There’s no doubt that we have a legitimate quarterback battle brewing in the Mile High City, but it’s also true that we’ve gotten lost in a false narrative that’s taken over the discussion and clouded the truth. We’re all guilty of it.
The Denver Broncos two young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, aren’t all they’re made out to be, and that might just be a good thing.
Allow me to explain.
Trevor Siemian isn’t a game manager
The narrative that is furthest from the truth is that Siemian is simply a game manager with no flashy tools or upside.
Siemian never truly got a chance to show-off his arm in 2016, when teams only had to stop his outside receivers, because of a revolving door at tight end and in the slot. Not to mention, the offensive line's struggles in pass protection that made deep throws virtually impossible to uncork. Add that on top of the lack of a bonafide run game, which allowed defenses to key in on Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders with no repercussions.
Part of this misconception about Siemian’s arm and accuracy is simply that he appears more accurate and smarter than Lynch because his transition has been smoother, but ball placement and accuracy have actually been an issue for Siemian in his NFL career. Consider that he’s never had an above 60-percent completion rate all through college and his one season in the pros. It's clear when watching film that his ball placement and in particular throwing behind his receivers was one of his biggest issues in 2016 even on short-to-intermediate throws.
There’s also a misconception about him being a safe thrower, which isn't supported by his interception numbers and how he could have had several more just last season. He also wasn’t all that conservative at Northwestern throwing 24 career picks to only 27 touchdowns.
While everyone is talking about Lynch’s athleticism, he is even more athletic than given credit, showing some really nice skills throwing on the run and on scrambles.
The defining false narrative on Siemian is that he was drafted in the seventh round because of his game-management skills. A hard narrative to buy considering he was never the full-time starter at Northwestern. The reason he was drafted is that he looks the part with his ultra-quick release and already advanced footwork. He’s got the size and the arm. He looks, plays, walks, and talks like a pro. So even though he wasn’t the full-time starter on a fairly mediocre team, the Broncos took a chance on his tools and personality. That’s what we call an upside pick, folks.
What’s the real issue with Paxton?
With Lynch being a highly touted first-rounder the misconceptions are more nuanced here. Sure, Lynch’s best assets are his arm and his legs, all powered by his big frame, but he’s not an inaccurate quarterback by any means.
In fact, the skill that stood out most and was most promising from his collegiate tape was Lynch's ability to make plays under duress - showing great poise in the pocket - and his accuracy on intermediate throws. Particularly throws over the underneath defender and right in front of the high defender covering over the top. Those are tough plays to make.
Actually, Lynch’s issue isn’t accuracy at all, not his arm at least. His issue with staying consistently accurate is between the ears and below the belt. The first thing that you'll notice is that his ability to quickly process information and go through his reads is still catching up, which is to be expected, coming from a spread offense at Memphis. His accuracy is also affected by his footwork, another raw part of his game that still needs work with a much larger percentage of snaps under center as a Bronco.
Lynch is working on all that while also having to learn NFL language, learning two new playbooks in two seasons, calling plays from the huddle and having to memorize a lot more information than was ever required before.
All this requires patience, but it’s also a talent that’s hard to predict until you see the kid in the line of fire. Being able to read NFL defenses at NFL speed is a rare talent that very few people posses. If you want to monitor Paxton’s progress in preseason or when you go to camp, watch his feet, watch how many reads he goes through in the pocket, see if he’s holding onto the ball or keeping the offense in rhythm. His accuracy is a byproduct of all of that.
Much like Siemian’s best day came when he made big plays deep, Lynch’s best days came yes when he aired it out and ran it, but also when he was efficient in the red zone.
Lynch’s big college breakout game came against Ole Miss when he handled pressure beautifully, making big plays throwing on the run while running away from pressure and while standing tough in the pocket. He has the poise and guts to make NFL plays against talented defenses; he just needs to catch up to the speed of the pro game and avoid mistakes.
Taking too much time in the pocket and speeding up his decision making is key for Paxton, especially as he learns a new offense and is trying to smoothen out his lower body mechanics.
What it means for the future
There's still a whole bunch to work on for both of these quarterbacks, and the timing of it all could be tricky. Denver, of course, would prefer to figure out a long term solution sooner rather than later - or establish that they don't have a solution so they can move on. Ultimately, consistency lies at the core for both, regardless of tools or big time upside.
Siemian's arm is more than good enough, but he also can't take all the risks he did in 2016. Cleaning up his decision making and ball placement will make or break him this season and beyond. With Lynch, it's a little more complex; he needs to first grow up as a football player. While the future remains bright for Lynch, who still has every necessary tool and more, there are mechanical issues that have to be overcome.
If it feels like things haven't always gone according to script in the quarterback competition maybe it's because the script is outdated.
This quarterback battle isn’t of upside against playing it safe; it's a battle of two young quarterbacks who are far from perfect, but both have intriguing and different skill sets. Get behind who wins out and don't put any limits on their ceiling, you never know, they just might surprise you and turn into something special.