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Broncos Film Room: Analyzing the quarterback market beyond Kirk Cousins

Andre Simone Avatar
February 19, 2018

The great quarterback debate is dominating the offseason in Denver, and the Denver Broncos organization has several options to pick from.

While Kirk Cousins remains the No. 1 option (we covered Cousins’ skills extensively in a film room back in December) he’s far from the only NFL veteran who’ll be available. Because of this, we had to dig into the tape, as we always do, to analyze who else is out there and what they bring to the table.

Free agents

Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings (29 years old)

Strengths 

  • Keenum plays with a gunslinger mentality and isn’t afraid to bomb it deep. 
  • Uses good eye manipulation on deep throws to look off coverage, reminiscent of Baker Mayfield.
  • At his best out of the gun where he can carve up defenses, showing good accuracy and anticipation.
  • Has had a good amount of success on play action passes as well.
  • Has shown nice touch on his throws allowing his receivers to get under the ball to make plays.
  • A mobile quarterback who can make things happen with his feet when needed.
  • Did a nice job of reigning in his aggressive mentality and taking what the defense gave him in 2017.
  • Had a terrific season on third down, completing 45-percent of his passes for first downs (fifth best in the NFL.)

 

Weaknesses

  • Keenum’s lower-body mechanics can be a bit shaky as he’ll get himself in trouble throwing the ball off his back foot far too often.
  • As a result, he can be a bit reckless under pressure and force throws that’ll get him in trouble.
  • Doesn’t possess the best ball placement on his deep throws and was bailed out by his talented receiving core in Minnesota.
  • Doesn’t complete many tight-window throws and won’t thread the needle in traffic.
  • Mostly lives off of vertical shots or open throws over the short to intermediate area.

Keenum’s a bit of a wild card on the field as he’s a one-year wonder and he could still demand significant money in the open market. No one knows him better than Broncos consiglieri Gary Kubiak, so Denver will have more knowledge on this unknown commodity than just about anyone else. He’s a risk taker but has some intriguing skills, though he’ll need the right system and supporting cast around him.

A.J. McCarron, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (27 years old)

Strengths

  • The Alabama product is a solid pocket passer who’s shown nice zip in tight windows.
  • Will stare down pressure and deliver timely throws. 
  • Not the quickest to process, but he gets throws out on time with good anticipation.
  • He’s flashed a big arm with easy arm strength. 
  • At times, McCarron shows really nice accuracy when working off of his first read, with good ball placement to boot.

Weaknesses

  • McCarron can be inconsistent with his mechanics and will miss some routine throws, which have led to a few turnovers.
  • Not a quick trigger thrower and was sacked 12 times in only four games in which he saw significant snaps—three of which are his only career starts.
  • He works off of his primary reads most of the time but struggles some going on to his secondary options.

McCarron’s only started three games in the past four seasons, and while he’s flashed some really good traits, he’s far from a sure thing. There’s some definite upside with his pocket presence combined with his big arm.

However, McCarron presents more question marks—and more potential—than just about anyone else on this list. At the right price, he’d be a decent gamble, but that upside promises to get him paid more than the tape truly says he’s worth.

Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings (30 years old)

Strengths

  • Bradford is a responsible thrower with good accuracy.
  • He can thread the needle in tight windows and shows high-end accuracy to all levels. 
  • Plays with good anticipation and reads coverages well.
  • Very accurate with his ball placement over the short to intermediate.
  • Has good touch on his deep throws and can attack defenses vertically. 

Weaknesses

  • Bradford can be a bit risk adverse and vanilla in his passes.
  • He isn’t a playmaker and won’t make big plays beyond the X’s and O’s.
  • Has the arm but just doesn’t challenge defenses deep.
  • Maybe most concerning, he’s struggled with injuries throughout his career—dating back to his collegiate days.

Bradford might be one of the safest quarterbacks on this list if it weren’t for his injury history. He’s only started 16 games twice out of his seven seasons. Give him protection—and a competent supporting cast—and you can win with him. He’s a true pro’s pro with great accuracy. He’s been paid a lot in his career, and it’ll be interesting to see his market.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings (25 years old)

Strengths

  • Bridgewater was terrific in college for his deep ball accuracy and ability to pass on the run.
  • He possesses good accuracy and on-point ball placement when at his best. 
  • Solid athlete with good escapability.
  • Last we saw him pre-injury, he was starting to come into his own, making more plays with his throws downfield.
  • Possesses good footwork and has more arm strength than he’s given credit for.
  • Can be a smart passer who’ll take what the defense gives him without forcing things.

