.50 40 at the combine while weighing 249 pounds. Jeudy is a route technician with 4.45 speed who can attack the defense at all three levels. Sutton, who also works all three levels, is a touchdown maker with the ability to make all kinds of catches. Sutton has improved each year in the league and is a good bet to do so again in 2020.
Looking past the “big three”, we find a deep rushing attack led by veteran Melvin Gordon. Gordon’s experience will be valuable as will his skill set. This moves Phillip Lindsay into what will likely be a change of pace role, which he is well-suited for. The depth receivers also bring added value. DaeSean Hamilton is entering his third season and is ready to be a strong third receiver with plenty of alignment flexibility. Rookie K.J. Hamler is a player who can take the lid off the defense and create explosive plays after the catch. He’s raw but he can certainly help in certain packages. Defenses will be too busy to pay him any special attention. If Hamler picks things up really well as a rookie, he could displace Hamilton or eat into his role. Tim Patrick is likely to stick as a 5th receiving option, and he represents quality depth at both outside positions. What I love about this group is that they are young while also being largely proven. They can support the young quarterback while also growing with him.
OC PAT SHURMUR
Much of our story is right here. Shurmur holds the keys to Lock’s season in terms of how the offense will be shaped and designed. This is an area where I have some good vibes and confidence. Shurmur has been involved in a lot of success stories when it comes to young quarterbacks. In reality, that’s why he’s been given two chances as a head coach. Let’s take a quick walk through Shurmur’s NFL history. In most cases, what we find is an offense that was geared towards the strengths of the quarterback. We like that.
- Donovan McNabb 2004 Eagles (QB coach) – His work with McNabb as his QB coach earned him his first coordinator gig in 2009. Shurmur worked with McNabb during his best years which included his career year in 2004.
- Sam Bradford 2010 Rams (OC) – Shurmur was brought in to work with number one overall pick Sam Bradford. Bradford won offensive rookie of the year. Injuries derailed Bradford’s career for the most part, but some of his best moments came playing for Shurmur.
- Colt McCoy 2011 Browns (HC) – McCoy was not Shurmur’s guy in 2011. He was already the starter when Shurmur took over as head coach. Nevertheless, McCoy had his best season as a pro under Shurmur. And, while it wasn’t Canton-level stuff, it still falls in line with the theme of Shurmur’s career–quarterbacks having their best seasons under his tutelage.
- Nick Foles 2013 Eagles (OC) – Nick Foles is a name we all know, and his post-season heroics will always afford him with plenty of respect. The other side of the coin is that he’s a very inconsistent player. Only once in his career has he been able to string a full season together at a high level. That was 2013–the first year he worked with Shurmur. He threw 27 touchdowns against a scant 2 interceptions and was named to the pro bowl.
- Sam Bradford 2016 & 2017 Vikings (OC) – Norv Turner quits midseason 2016 and Shurmur takes over. Bradford is playing very well by season’s end and starts off piping hot in 2017 before re-injuring his knee. This was another success story, but it led to what may be Shurmur’s biggest accomplishment.
- Case Keenum 2017 Vikings (OC) – By any rational standard, 2017 was the pinnacle of Keenum’s career, and I mean, by a lot. Rarely does a run-of-the-mill quarterback benefit from such a positive confluence of events the way Keenum did in 2017. He was the last man standing at the position and he was lucky enough to have a coordinator who understood his strengths. He also had two great receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and one of the most underrated tight ends in the business in Kyle Rudolph. The story is well known, but in short, Keenum went on a tear similar to Foles’ in 2013. When it was over, he’d thrown 22 touchdowns to only 7 picks while piloting the Vikings to a 12-2 record in the games he started. Shurmur was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year. He garnered that award largely due to his work with Keenum. Shurmur coaxed Keenum’s play to such a high level that he was kept in as starter even when Teddy Bridgwater was ready to go. Bridgewater was the soul of that locker room, so this was more of a big deal than some may realize. The Broncos were so impressed with Keenum, that they plunked down 36 million dollars over two years, 25 of which was guaranteed. Most thought it was a desperate move at the time, and it was. Denver was clearly impressed with what they saw in Minnesota’s film. At this point, one has to wonder if they’ve flipped from being Keenum fans to being fans of the guy who squeezed a big dollar performance out of him.
