If there wasn’t already a backup quarterback controversy in Denver, there certainly is now.
During Saturday night’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, second-year Bronco and former Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly threw a pair of touchdowns and was serenaded by chants of “Kel-ley, Kel-ley.” Paxton Lynch, the 2016 first-rounder battling Kelly for the No. 2 quarterback gig behind Case Keenum, threw for just 24 yards and was booed off the field.
Lynch, who led that Memphis upset over the Kelly-led Rebels in 2016, has been taking the second-team reps in training camp and entered Saturday’s game before Kelly. But the buzz around Kelly is growing louder, with offensive coordinator Vance Joseph saying last week that Kelly being promoted over Lynch “could happen in the future.”
Against the Vikings, Kelly completed 14 of his 21 passes for 121 yards, made plays with his legs and, outside of an interception, played brilliant football. The highlight of the night came early in the fourth quarter when he stood in the pocket to deliver a dime to a running back over the middle before taking a high blow from a free-running D-lineman.
Lynch, meanwhile, went just 6-of-11 for 24 yards, a pick and no scores.
For most of his record-setting Ole Miss career, Kelly was considered a mid-to-upper-round NFL Draft prospect thanks to a cannon arm, downfield accuracy and impressive mobility. But off-field problems and, more consequentially, a torn ACL at the end of his senior season pushed him to the last pick in 2017.
He’s no one’s Mr. Irrelevant though. In the wake of the draft, former Colts exec Bill Polian said Kelly was the most talented quarterback on the Broncos roster. Joseph, the Denver OC, called Kelly his favorite quarterback in the draft. Lingering effects from his knee injury landed him on injured reserve for his entire rookie season, but now healthy, he’s showing the arm talent and athleticism that made him one of the most prolific playmakers in SEC history.
Its been a different story for Lynch. Thought to be the Broncos QB of the future after being the third quarterback taken off the board in 2016, he promptly lost the starting job to former seventh-rounder Trevor Siemiann and stayed behind him on the depth chart for the next two seasons. After dealing Siemian to Minnesota in March, the Broncos, clearly concerned about Lynch’s development, went out and signed Keenum to a two year deal worth $25 million in guaranteed money.
Joseph’s made it clear that Keenum is his starter heading into the season, but it’d be tough to consider his spot atop the depth chart untouchable. Before revitalizing his career in Minnesota last season, Keenum was a journeyman who’d gone undrafted out of the University of Houston in 2012. If Keenum’s play slides and/or the Broncos rack up losses early in the season, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario in which Kelly, who’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in Denver, starts games in 2018.