Weaknesses

  • He’s been limited a bit to being a game manager in his pro career.
  • In the NFL, we’ve only seen brief flashes of what he could be at his best.
  • Bridgwater’s recovery from serious injury is a major concern. It’s legitimate to wonder if he’ll ever be the same.

Bridgewater is a big unknown due to his injury and relatively small sample size of high-level play. Given his age and how the arrow seemed to be pointing up before his gruesome injury back in 2016, there’s some upside there. If he can come back to his pre-injury form, he might be the best quarterback on this list, who could be had at the most reasonable price.

It’ll be very interesting to see the type of salary he commands in free agency and how many suitors go after him.

Trade targets

Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (29 years old)

Strengths

  • Foles played his best football when it mattered most. He’s a cool customer under pressure.
  • He’s a fearless passer and when he’s on, can make incredibly difficult tight window throws. 
  • His timing on throws is excellent.
  • Has ample arm strength to be a high-end starter.
  • At his best in spread out shotgun looks.
  • Quick trigger quarterback who can carve up defenses when playing up-tempo.
  • Foles’ late run of form in 2017 was powered by his efficiency and playmaking on third down.

Weaknesses

  • Foles has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career, including this season.
  • His fearlessness can also lead to some turnovers, especially in seasons prior to 2017-18.
  • Ball placement can sometimes be behind his target.
  • When not playing up-tempo and in rhythm, he can hold onto the ball too long and is prone to sacks.
  • In his previous stints, Foles has been turnover prone, risking too much and throwing his fair share of interceptions.

In his pro career, Foles has been at his best when the offense was adapted to him with lots of RPOs and spread-out looks, which is how he played in college. When he’s on, he’s a killer with high-end starter ability. He has the skills to make tough throws with the best of them.

However, Foles has also been inconsistent, even in his time as a starter in 2017 before playing his best in the playoffs. Philadelphia’s asking price will be a big question mark in his acquisition, but if the right offense is put around him, he’s certainly a starter-level talent.

Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills (28 years old)

Strengths

  • Taylor’s a responsible passer, who’s had very few interceptions or forced throws. Simply put, he takes what the defense gives him.
  • Plus athlete at quarterback and a good thrower on the run. 
  • His ability to improvise and make plays with his feet has allowed him to be a good playmaker on third down—converting 42 percent of third downs, good for 12th-best amongst NFL QBs last year.
  • He’s a playmaker when having to go off script and came through in big moments for the Bills in 2017.  
  • Has a quick release and can get the ball out without having to set his feet.
  • At his best on bootlegs or on the move.

Weaknesses

  • Taylor holds on to the ball too long in the pocket. As a result, he’s been sacked 88 times the last two seasons, which leads the NFL.
  • Struggles to make throws beyond the X’s and O’s within the pocket.
  • Just not very good when it comes to threading the needle in tight windows.
  • As a pure passer, he lacks the killer instinct and would much rather make plays with his feet.

Taylor would be a viable placeholder at quarterback. He’s particularly enticing for his ability to make plays on third-down with his legs, where he’s a dynamic runner and can make plays off script with his arm when on the move.

He’s just not a risk taker and won’t make many throws above the X’s and O’s within the pocket. At the right price, Denver should definitely consider him. He’s not highly valued in Buffalo and could likely be had at a lower price than most.

Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (25 years old)

Strengths

  • Bortles is a good athlete with great size and was a pest running with the ball last season.
  • He’s a talented passer on the run and has had success on play-action bootlegs and RPOs. 
  • Has a strong arm with good touch on his deep throws. 
  • When he’s at his best and playing with confidence, he can navigate pressure and squeeze tight window throws with zip.

Weaknesses

  • The UCF product is maddeningly inconsistent.
  • His ability to read coverages and his accuracy can completely disappear at times.
  • Bortles’ confidence has been shaky, leading him to be one of the worse starting quarterbacks in the league when he’s at his worst.

Bortles is a very intriguing quarterback in this group, who’s wrist surgery this offseason could make him a buy-low trade option, as it could force the Jaguars to try and get out of his contract. His age, size, and athleticism are very appealing. As was his production in 2015, where he threw for 35 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, added to his play this past December.

He’s a huge gamble and a developmental project, but already has 62 career starts under his belt. For the right price, he’d be a solid placeholder with the potential for more, if put in a system that allows him to turn the corner in his development without putting too much pressure on his shoulders.

In conclusion

There isn’t a single guy on this list who inspires confidence or promises to allow the Broncos to win immediately. However, most, if not all on the list, would be upgrades on the QBs already on the roster. In a draft this loaded at the position, especially at the top, there are certainly some arms that would be good immediate starters as a young draft pick develops.

Cousins will remain priority No. 1, but none of these seven should be discarded as viable options in Denver.

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