Backup quarterback is a thankless job. For some quarterbacks, however, it is the position in which they thrive most. In other words, assuming the backup role is genuinely ideal for quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran passer has made a career out of playing backup quarterback and finding moderate success when promoted to the starting role because of injury or inefficiency. Should the Denver Broncos choose to begin the 2021 season with Drew Lock at quarterback, they will need to sign a veteran quarterback to sit behind him on the depth chart. Based on the free agent and rookie quarterback landscape and given the Broncos other needs, it seems Ryan Fitzpatrick is, perhaps, the perfect fit to back up the still-developing Lock.
Fear the Beard: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Drew Lock, and the Denver Broncos
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Road So Far
The journeyman quarterback is a veteran with 165 games of experience since 2005. This makes him a battle-tested passer— unlike most alternative free agent options. If Drew Lock is to start at quarterback, he will need a seasoned presence in the quarterback room. Unfortunately, this is not something Brett Rypien or any of the other quarterbacks in Denver are legitimately capable of providing. Signing (or not signing) a backup like Fitzpatrick could prove the most pivotal offseason maneuver the Broncos make.
As a Harvard graduate, Fitzpatrick’s mind on the field has never been in doubt. He added surprising athleticism on the run, which is reflective of his greater display of grit for a quarterback. In his 16 seasons in the league, he accrued just about 35,000 passing yards, 223 touchdowns, and 169 interceptions. With over 2,600 rushing yards and 21 rushing scores, Fitzpatrick has proven himself versatile as well as reliable.
Flying High with Former Broncos
He started 10 or more games in half of his seasons in the league. In those starts, he won 44 games while drawing one and losing 64. In seasons where he was not the starting quarterback for 10-plus games, however, he won 15 and lost 22. These numbers suggest Fitzpatrick is better suited for the backup role, where he can easily establish a rhythm when on the field. However, his performance in his first year starting with the New York Jets (2015) suggests there em is the potential for more long-term, sustained success.
In sixteen games for Gang Green, Fitzpatrick enjoyed his best season to date by throwing to former Denver Broncos. Narrowly missing playoffs with 10 wins, the Harvard alumnus passed for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. All three of these figures, however, were—and remain—career highs. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker combined for 189 catches, 2,529 yards, and 26 touchdowns. At the time, this trio’s average age was just a hair younger than 31.
Fly Even Higher with Current Denver Broncos
The 2021 Denver Broncos boast a younger, faster, and arguably more electric set of pass-catchers than the 2015 Jets. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and K.J. Hamler provide the Denver offense with all of the contributing factors you need from your wide receivers. Sutton provides size, leadership, and a true number-one threat; Jeudy wields agility, finesse, and elite route-running; Hamler offers field-stretching speed, explosiveness from the slot, and the ability to manipulate defenses horizontally and vertically.
Denver’s Quarterback Situation
Drew Lock will likely see the lion’s share of starts at quarterback in 2021. Nonetheless, it is not inconceivable Fitzpatrick (or another backup) would see the field. Since Denver drafted Lock, he has missed 15 of his possible 32 games (when excluding the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for obvious reasons). If it is not injury delegating Lock to the bench, there is a high chance inefficiency could do the deed.
Simply put, if Lock crashes and burns, the backup quarterback on the 2021 Denver Broncos roster will be the most important person on the roster. Alternatives like Brett Rypien, Jameis Winston, and the crop of rookie quarterbacks behind Trevor Lawrence do not seem fit for the task. Ryan Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for this Broncos team.
What Ryan Fitzpatrick Could Bring to the Denver Broncos
With weapons like these, Lock is set up perfectly for success for the first time in his young professional career. That said, he has quite a bit of work to do to become the quarterback Denver needs him to be. His backup quarterback must be able to provide veteran insight into his issues. This is the simplest way to most effectively train them out of his habits. Those specific issues boil down to about four primary culprits.
Adjusting the offensive line pre-snap, commanding and calling plays in the huddle, footwork, going through his progressions, and pocket navigation on traditional drop-backs.
Ryan Fitzpatrick offers more to Lock in those areas than any of the other free agent quarterback options. He certainly offers more than any of the incoming rookie quarterbacks. Fitzpatrick’s acumen, football I.Q., and wealth of experience make him the most ideal candidate to help young Lock with mental aspects of the position.
Mental Side of the Ball
After 16 seasons and 165 games, Fitzpatrick has become a more efficient player at identifying pressures and defensive looks pre-snap. As a result, he has made improved pre-snap adjustments to the offensive line’s blocking responsibilities as his career has progressed. With second-year lineman Lloyd Cushenberry III centering the interior of the offensive line, this is pivotal to the offense’s success.
Similarly, Fitzpatrick would likely have a marked effect on Lock’s ability to master the verbiage. By extension, he would help Lock command the huddle with said verbiage. Drew Lock is by no means unintelligent. With a Harvard mind serving as a proverbial angel on his shoulder, however, he should find the nuances of his scheme and its verbiage easier to understand and apply. Understanding the plays behind this nuance is also important. Fitzpatrick could undoubtedly help in this regard as well.
Playing in his second season in the same scheme for the first time since early in his college experience should help Lock with his progressions. Lock did set the S.E.C. record for passing touchdowns in a season when he was able to have his offensive coordinator return. Fitzpatrick’s veteran understanding of the game and the position should offer significant support, too.
Physical Side of the Ball
The gritty, field-tested veteran can also provide Lock with assistance in some of the physical concerns. These concerns plagued Lock’s first 17 games. Like Lock, Fitzpatrick has enough athleticism and quickness to run around in the backfield when facing intense pressure. Similarly, they can both scramble for first downs when need be. Therein lies the difference between Fitzpatrick and Lock. It is the savvy with which Fitzpatrick navigates the pocket under pressure and climbs it when given a clean passing lane.
It is true Lock showed the ability to climb the pocket toward the end of the 2020 campaign, but he has yet to display consistency with this requisite quarterbacking skill. With Fitzpatrick’s help, Lock’s second season in this scheme can clean up mechanical issues associated with this very skill, such as his problematic footwork. Tending to deteriorate under pressure, Lock’s footwork is arguably the most glaring concern in his bundle of physical concerns. While Fitzpatrick’s footwork is not the best in the game, it is undeniably superior to Lock’s and the young Missouri alumnus would be lucky to train to use it himself.
The Last Word
Some members of Broncos Country do not want to see Drew Lock start in 2021, and they have valid concerns. Similarly, others in the fanbase prefer to give Lock this true chance for the first time in his time with Denver, and their arguments are no less valid. Unless Denver acquires Deshaun Watson, it is highly likely Lock will start for the Broncos in 2021.
As a result, special attention must be paid to the backup quarterback position. Even if quarterbacks starting ahead of the Harvard alumnus tend to become his backup sooner than later, he seems the perfect candidate to mentor Lock. Alternative quarterback options simply cannot provide the team or Lock with the same level and importance of contribution as Fitzpatrick.
Whether the Denver Broncos sign Ryan Fitzpatrick or not, one thing is for sure. By the end of the 2021 season, Broncos Country will have a far clearer idea of an actual answer to the Drew Lock question.
One way or another.
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