The biggest news about the NFL was about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which has left Denver Broncos fans drooling at what the orange and blue MVP could do. Anyone can imagine what that would mean for a franchise that has struggled mightily for the past five seasons.
With Rodgers becoming more likely to either retire or play for the Packers again, the Broncos need third year QB Drew Lock to make a significant leap forward.
The hotly debated topic is whether Lock can turn such a corner. Let’s face the facts, Lock wasn’t very good in 2020. In fact, his statistical work, time-adjusted, was in the top 100 worst seasons for a quarterback in his first or sophomore year since 1960.
Lock has a sizable mountain to climb, but he doesn’t have to be a top 10 quarterback with this line-up. If he can claw his way out of the basement and even hit NFL average status statistically, that could be enough for the 2021 Broncos in 2021 and give the front office more confidence in his trajectory.
But where does Lock start to make a quantum leap forward?
What needs to be improved
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
From a statistical point of view, measuring the main categories for a quarterback is straightforward. They measure their performance in completion percentage, yards per game, touchdowns per game and interceptions per game.
There are plenty of other categories we can dive into, but if Lock can make improvements in the areas listed above, he’ll be a better quarterback. We could also look at the passerby rating, but if he improves these four areas, his rating will increase accordingly.
Can Lock succeed in this improvement? In theory, of course. Everyone has the potential to improve. But it could get worse.
Theorizing is great, but reality matters. How can we understand whether it is really possible for Lock to fill this gap? By studying the past – which brings back the time-adjusted analysis I mentioned earlier.
If we look at the performance improvement of every quarterback season since 1960 – where a quarterback was a year or two away from their first qualifying season – we can see how easy or difficult it is to improve. In Lock’s case, all we have to do is see if he can improve on his 2020 performance to rise into the NFL median this year.
To reach the average, Lock needs to increase his completion percentage by ~ 14%, yards per game by ~ 9%, touchdowns per game by ~ 40%, and intercepts per game by ~ 40%. First we have to see how many of the nearly 260 individual quarterbacks and around 425 such second and / or third qualifying seasons since 1960 have improved by these percentages in the respective categories individually and in combination.
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How difficult is it to improve?
Isaiah J. Downing / USA today
Here are the results one by one if we talk about what it would take Lock to get his game up to the NFL average:
- 15% improved degree of completion at least 14%
- 52% improved yards per game at least 9%
- 31% improved touchdowns per game, at least 40%
- 13% improved interceptions per game at least -40%
It’s a 50/50 bet that locks yards will improve per game and he has a good chance that his touchdowns will improve per game. The other two categories are harder to poke because of history.
Here are the results in combination:
- <1% improved all four categories by the required percentages
- 9% improved three categories by the required percentages
- 34% improved two categories by the required percentages
Can Lock make the jump?
There is a small chance that Lock will improve all four categories by the required percentages. If he does, it will only be the fifth time since 1960 that it has happened. That would be a historic event and the cards are stacked against him.
However, the analysis shows that it is more likely that Lock will improve in two of the four categories. Remember, last season he had no training camp, a new offensive coordinator, the early loss of his top receiver and difficulty being on the same side with rookies with little time for it.
Plus, Lock got better as the season progressed, which is a good sign, and his rookie season (despite not qualifying for analysis) had some solid games.
Unfortunately, Lock’s prospects of improving to NFL averages across all categories don’t seem feasible. The jump necessary is a sizable one and possibly just too big, meaning it is unlikely to climb into the top 16 NFL QBs.
To add to the dire prospect, the Broncos’ ultimate success lies in Lock upgrading the wiretapping category. He has to give Vic Fangio’s defense a chance as the Broncos will rely heavily on this side of the ball.
This is the most difficult area to improve, but it is key. If you give the opponent extra possession, the Broncos will be thrown into a hole and only historically good defense can get them out.
If Lock fails to improve the NFL average he will be replaced by Teddy Bridgewater and will not consider the Broncos’ plans for 2022, the playoff hunt and he will begin to take on that part of the future of the franchise.
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