- Daniel Jones 2019 Giants (HC) – There are plenty of ways to tell the story of Pat Shurmur in 2019. He obviously needed to do better overall. He had issues with the New York media–his positivity was not well received once the losses started happening. The thing is, for our purposes here, Shurmur was a success story. I’m sort of surprised that he wasn’t given one more year if only because he did such good work with Jones. The rookie was brought into a pressure-packed situation and performed well from the get go. You don’t have to give Shurmur any credit, but you should be hard-pressed to find much blame considering the circumstances. 2019 featured a lot of injuries at receiver plus the lost year from Saquon Barkley. The rookie QB had plenty of good moments anyway.
Shurmur worked with most of these players at their career peaks or helped them on the way towards that point. This is hard to deny. Click on any of these quarterback’s names and you’ll go to a season where they worked with Shurmur. There is reason for optimism here. We always say that we want a coordinator who will design the offense to best fit the talent on hand. Shurmur has some positives here–mostly about how he makes things easier for his quarterback.
OL COACH MIKE MUNCHAK
He’s an elite coach at the OL position and the retirement of New England’s Dante Scarnecchia may put him at the top of the heap. He’s rumored to be the highest paid OL coach in the NFL and for good reason. So while Denver’s line won’t be ranked among the elite from a talent standpoint, don’t be surprised if they are a team strength anyway. They graded out well in 2019 despite some tough injuries and the talent is a little better as we head into 2020. Why include Munchak in this piece? Because this team is going to want balance and that makes it important that the run is well executed. If it is, that opens up the whole field for a QB and OC who can really use it.
HC VIC FANGIO
Fangio fears exist, but the idea that he could become a Mike Zimmer-type is not all that likely for a few reasons. First of all, for better or worse, John Elway leads this organization. I don’t see a Hall of Fame quarterback being talked into a stone-age approach. Look at the emphasis on the pass game over the last two drafts and I think we can double down on no stone age stuff. Old school to some extent, sure, but the pass game will not be riding in the side car.
It’s also worthy of note that Shurmur is one of the few OCs to throw the ball a fair amount while working under Zimmer. He’s been a head coach twice himself. He’ll be given the reigns most likely. I expect a balanced offense. This should mean that efficiency will be the driving factor in terms of play volume. And, for what it’s worth, I like their odds of being efficient.
When asked about whether he wants to be more aggressive on offense, Fangio said something interesting and perhaps even illuminative.
“Yeah, that’s what I like. Contrary to the stereotype that’s always out there, you know, a defensive coach, ya know, wants to ground-and-pound, considers a pitch to the halfback a pass, you know that’s not me. I like to be aggressive.”
Fangio knows he needs to win and impress. Going into a shell will not extend his tenure. It would appear that he brought in a coach who can do the opposite. It’s the right move and it’s an indication that this organization is pulling together rather than carrying conflicting agendas. Always a positive sign.
PACE OF PLAY
I spoke with the ETR’s Pat Thorman, who spends a lot of time looking at pace. Pat says he is “hopeful” for the offense if Shurmur is “dictating the pace.” The less good outcome being a Big Brother scenario with Fangio putting his thumb on the scale. As always, Pat had specifics.
“The Giants were 8th and 17th in situation-neutral pace with him as OC. They were 5th and 10th in situation-neutral pass rate. When he was in Minnesota they were 7th and 14th in situation-neutral pace while being 10th and 7th in situation-neutral pass rate. And obviously, his three years in Philadelphia were insane with Chip Kelly, where they were 1st in pace every year, even though they were balanced with run versus the pass.”
As I alluded to earlier, I feel good about avoiding the “Big Brother” scenario. Shurmur is not a OC who needs any babysitting. Fangio has a team and a defense to run. He says he wants to be more aggressive on offense. I think there’s a very good chance that he’s not involved in the offense in any problematic way.
