Broncos GM Paton plans to add QB, does not commit to Lock as starter

Question hangs over draft: Will Paton take QB in first round
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Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 20:18:36-04

ENGLEWOOD -- George Paton watches more film than the Hollywood Foreign Press. He remains comfortable with a monitor at his desk and a remote in his hand. Click. Stop. Watch. Click. Stop. Talk. Text.

Paton scouts for a living. But the scope of his responsibility has widened significantly in his first three months as the Broncos general manager. He has inspired collaboration, traveled to see players and trusted staff input. He has made the right steps. Now comes the hard part: doing it in the draft.

For all of the positives this offseason — adding cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, securing Justin Simmons and Shelby Harris on longterm deals and retaining Von Miller and Kareem Jackson — he has yet to address the quarterback position. You know, the most important job in sports?

Broncos GM Paton plans to add QB, does not commit to Lock as starter

While praising Paton for his work, I asked him what he would tell Broncos Country about the quarterback search?

"We do like Drew Lock. What we don’t want to do is force it. What we don't want to do is overpay a guy to come him and he's not as good as the guy we have. Maybe he's not good enough to compete. We do want the right guy. We still have time. There’s a trade market. We still have the draft. We’re going to be patient. Not force it. But we do want competition," Paton said. "The landscape could change after the draft if a team takes a quarterback and then that (previous starter) is on the market."

One thing crystallized Thursday: Paton did not commit to Lock as the starter. Again, they like him. But if the Broncos loved him, they would not have had a wandering eye this offseason with Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson and with very tepid interest, Sam Darnold.

"I don’t know about week 1 (for Lock playing). We’re really high on Drew. I like seeing Drew here every morning when I come in. He’s working hard," Paton said. "He’s trending in the right direction."

It's fair to reserve judgment on quarterback until after the draft. It's become clear why over the past few weeks as momentum grows that the Broncos will seriously consider taking a quarterback in the first round. Will that be Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance? Will it involve trading up? Or staying put?

While most sources believe Jones will land in San Francisco with the third pick, Fields and Lance figure to be in play for Denver. However, Paton said Thursday he has not called a team about moving up, but teams have phoned him about going back. He indicated that a move would likely happen on draft day, not before. He praised the quarterback class -- he said as many as six could go in the first round -- and talked specifically about Fields and Lance when asked.

"They’re different. Both elite athletes. Both really strong arms. Both really talented, smart. They have all the intangibles you want in quarterbacks," Paton said. "You know, they’re raw a little bit but really high ceilings for both players."

Broncos GM discusses NFL Draft strategy ahead of next week's draft

While many in the industry have groused about the lack of combine, Paton believes there were benefits to the virtual world and additional pro days. At the combine, teams are limited to 15 minutes during in-person meetings with prospects. Zoom calls extended to an hour this spring, and the Broncos interviewed 250 prospects.

"There are advantages to it," said Paton, admitting there's no way to know a player in 15 minutes.

The Broncos' offseason reshaping has helped them as they enter the draft. For weeks, corner appeared a top priority. That is no longer the case after signing Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby. For Fuller and safety Kareem Jackson to land in Denver after the first wave of free agency proved a bonus.

"Kyle has really good ball skills. Great anticipation. To get a guy like that, we don't have to force it in the drat. It was really big for us," Paton said. "And we are really happy Kareem is back. The whole building wanted him back."

Paton believes the Broncos offensive line ranks among the upper third in the league. He said this draft has depth at center or guard. As for right tackle, he told me that Ja'Wuan James is on track to play this season after logging only 63 snaps in two years due to a knee injury and opt-out.

"The expectation right now is he'll be our starting right tackle and will play well," Paton said.