In the first of Thin Air’s series on previewing 2017’s training camp for the Broncos is a look at quarterbacks.
Let’s get right to it: the most important position on a football team will for the second straight year be among the positions most closely competed for in Broncos training camp and preseason. Due to the nature of this competition, it’s difficult to encapsulate all angles of it in one article, so feedback as you see it is particularly encouraged for this position.
There appears to be a sense of skepticism among observers leaguewide that Siemian can hold onto the starting quarterback job. The laziest evidence is that quarterbacks picked in the seventh round have a poor track record of turning into starters–an analysis that can quickly turn into a gambler’s fallacy if not checked. The fairer evidence is poor play down the stretch in 2016 after a 7-1 beginning to the season. However, this tale needs to account for the fact that Siemian played with multiple injuries after his winning his first four starts. The retort is that these type of injuries may actually be why Siemian isn’t a viable starter in the NFL–he may have a Tony Eason like reputation for having a frame that just can’t take the punishment that the NFL dishes out. While this accusation may end up to be true, one season alone cannot determine this, especially after Siemian eked out a winning record at 8-6.
Siemian also narrowly holds the most experience on the roster, something he did not have at this time last year when he had to fend off Mark Sanchez. This may or may not amount to much as the Broncos transition from an offense ran by Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison to one to be run by Mike McCoy. But Siemian appears to have the rhythms of the NFL life down through his first two years. The question will be if the lack of any particular skillset puts a glass ceiling on him that he just can’t shatter.
By most accounts, it was evident that Lynch was not ready for a starting job in his rookie season. He failed to win the starting job from Siemian, and a particularly green game against Jacksonville should have pumped the brakes on a hype train (even if he did end up winning that game).
On the one hand, the rookie rollercoaster is over for Lynch. On the other hand, he now has to learn a new offensive system under McCoy. While there’s a risk of reset in Lynch’s mind, that risk also exists for Siemian. The prevailing wisdom so far is that Lynch is behind Siemian mentally, but the sample size of one season is small. There could be a chance that McCoy’s system is even more difficult for Lynch to learn–but at the same time it could also be easier. Every person’s mind operates differently, so judgment should not be rushed upon in this department.
Indeed, Lynch was cited as having “a great day” in one of the later days of OTAs. Of course, OTAs are not training camp sessions. Consistent production will be important for Lynch grasp upon in August. If he can do that, then combined with his physical talent he could gain the upper hand in the competition.
The story of how Kelly ended up as Mr. Irrelevant is well known, and it can be summed up by Mike Mayock proclaiming that “if you take out the medical and the character, he’s a first or second round quarterback.” Those risks are not irrelevant, but selecting Kelly as Mr. Irrelevant does mitigate the risk in that if those problems flare up again, it only cost the Broncos the least amount of draft capital possible.
Should Kelly have a future with the Broncos, however, there are a few roster aspects that need clarification with regard to him. First of all, there’s a notion among the Broncos fanbase at large that the team could give Kelly a redshirt year by stowing him away on IR or another reserve list for 2017 due to his injuries before the draft. This notion is erroneous. The only roster designation that the Broncos can use on Kelly would be NFI (and not PUP, since NFI covers injuries sustained in college and before the draft). It is indeed highly likely that Kelly will begin camp on the Active/NFI list simply because it’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition–even if Kelly only spends a day or less on that list.
If Kelly still isn’t sufficiently healed by the time the roster is cut down to 53 players, the Broncos may be able to transition him to Reserve/NFI that would shut him down for a minimum of six weeks while gaining a roster exemption for him. But by the letter of the rule, Kelly has to be actually still injured for that designation to be used. This rule could be bent for most lowly drafted or UDFA rookies, as normally they’d be thrilled to get their salary fully guaranteed on a reserve list. But because Kelly is a unique case with his talent, he may have good reason to not play along with such a move if there’s a chance that other teams would be willing to add him to their active roster.
This is why, as long as he shows some basic level of football competence in camp, that Kelly should be considered as a favorite to make the 53-player roster. The odds are heightened upon observing that this is the most important position on an NFL roster, and it’s a position with much uncertainty in Denver. John Elway also has a track record of keeping a third quarterback on the active roster, doing so with Zac Dysert and Siemian in their rookie years despite the presence of Peyton Manning.
Sloter signed a UDFA deal with Denver even in spite of the team drafting Kelly. We were given a wonderful essay by guest writer Miles Garrett on reasons not to count Sloter out among the quarterback competition. Still, on the one hand Sloter should be seen as a long shot to make the 53-player roster, if for no other reason that his potential is not nearly as known leaguewide as that of Siemian, Lynch or Kelly.
On the other hand, the odds should be fairly decent that he makes the practice squad, even if Kelly makes the active roster. Again, this goes back to the uncertainty of the quarterback position as a whole. Indemnifying the team with multiple quarterback insurance policies is smart in a situation like the Broncos could be in.