After taking a pretty deep dive into the details, I am feeling good about Drew Lock and his overall situation. His skill set in combination with his platform (offense/surrounding talent) gives him plenty of potential. A quick look at his coaching staff might not excite the average fan and may even be a turn-off for some. Nevertheless, I think I’ve shown that if anything, the coaching is a positive in Denver. I think it leads to success for Lock, and I also have a good feeling about this team making a run at the post-season.
So in the end, we have a young quarterback with plus size, mobility and arm talent. He will be playing with better than average skill talent around him–particularly at the pass-catching positions. He should be supported by good offensive line play and a stable ground game. The pace of play should be somewhere between neutral and positive. The coach calling the plays has had great success with young quarterbacks, with an ability to design route structure that meshes with the quarterback’s skill set.
So yes, I think fantasy GMs can count on Drew Lock.
So I feel good about Drew Lock. Let’s take a look at what this means for fantasy purposes.
Courtland Sutton – With Jeudy, there is now another potentially great receiver on the team, so the dream of Sutton becoming an elite fantasy fixture takes a small hit. That said, he’ll be a locked in starter for a long, long time. He’s a player to target as a stable WR2 in redrafts. I’d also be careful about moving him, right now, in dynasty. If you want to go that way, there should be some big games in the first half where you can leverage him some. My feeling is that he’ll be a WR2 or better for a long time, so holding should work out just fine.
Jerry Jeudy – I expect a solid rookie season. The Covid is a reality for all rookies but if we get a full season, I think Jeudy is in a lot of fantasy lineups at some point as a flex or even WR3. Jeudy has few route limitations so he can be used in whatever way Shurmur needs to keep Lock going. Jeudy should quickly become a bit of a slack variable in this offense–there to fill in whatever gap a defense presents and balancing out what Sutton is running. That, along with his talent and draft capital, should make him a fantasy factor this season.
Noah Fant – Denver has depth at the position and they have a strong group of receivers. It’s also possible that we’ll see the Broncos run less 12 personnel (two tight ends) this season. Shurmur tends to use more 11 personnel (72.9 in 2020), which drops a tight end in favor of a third receiver. That leaves some mild floor concerns if Fant’s play is lacking, because his blocking will not keep him on the field. The Broncos have a lot of solid two-way tight ends if Fant falters. The ceiling is another story. Fant’s combination of size and speed makes him a very tough cover for defenses–defenses already spread pretty thin dealing with Sutton, Jeudy and company. I like drafting him as a late TE1 or early TE2 option, but I’d avoid leaning in and taking him well ahead of his ADP.
Melvin Gordon – Gordon stays in his division which is a plus for him as far as being comfortable. He’ll know a lot about his opponents. His reception totals will miss riding shotgun with Philip Rivers, but there’s good news too. Gordon has had a lot of tough luck with offensive linemen over his career. Denver is a good situation with Munchak running the show. I think he runs well in his new home and he’s obviously good in the pass game. He should handle most passing situations. Pat Shurmur likes to use his backs in the pass game. I am fine with targeting Gordon at his current third round ADP.
Phillip Lindsay – He’s going to run as the second back and that obviously means his fantasy value takes a hit. The kind of hit that takes him out of the RB1 conversation entirely. He’s being drafted in or around the 10th round in most drafts, in the same area as Latavius Murray and Tony Pollard. So he can be handcuffed with Gordon or taken as an anti-fragility back. The one thing that you need to remember is that, given volume, Lindsay can be great, so keep him in mind in the late middle of drafts. My guess is that, if Gordon goes down, Lindsay would become a weekly RB1 option in his stead.
Drew Lock – I think Lock is a hold or an add in dynasty leagues. He could have significant superflex value as early as this season. In redraft leagues, he’ll be in the middle area of my rankings but with some upside potential. Definitely a player you can go after very late in short leagues. As I alluded to early on, this article is as much about Lock’s impact on the other skill players as it is about Lock’s value itself. Quarterback is an insanely deep position in 2020, and Lock should be yet another example of that.
I’ll be updating all of these takes when I publish the 2020 Rotobahn 500 next month. I’ll also be going into even more depth on tomorrow’s Rotobahn Podcast.