ENGLEWOOD – Case Keenum delivered a Drew Brees-like season in 2017. Highly accurate. Impressive ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. Solid, consistent leadership.
The doubters will say Keenum’s season was a fluke, the tale of a journeyman quarterback who produced because he was surrounded by elite offensive talent and supported by the NFL’s finest defense.
I’m saying Keenum, 30, is hitting his prime and will repeat his mastery in 2018. He’s a bargain at $18 million per season. With Keenum at quarterback, the Broncos will not stumble to another losing record. In an instant, the Broncos vaulted from the NFL’s fifth-worst team to playoff contender.
On Friday, Keenum introduced himself to Colorado. I talked with Keenum several times during his career with the University of Houston, where he threw 155 career touchdowns and battled against Air Force’s defense three times.
He never will be described as the life of any press conference. He’s calm. He’s measured in his words. He would rather be throwing passes or studying video than talking to a collection of media types.
He’s also sincere. He grew up in Abilene, a city on the windblown and desolate plains of West Texas. He’s happy to be surrounded by vastly more beautiful scenery.
And he’s thrilled to playing for John Elway, his new boss. When Keenum was a child, a poster of Elway hung on his bedroom wall. He’s worn No. 7 for most of his career in honor of Elway. (He will wear No. 4 for the Broncos, who never will allow any quarterback to again wear No. 7.)
“It’s incredible to be introduced by John Elway,” Keenum said a few seconds after being introduced by Elway. “A dream come true.”
Keenum’s NFL dreams have always been unlikely. He’s been forced to swim against a strong tide of skepticism. Elway and Peyton Manning look like NFL quarterbacks. Keenum looks like your next-door neighbor.
He’s been silencing those skeptics for more than a decade. At Abilene's Wylie High, Keenum collected 6,783 yards and 48 touchdowns passing and 2,000 yards and 41 touchdowns rushing. He won a state title in Texas, which is America’s toughest state title to win.
Only Houston offered a scholarship.
In college, Keenum passed for 19,217 yards, 155 touchdowns and busted the 5,000-yard barrier three times. And no NFL team drafted him. He bounced from the Texans to the Rams to the Vikings before finally busting loose this season.
“I’ve earned everything I got,” Keenum said. “Nothing has been handed to me. I’ve battled my way through. I’m definitely the better for it.”
At times, it seemed as if Kirk Cousins was in the room with Keenum and the media. Several questions were asked about Cousins, seen as the No. 1 free agent available.
I never understood Cousins-mania. He lost three of his final five starts with Washington and in those three defeats he led the offense to 37 total points. That’s 12.3 per game. Those are Trevor Siemian-like numbers.
Cousins appears to have failed to dazzle Elway, too. Elway said, over and over, that Keenum was his first choice at quarterback. This might be a public relations move. Or, this might be the truth.
“It’s very arguable who had the best year,” Elway said in comparing the Cousins of 2017 to the Keenum of 2017.
Elway is right. Cousins threw his way to 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 93.9 quarterback ranking. Meanwhile, Keenum threw for 22 TDs, seven interceptions and a 98.3 rating. More importantly, Keenum’s Vikings scored 383 points and finished 13-3 while Cousins and Washington scored 342 points and stumbled to a 7-9 record.
All those numbers lead to this question: Is Cousins worth $10 million more per season than Keenum?
No. No way.
Keenum will continue to resemble Brees. Both struggled to earn recruiting interest after amazing Texas high school careers. Both took the hard road to NFL starting jobs. Neither boasts a cannon of a right arm, but both thrive because of meticulous preparation.
The skeptics are still out there. A year ago, Keenum was a wandering quarterback who seemed on his way to lifetime backup status. He took the Vikings to the NFC Title Game and transformed his career.
What about 2018?
“I’ll be better,” Keenum said without hesitating.
I believe him.