Since the fall of quarterback Trevor Siemian, Broncos fans have been ubiquitously clamoring for a new signal caller in Denver. Many demanded that General Manager John Elway draft a fresh name while on the other hand, many wanted an established name.
In signing Case Keenum from the Vikings, Elway satisfied a sizable amount of Broncos fans but also left many unsatisfied. However, the real question is whether John Elway is content. Will he be happy to go into 2018 with just Keenum under center, or will he turn to the fountain of youth as well?
After Signing Keenum, Will John Elway Draft A Quarterback?
The biggest factor in whether John Elway will draft a quarterback will hinge on Elway’s true opinion on Keenum and whether his production level is here to stay. In order to predict his future, one must understand his past. Most recently, he threw 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017, his best season in the NFL by a long shot.
However, if his 2017 season is taken away, Keenum’s career stats sit at a measly 24 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. To be fair, the numbers do not tell the whole story. In 2013, he played eight games for the Houston Texans in his first season in which he actually saw the field (his second season in the league). He threw nine touchdowns during that season, just over one per game on average. He threw six interceptions during those games, which means he threw just under one interception per game on average. Those stats, while not mind-blowing, are a solid foundation for any quarterback’s first time on the field in the NFL.
In 2014, Keenum was traded mid-season to the St. Louis Rams (now known as the Los Angeles Rams). He served as a backup for three years under the guidance of Head Coach Jeff Fisher (more on that later). In 2014, he played in two games and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions which averages out to one touchdown and one interception per game.
Considering the fact that he had been traded mid-season and had not been given much time to learn the offense, it would be unfair to expect much more out of him that year.
2015 was a slightly different story. In 2015, he backed up current Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and ended up playing in six games. Now that he had some time to learn the offense and become more comfortable, Keenum’s performance was much better, throwing four touchdowns and only one interception over four games. His performance was arguably better than starter Nick Foles, who threw seven touchdowns and ten interceptions during the same season.
In 2016, Keenum played the most amount of games in a single season over his career playing in 10. The length of the year must have gotten to him, as he threw nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Since the beginning of his career in 2012, Keenum had only played in 18 games — barely more than a season’s worth. If a rookie had played a full season and finished with 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, as Keenum had done through his first sixteen games, it would be seen as a solid performance.
If one couples that with the fact that he had to play ten of those games under Jeff Fisher, it should be extraordinary that he did as well as he had. It should be clear that Fisher has been detrimental to quarterbacks in this day and age. He coached quarterback Jared Goff in his rookie year in 2016, who threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Without Fisher, he threw for 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions the following year.
In their only season as a duo, Fisher coached Nick Foles to a seven touchdown and ten interception season. Today, he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
Finally, he coached Case Keenum for three years who, under his tutelage, threw a pedestrian 15 touchdowns to 14 interceptions during that time span. Keenum left Fisher for the Vikings and threw for 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions the following year.
In the end, to be fair, Keenum’s career numbers are quite good considering the circumstances of his employment throughout the beginning of his career. At the very least, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.
There are more reasons why Keenum should be able to have a repeat performance of 2017 in 2018. Those arguing that Keenum’s success was a by-product of his surroundings and thus will fail in Denver does not see how similarly the teams are currently built.
In Minnesota, Keenum had the #1 defense in the NFL, the seventh-best running game that averaged 3.9 yards per carry, a good — if not great — wide receiver duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and the ninth-most productive tight end in the league in Kyle Rudolph.
Now in Denver, Keenum also has a top-five defense, even with the departure of cornerback Aqib Talib, a twelfth-best rushing attack (although Denver averaged 4.1 yards per carry in comparison to Minnesota’s 3.9), and a solid wide receiver duo in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
The biggest losses in coming to Denver from Minnesota are the lack of a top tight end and a questionable coaching staff. However, Denver does have an unproven 2017 fifth-round pick in Jake Butt who has not played yet in the NFL due to injury.
Additionally, while Denver’s head coach Vance Joseph draws a lot of criticism, Denver has solid coordinators. Despite having the 31st-worst turnover differential in 2017, Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods kept the team’s defense at third-best in the league, an outstanding achievement.
Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, on the other hand, got promoted in the middle of 2017 after Elway ousted then-coordinator Mike McCoy. Musgrave’s presence in 2018 should excite Broncos fans as he was the offensive coordinator in Oakland during their 12-4 season in 2016 in which they had the sixth-best offense in the league. Once Musgrave became a Bronco, the Raiders’ offense fell to 17th the following year. In the end, it is safe to say that like in Minnesota, Keenum has enough of the pieces around him to help him succeed and Elway should feel the same.
While Keenum’s history is the main tool that can show his future, Elway’s past could also help show the general manager’s future. Keenum is the biggest free agent quarterback that the Broncos have signed since quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012. What did Elway do in the draft after signing big free agent quarterback Manning? He traded out of the first round and his first pick actually came in the second round in which he drafted defensive tackle Derek Wolfe.
Additionally, Manning’s signing was a perceived risk as he was fresh off of a massive, potentially career-ending neck injury that raised questions as to whether he could even throw a football again, let alone play the game at a high level. The heart of the question in 2012 regarding Manning was: “can he continue to play at a high level?”
In 2018, the circumstances are a bit different but the spirit of the question remains regarding Keenum. Elway’s proved doubters wrong before. Can he do it again? If he thinks that he can, a trade down could enter the conversation as well as any other avenue of action.
Elway has shown confidence in Keenum, quoted as saying “we got our guy.” However, while his words say one thing, his actions say another.
Since Keenum’s signing, Elway has visited prospects Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, and is expected to meet with Sam Darnold. At Mayfield’s pro day, it was said that the Broncos staff had the biggest presence of any team there. At Rosen’s pro day, it was all hands on deck as Vance Joseph, John Elway, and Executive Gary Kubiak all watched Rosen throw. What is the force behind these visits? Is it indecision, interest, both, or just due diligence?
And With The Fifth Pick In The 2018 NFL Draft, The Denver Broncos Select…
In the end, Elway’s decision could be made easier or harder depending on what the teams ahead in the draft will do. The Broncos currently sit at the fifth overall pick.
Currently, the picks are as follows: Browns, Giants, Jets, Browns, Broncos. There are five real options at quarterback this early in the draft: Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen. Elway cannot love them all. If he did, he would not be wasting time with visits.
He has visited two of them and has made plans to meet with another since he signed Keenum so he is likely really only interested in three of them at the most. Odds are that these meetings have narrowed the list if only a little.
The Browns probably won’t take two quarterbacks with their two picks as they’ve already signed Tyrod Taylor in free agency from Buffalo.
The Giants should take a quarterback as Eli Manning’s days are numbered and he is not getting any younger.
The Jets want a quarterback because they traded up to number three and whenever a team trades that high, it is clear that they want a quarterback. Plus, they haven’t really been stable at the position yet in the 21st century.
By the time that it is Denver’s turn to pick, they will probably really have a choice of one or two quarterbacks depending on if another team trades for Cleveland’s second first-round pick. As Elway already has Keenum locked up, he can afford to be a little picky (excuse the pun).
If he is not jumping for joy about the remaining choices, as is quite a possibility, he will likely trade down or look at strengthening another position.
In a final twist, Elway has been quoted as saying that the Broncos “still have high hopes for Paxton Lynch.” It is unclear as to whether that was simply a General Manager trying to encourage his first-round pick because he is stuck with him due to his contract or something more telling. One can only wait and see.
The answer to this question will become clear in Arlington, Texas on April 26th when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell approaches the lectern with the fifth name in hand.