The Broncos last made the postseason in 2015, with that playoff run eventually leading to their third Super Bowl title in franchise history.
As the team prepares for the 2020 NFL season, is an appearance in the playoffs, and subsequent push to the Super Bowl, an unrealistic goal for them to aim for?
Not if you ask supporters of the team’s starting quarterback: Drew Lock.
Coming off a rookie campaign that featured a 4-1 record and a 64-percent completion rate in his five starts under center, the Missouri alum is dialed in heading into his sophomore season.
And, after all of the excitement that came with Patrick Mahomes’ second year in both the league and the Broncos’ own division, Lock is surrounded by all sorts of hype heading into the 2020 season.
Broncos fans got a first-hand look at the mastery that Mahomes displayed in 2018, when Denver suffered defeats in two separate one-possession games against the Chiefs that fall. In the first of those two battles, the Broncos gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter, scored just three points of their own in those 12 minutes, and lost by four points in the process.
Now, the Mile High faithful see a light at the end of the tunnel: the shine from the rising star that is Drew Lock. And rightfully so, especially when you compare the sample sizes between Lock’s rookie year and Mahomes’ first few starts.
In 2017, Mahomes made just one start for the Chiefs as a rookie, going 22-for-35 with 284 yards against, you guessed it, the Broncos. He put up the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in a single game in franchise history, and led the team to a 27-24 win.
Meanwhile, after coming off the injured reserve following a preseason thumb injury, Lock got thrown into the action in five games as a rookie, debuting against the Chargers on December 1, 2019. He started on the right foot, throwing for 134 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 23-20 victory.
He followed that up with a three-touchdown first half against the Texans a week later, finishing with 309 passing yards in a 38-24 win. Then, he threw in a 25-for-33 day with 192 yards and a touchdown two weeks later, and a 17-for-28 performance with 177 yards and a touchdown to end the season
He tied John Elway for the most wins by a rookie quarterback in franchise history, doing so in half as many games as the Broncos legend. And so, the hype train began its journey down the tracks.
Sure, the circumstances were/are different. Mahomes came into the league as the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, while Lock fell all the way to the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, going 42nd overall.
Mahomes was learning under the tutelage of Alex Smith on a playoff team as a rookie, while Lock was injured for most of the year and took the helm of a squad that finished 7-9, behind the Chiefs in the same division.
But, there’s a similar curiosity about what Lock can do in his sophomore campaign, his first full season as an NFL starter.
And, despite Broncos head coach Vic Fangio’s best efforts to halt the hype train on the tracks after Lock’s rookie year, even he was full of praise when discussing Lock’s approach and preparations.
“He’s picked up right where he left off last year,” Fangio said during the offseason. “He’s ready to go. He’s chomping at the bit and all is good on that front right now.”
Fangio mentioned that Lock “improved on a weekly basis” in 2019, and said he “continued that upward trend throughout the offseason,” which may be scary news for the team’s rivals in the AFC West.
Add in the fresh faces in the team’s locker room following the 2020 NFL Draft, including wide receivers like Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Penn State’s KJ Hamler, and the sky is the limit for Lock in 2020.
“Drew Lock helped a lot during the offseason,” Jeudy said in August. “He’s a great leader. He’s a guy that leads by example.”
“When he talks, everybody listens. That’s the type of guy that you need on your team — that does everything by their actions.”
Lock also has another thing going for him: confidence. A quarterback can have the strongest arm or smoothest throwing motion in the world, but if they don’t believe in themselves, they likely won’t go very far in the NFL.
For Lock, his confidence shows both on the field and off of it, as seen when he “Put On” for his city while rapping on the sidelines during a game in Denver.
“He plays with a different type of swagger and we love to see it,” Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. “When you’ve got that young energy around you, it feeds off. When it comes from your quarterback who everyone looks at as your leader, I think it brings a different juice, a different energy to everybody.”
Lock has the talent, evident by his performance in his rookie year. He has the motivation and determination to be great, apparent by his improvement and involvement in team workouts throughout the offseason. And, as Sutton said, he has the “swagger.”
So, when factoring it all in, does he have what it takes to bring the Broncos back to the Promised Land?
“I think he deserves the hype,” Broncos guard Dalton Risner said. “He played five games last year and proved that he was about it. I think he has a lot more to prove this year, and I know Drew is going to step up to the plate and do that.”