During the first two years of his career, former first-round pick Paxton Lynch has never found a way to earn the Broncos' starting job, collecting only four starts in his young career. Now, entering his third season, Lynch's grip on the backup job behind starter Case Keenum is already loosening after just one preseason performance.
On Saturday night, Lynch endured a horrific, boo-inducing, Christian Hackenberg-esque outing against the Vikings, completing 6 of 11 passes for 24 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a 22.2 passer rating. He averaged 2.2 yards per attempt. And by the time his night was over, the fans at Mile High treated him like he was Jay Cutler returning to Denver.
The boo birds were out when Paxton Lynch came off the field on that stalled drive before the half.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) August 12, 2018
Lynch booed off the field.— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) August 12, 2018
To make matters worse for Lynch, his competition for the backup job, Chad Kelly, proceeded to light up the Vikings once Lynch departed the game. Kelly -- the 253rd and final pick of the 2017 NFL Draft -- completed 14 of 21 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns, one pick, and a 104.7 passer rating. He averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. And by the time the night was over, the fans at Mile High were treating him like he was Peyton Manning reincarnated.
Chad Kelly has won this crowd tonight. They’ve been chanting “Kel-ly” off and on during this drive. Compound that with the boos Paxton Lynch received. Kelly just threw a hell of a ball to Lindsey while getting clocked (roughing the passer was called) for a touchdown.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) August 12, 2018
Overreacting to training camp and preseason can be dangerous, but it's not like Lynch has thrived in regular-season action. In five career regular-season appearances, he's completed 61.7 percent of his passes, averaged 6.2 yards per attempt, thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions, and accumulated a 76.7 passer rating. There's a reason why the Broncos felt the need to sign Keenum in free agency instead of handing the reigns of the offense over to Lynch.
Going back and re-watching Lynch's performance on Saturday, it's tough to find any positives. His first pass attempt of the night sums up the performance pretty well. The rest of his snaps aren't really worth posting.
But here's a poorly (under) thrown streak down the right sideline that should've been picked if the Vikings' cornerback had played the route better and didn't allow the receiver to gain inside position.
As for Kelly, he looked more like what you'd expect out of an NFL-caliber quarterback. Kelly's first touchdown, a 36-yard completion, was wide open, wide open enough that the touchdown was less about Kelly and more about the play design. But the first down below is a better summation of his performance.
It's all about the timing. Kelly releases as soon as he hits his back foot at the top of his drop, syncing up with his receiver downfield.
Kelly also showed his willingness and the ability to effectively use his legs, creating a third-down conversion out of nothing.
On his second touchdown, he stood tall in the pocket, endured a flag-inducing hit, and led his target toward the end zone.
It's not that Kelly was perfect. He also threw an ugly interception that he said happened because he didn't study enough ahead of time. But no backup quarterback is perfect. Kelly, unlike Lynch, showed the ability to manufacture some positive plays. It's only one preseason game and, again, it's dangerous to overreact to the preseason, but it's tough to look at that game and conclude that Lynch should be the Broncos' backup.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph characterized Lynch's outing as "up and down," which is generous, and he gave a very non-answer when he was asked about Kelly's opportunity to work with the second-team offense.
Vance Joseph's response when asked if Chad Kelly will get second-team reps in practice pic.twitter.com/Lu8mJqNbln— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 12, 2018
Obviously, with three preseason games to go, the competition for the spot behind Keenum on the depth chart is only just beginning. But if what we saw on Saturday night continues throughout the rest of the month, the Broncos might find it tough to keep their former first-round pick above the former seventh-round pick.