We All Need Someone to Lean on, Part Four: Drew Lock’s 2020 Outlook

David Willsey

Editor’s note: This is the fourth piece in a six-part series. Be sure to check out the remaining parts at DLF coming soon!

READ: Part One: Young Quarterbacks and the Dispersal of Targets | Part Two: Kyler Murray‘s 2020 Outlook | Part Three: Daniel Jones‘ 2020 Outlook

We have hit part four where we will look at the 2019 42nd overall selection for the Denver Broncos, Drew Lock. When the season began, the plan was for Lock to sit and learn while competing for the backup job. If you remember a statement made by Denver’s head coach on July 19th, 2019…

Vic Fangio said: “He’s not a quarterback yet — he’s a hard-throwing pitcher that doesn’t know how to pitch yet.”

The plan was completely derailed on August 19th when Lock sprained his thumb significantly enough to land him on injured reserve and keep him off the practice field until mid-November while Joe Flacco would handle the quarterbacking duties for the first half of the year.

Then Flacco landed on injured reserve with a neck injury and he was followed by Brandon Allen. 2016 sixth-round pick Allen started three games, in which he had a 1-2 record and completed just 46.4% of his passes, so the table was set for Lock to walk in and take the job.

Rookie Campaign

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Images from the ADP Over Time Tool.

You can see that Lock’s implied value hit a low while he was on IR which is not a shock but could be unwarranted to such an extent as we knew he was going to be sitting likely anyway. But, with Flacco being removed from the equation and the only thing standing between him and a starting job a man who did not throw a ball in an NFL game until three years after he was drafted (Allen), Lock shot into the top 200 and peaked at 152.

A Large Enough Sample?

We did not get to see a lot of Lock and the supporting cast but we did get a decent five-game sample in which the number one target was clear as day. It was not the largest sample size again, but Courtland Sutton posted the highest target share for the number one options for the four rookie quarterbacks. Sutton was the only top target for a rookie first or second-rounder in 2019 with higher than 25% in each of the percentage shares.

Target And Production Breakdown

Note: Target and production breakdown reflects only the games in which the QB and receiving options were on the field together to best assess the usage.

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Despite the sample size being just five games, Lock’s dispersal of the targets may be the most accurate assessment outside of Kyler Murray because each of the top three targets played in every game and for the most part, the other skill position players were healthy. Running back Theo Riddick – who never stepped on the field – and WR Tim Patrick were really the only major long-term losses. The concerning thing to look at here when projecting the future is the decrease in usage for the Broncos rookie tight end Noah Fant. Fant averaged 4.7 targets per game prior to Lock taking over but saw just 2.8 targets per game following his return from the IR.

Fant saw 4.1 targets per game from Flacco and 6.3 from Allen but had just one game of the final five in which he received more than three targets. This followed eight of the first 11 with four-plus targets. One way we can help to explain this is despite Fant being on the field, he was not 100% healthy at the end of the season. Fant suffered a foot injury on December 8th against the Houston Texans and did not see over three targets the rest of the season. Let us hope this drop was injury-related because Fant was head and shoulders the best rookie at the position last season.

2020 Draft

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Draft picks via Pro Football Reference.

There was some speculation that Denver would go for a wide receiver in the draft and that it may have been a field-stretching option to open up the underneath for Sutton and Fant. They did just that with the selection of KJ Hamler, the smaller yet very fast WR out of Penn State. What we did not really expect was that they would also add two more wideouts, one in the first round at 15th overall, and another hyper-athletic tight end with blocking deficiencies.

Fant will almost certainly see an increase in the targets he saw from Lock so we can assume he will have a great shot to be one of the top options again as he was from weeks 1-11. This is almost certain when you consider new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and his usage of the tight end during previous stops like the New York Giants, who we mentioned above, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Then we should also consider that the hyper-athletic TE we spoke of, Albert Okwuegbunam, was a top-three TE option had he declared last season. Lock was his quarterback in college so there is a bit of a connection. That will be helpful with limited practice time leading up to the season.

Sutton is not going anywhere but the addition of a receiver who many had as the number one coming out for a long time in Jerry Jeudy could limit the ceiling a bit. However, Sutton showed enough last season to give us confidence that he will likely remain the top target. The addition of Hamler could really help stretch the field and open up the short to intermediate-range targets as we mentioned above. DaeSean Hamilton could stay in the slot role depending on how fast the new additions pick up the offense but his time is likely very limited and Tim Patrick will almost certainly be pushed out.

Wrapping It Up

We can feel pretty safe in the thought that Sutton will remain the one option in Denver and Fant should enter his week 1-11 target share range at least. What we can really take a look at is the number two option.

If you remember from the previous parts in the series, the second option gets a bump in year two of the quarterback’s career. Jeudy could be in line for a little more volume than we anticipate if he can command that second leading target role. The love for Jeudy may have fallen a bit but maybe this is a reason to build it back up slightly.

One last thing to consider is the receiver Melvin Gordon has shown to be out of the backfield. The newest member of the running back room likely will not be targeted to the same capacity that he was on the Los Angeles Chargers but Phillip Lindsay was often brought out of the game for Royce Freeman on third downs. Gordon when healthy is the best of both of the two other RBs and more. Lindsay could be relegated to a handcuff role. We shall see though. Thank you for reading and part five is on the way!

You can follow me on Twitter (@willson8tor) – as well as all the other great members of the DLF family – and on dlfstg02.dynastyleaguefootball.com, where there is no off-season.

david willsey