Drew Lock May Be a Steal for the Denver Broncos

Simply by falling out of the first round Thursday night, Drew Lock's chances of ever being a game-changing quarterback took a serious hit. Even with your Tom Brady and Russell Wilson success stories, it's rare for a non-first-rounder to make an impact at the next level without being among the first names called in the draft.

With that being said, it's possible the Denver Broncos just got themselves a steal.

Lock has several things working in his favor, and those don't just dry up because he fell out of the first round. It just may make the road a bit tougher for him.

Let's go through what Lock brings to the table, why he fits the mold of past successful non-first-rounders, and whether he can be the long-term answer at quarterback for the Broncos.

Experience Matters

Before we dive into Lock's appeal, it's important to note just how long the odds are for this guy to be a rock-solid quarterback now that the league has deemed him unworthy of a selection in the first round.

Among all quarterbacks to enter the NFL since 2000 as non-first-round picks, only seven have had multiple seasons as top-10 passers based on Total Net Expected Points (NEP, numberFire's metric that tracks the expected points added or subtracted on each drop back and rush a quarterback records). Here's that list.

Multiple Top-10 Seasons Round Pick
Drew Brees 2 32
Russell Wilson 3 73
Matt Schaub 3 90
Kirk Cousins 4 102
Marc Bulger 6 168
Tom Brady 6 199
Tony Romo UDFA

Obviously, there are some impressive names on that list. But to have only seven names total across almost 20 seasons of data paints a grim picture for Lock's prospects of being a star.

Because of that, we shouldn't enter Lock's career as a Bronco assuming he'll eventually take over the reins as starter and make the rest of the league pay for passing him up. However, Lock does share some key similarities with those other success stories above.

In order to get some extra data points, let's open things up to include quarterbacks with at least one top-10 season in Total NEP. This gets us to 17 total quarterbacks, adding guys like Andy Dalton and Derek Carr into the mix. They're not stars, but they're multi-season starters who had at least one really solid season in the NFL.

When we look at these 17 quarterbacks, here's the median of their marks coming out of college alongside Lock's resume coming out of Mizzou. The "Games Played" column refers to the number of games in which they recorded at least 10 pass attempts, their age is how old they were during their final collegiate season, and the efficiency stats are what they did during their final years in college.

College Resumes Games Played Age AY/A Pass. Eff. Rat.
Drew Lock 47 22 8.5 147.7
Successful Non-First-Round QBs 39 22 7.7 145.6

Outside of Wilson, most of these non-first-rounders had just middling efficiency stats but entered the NFL with boatloads of experience under their belts. Lock falls into the same buckets.

Lock started from his freshman season on at Mizzou, racking up 99 career passing touchdowns, third-most in SEC history. If it's experience you want, you've got it in Lock.

As you'll see above, Lock's final-year efficiency was nothing too special with an 8.5 AY/A. But that was still higher than the median for our other successful non-first-rounders, and he topped a 7.7 AY/A in each of his final three years in school. That final-year efficiency mark may also not reflect how good Lock was.

Lock faced a brutal schedule, recording 56.5% of his pass attempts in 2018 against defenses ranked in the top 50 in Football Outsiders' pass defense S&P+. No other top quarterback in this year's class had more than 44.2% of their pass attempts against these tougher foes.

Lock's efficiency stats did lag in those games, but he also essentially had to play four of those seven without top receiver Emanuel Hall (Hall was out for three and played injured during another). Understandably, Lock got rocked in those games.

But when Hall was healthy, Lock did manage to perform well, even against tougher defenses.

Versus Top-50 Pass Ds Attempts TDs INTs AY/A
Lock With Hall 110 9 2 9.0
Lock Without Hall 137 1 5 3.9

This could lead you to believe that Lock was merely a creation of Hall. But in the one game that Lock played without Hall against a non-elite defense, he threw for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 29 attempts. Additionally, if Lock succeeded simply because Hall was good, then Hall likely should have been a first-round pick. Instead, both are still waiting to hear their names.

Overall, when Hall was on the field and healthy, Lock had a 10.1 AY/A this past year, just a bit south of Dwayne Haskins' full-season mark of 10.3. Lock definitely has his issues with accuracy and consistency, but when he had respectable weapons around him, he put up good numbers.

A look back at Lock's 2017 stats also helps legitimize what he did with Hall on the field in 2018. Over 13 games in 2017, Lock had a 10.2 AY/A, the best mark in the SEC and the fourth-best in the nation. Although his completion percentage was low, Lock racked up touchdowns and chunk plays, and that's what you want at the next level.

This is all without even discussing the traits that Lock offers as a quarterback and an athlete. He has a cannon of an arm that led to success on deep passes, and he tested as a plus athlete at the combine with an 86th-percentile SPARQ score, according to Player Profiler. He showed in college he was willing to use that athleticism to his advantage.

Drew Lock Rushing

Deep passes and quarterback runs are both high-efficiency plays in expected points models, and those areas are where Lock can provide a boost. In a league that seems to value traits more and more each year, that makes it a bit more curious that Lock fell this far.

Again, the odds Lock winds up hitting are now much longer given that he fell this far. But he has some of what you look for in a starter at quarterback. This seems to be a worthwhile gamble by John Elway.

Looking Forward

Because Joe Flacco is already on the Broncos' roster, we shouldn't expect Lock to start right away in 2019. But the path to a starting job isn't all that arduous.

Among 43 quarterbacks who logged at least 100 drop backs last year, Flacco ranked 21st in Passing NEP per drop back with the Baltimore Ravens. It was better than what Case Keenum gave the Broncos, but it also wasn't enough to hold off Lamar Jackson.

If Flacco struggles, it shouldn't be a shock to Lock wiggle his way into the starting lineup. If Lock were to start with this Broncos team, he would have a decent infrastructure around him.

The team had already added a pass-catcher with Noah Fant in the first round, and they beefed up the offensive line with Dalton Risner in the second. Add in last year's draft picks in Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton along with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, and the surrounding talent here isn't too shabby.

We don't want to set expectations too high for Lock. It's worth reiterating -- one more time -- that non-first-round quarterbacks rarely hit. But Lock does things that translate well to the NFL, and he turned that into successful stretches in college. If Lock hits his ceiling, the Broncos will have gotten a steal with this pick.