The Broncos’ Boss is beguiled by tall quarterbacks and tight ends.
In the aftershock of the Big Three NFL events — (1) free agency (2) the draft and (3) release of the schedule — franchise fanatics in Colorado might have missed a couple of curious developments.
John Elway has brought in a quarterback who is at least 6-foot-6 for the fourth time and picked a seventh tight end in 10 seasons.
Team records were set in both oddities.
When the draft concluded the Broncos signed seven college players who had not been chosen in seven rounds. Among the Undraftables was Riley Neal, ranked as the 20th quarterback prospect. Neal had played initially at Ball State, then transferred to Vanderbilt.
Neal’s predecessor with the Commodores was Kyle Shurmur, a 2019 undrafted free agent who signed with the Chiefs and eventually was a member of the practice squad for the Super Bowl champions, who cut him several days ago. Shurmur is the son of Broncos’ new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who obviously was familiar with Neal and probably influenced Elway in the process.
Neal, who will be camp silage as the Broncos’ fourth quarterback and a possible candidate for the practice squad (increased to 12 players for this season), is 6-6 and 225 pounds.
Elway, who is 6-3, likes ‘em long and lanky. During his regime John has drafted the 6-7 Brock Osweiler (2012) and the 6-7 Paxton Lynch (2016) and traded for the 6-6 Joe Flacco (who recently underwent neck surgery). The trio had a combined starting record of 8-15 with the Broncos from 2015-2019. Osweiler was 5-2 in his first stretch and figured prominently during the regular-season run toward the Super Bowl 50 title, but was 0-4 and barely contributed in his second stint. Lynch was a 1-3 total bust, and Flacco was busted (2-6) last year before being hurt.
Former coach Vance Joseph — once asked what he thought of one of the three previous High Horses (Lynch), replied: “He’s tall.’’
Neal might have preferred a different direction, considering that the only other Broncos quarterback from Vanderbilt had been Jay Cutler, taken in the first round in 2006. Cutler compiled a mediocre 17-20 record (no playoff games) with the Broncos before he and Josh McDaniels divorced. Jay is enduring another split-up. Neal and Cutler also are from Indiana.
Elway’s best quarterback hope, though, will be with Drew Lock, who is “only’’ 6-4. Drew carved out four victories in five games late last season. There won’t be much experience in the quarterback room. Backup Jeff Driskel (6-4) managed a pitiful 1-7 mark in short starting spans with the Bengals and the Lions the past two seasons, and Brett Rypien, the short guy at 6-2 and an undrafted free agent in ’19, saw limited exhibition action.
The depth is shallow.
Cam Am Available. He’s 6-4. Remember him?
If and when training camp begins, the QBs will be throwing to eight tight ends who are 6-4, 6-5 and 6-6. Five have been selected in the past six drafts, but Elway’s most successful two tight ends were picked in his first draft — in 2011. Julius Thomas was the Broncos’ second fourth-round pick, and Virgil Green became the first of two picks in the seventh round. Thomas made two Pro Bowls and caught 24 touchdown passes in 2013-14. Green totaled 99 passes in seven Broncos seasons.
Elway chose Jeff Heuerman third in ’15, Jake Butt fifth in ’17, Troy Fumagalli fifth in ’18, Noah Fant first in ’19 and Albert Okwuegbunam fourth in the most recent draft. The others on the 90-man roster (currently full up) are Nick Vannett (veteran free agent acquired March 21), Austin Fort (undrafted free agent a year ago) and fullback/tight end Andrew Beck (claimed off waivers last September).
Elway loves him some tight ends. Overall, the Broncos have gone through 16 from 2016-2019.
Most have been injured and/or incapable.
Oh, for one great one in the tradition of Shannon Sharpe and Riley Odoms, who played a cumulative 24 years in Denver.
Fant’s 526 receiving yards as a rookie were the most by a Broncos tight end since Thomas in 2013.
Are eight enough at tight end? Only four will survive.
Elway has secured his tight ends and his latest 6-6 quarterback.