Strong Sides is a series in which theScore’s NFL editors debate topics from around the league.
Despite Trevor Siemian’s admirable efforts in his first full season as a starting quarterback, the Denver Broncos are open to change entering the 2017 season.
Siemian will face off with former first-round pick Paxton Lynch in what should be the most interesting positional battle of training camp, as the two players boast vastly different skill sets.
Who should start at QB for the Broncos?
Jack Browne: Siemian was OK in 2016, but that just won’t cut it anymore in Denver. The Broncos’ defense has been among the league’s best for the past three years, but regression is inevitable. The loss of one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, Wade Phillips, as well as DeMarcus Ware, might be too much for Denver to overcome and still be an elite unit. It needs more from its offense to ease the pressure on the defense, and Siemian will never be that guy. While Lynch is more of a boom-or-bust guy, this offense needs a spark. Time to step up, young gun. Long gone are the days when fresh-faced pivots can sit on the bench for more than a year.
Mitch Sanderson: Siemian went from unknown seventh-round pick to Pro Bowl invitee in one season, and suddenly everyone is doubting that he can grow. The 25-year-old has started 12 more games than his competitor, and boasts a winning record and the experience of winning a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. He can play a conservative style if the Broncos’ defense is controlling the game, or push the ball downfield to one of his Pro Bowl receivers. Lynch is going to need time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, while Siemian is ready to evolve after being welcomed to the league a year ago.
Browne: Writing off Siemian at this stage of his career would be ridiculous, but can he actually push the ball downfield, as you suggested? He attempted just 39 passes of 21 yards or more last season, completing 30.8 percent of them, according to Joe Mahoney of Mile High Report. And that’s with two great receivers who are skilled in the vertical game. Lynch was worse in 2016, but in a tiny sample size, and his college tape shows he’s more than capable of being an upper-echelon deep passer thanks to his solid arm. There will be growing pains, for sure, but Lynch is going to earn the job sooner or later, so why not make it sooner and kick-start his development?
Sanderson: The Broncos finished one game from a playoff spot last season without starting running back C.J. Anderson in the lineup. This isn’t the time to take steps backward for the sake of possibly moving forward. The missed playoff appearance was a blip on the radar in Denver. With a rejuvenated backfield, skilled set of receivers, and still-elite defense, now isn’t the time to reinvent the offense. Lynch showed no signs of game-altering accuracy or arm strength in his rookie debut, and using his college experience against AAC competition isn’t a strong indicator of what he can do against pro defenses.
Browne: But let’s not pretend Siemian is even Alex Smith lite. The third-year pro’s subpar accuracy and consistency means we can’t even slap him with the “game manager” label. And this is more about the Broncos’ competition than the Broncos themselves. The AFC West is arguably the strongest division in the NFL, with the Chiefs and Raiders unlikely to drop off and the Chargers likely a playoff team in any other division. Standing pat isn’t good enough, and relying on Anderson to be the offense’s centerpiece hasn’t worked out well in the past. Lynch’s rookie season was a disappointment, yes, but he was always going to be a raw prospect. Plus, new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy runs an aggressive scheme that suits his talents far more than Siemian’s.
Sanderson: Again, you’re assuming Siemian can only be what he was last season. After playing just one snap in his first season, he averaged more yards per game than any rookie in 2016, and only Dak Prescott topped his touchdown production. For a first-year starter, that’s pretty good – good enough to earn a Pro Bowl invitation, anyway. Siemian started only one year in Rick Dennison’s conservative offense, so, for all we know, he may be better in a more aggressive system. Lynch’s appeal is understandable, as he presents the mystery of the unknown. While what we know about Siemian may seem boring on the outside, the Northwestern product has faced doubts his whole career, and surpassed expectations at each turn.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
Copyright © 2017 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.