Sean Payton oozes confidence that Broncos’ QB evaluation process can find the right answer

Feb 27, 2024, 6:51 PM | Updated: 6:52 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — At one point, Sean Payton referred to the “next one” at quarterback. At another juncture during his freewheeling 19-minute press conference Tuesday, he spoke about the Broncos’ process of evaluating quarterbacks and how he believed it could be successful where other teams had failed.

“I think we’ll be really good at this,” Payton said, “and I think to some degree, we’re glad that a lot of people aren’t.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“The quarterback position is difficult. Sometimes — and this is not just recent. We go all the way back to the run-and-shoot,” Payton said, referencing an offense that flourished in the late 1980s and early 1990s — but sent a pair of bust quarterbacks to the first round in a 3-year span: Andre Ware and David Klingler, both from the University of Houston.

“We can list a number of guys that were successful that we didn’t expect to be successful and guys that weren’t,” Payton said.

“With quarterbacks I think one think that’s hard to measure is their ability to multi-task and process and make decisions,” Payton continued. “It’s one thing — like, you can visit with someone, they can be intelligent but man, how quickly can they deliver the information and how quickly can they get through the progression? Are they accurate?

“There’s some fundamental things that we have to see that are present and so sometimes it’s not as difficult as we make it out to be. And sometimes it’s very difficult.”

And indeed, for many teams, it is difficult. General manager George Paton opted for more caution.

“Our decision is very important,” Paton said. “But if you’re going to draft one, that’s obviously very difficult. And so, we’re going to put a lot of time into it, like we do every position, but the quarterback position is just that much — there’s more mistakes, it seems like, at quarterback, especially in the first round.”

Sean Payton, meanwhile, appeared ready to throw caution to the winds and cast his lot with a rookie — one vetted by a detailed process that can provide a firm account of all but one trait: processing information.

“There’s certain risks. I think. Man, how quickly can they process the information. For some when you get them in rookie minicamp you realize, ‘Ah.’ I’ve been with a rookie before and just feel, ‘This is not how I wanted it to (be); he’s having trouble spitting out the plays.’ Maybe it takes a while. Maybe that’s something that you realize is going to be a hindrance or set him.

“I think we shouldn’t miss on accuracy because we get to see it. We should’t miss on stature because we get to feel it and look at it and measure it. We shouldn’t miss on athleticism. All of those traits should be easier to be correct on….

“Leadership we shouldn’t miss on. We should feel that and be able to research that. But it’s that other element and it’s really the difference of just that and for some it’s two thumb ticks and for others it’s one. And you hope it’s one.”

Questions like those are what give some teams pause at drafting a quarterback. And Payton’s past forays into the draft didn’t bear fruit. But he also didn’t use a Round 1 pick on a quarterback, either.


But when did he really have the chance?

Take 2006, for instance. That year, Sean Payton became the New Orleans Saints’ head coach, inheriting a team poised to move on from Aaron Brooks, a 6-year starter saddled with a rising interception rate and a declining passer rating. So, the Saints needed a quarterback. And in that year, three went in the first 11 picks of the draft: Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler.

Of the three, only Cutler could be considered a success.

Sean Payton had other plans that offseason. First, he tried to trade for Tony Romo — the quarterback he developed in three years as Dallas offensive coordinator. According to Parcells in his autobiography, Payton offered a third-round pick. Parcells — then the Cowboys head coach — and Jerry Jones wanted a second-rounder.

Payton had been instrumental in getting Romo to sign with Dallas as an undrafted free agent, spurning a higher monetary offer from Denver. But he couldn’t pull off the magic there. So, no trade happened. At that point, Payton’s focus turned to Brees.

And then the Saints didn’t need a quarterback for another 15 years.

Certainly, Payton made the right call then.

And while the Broncos’ head coach has developed a stellar QB from the undrafted ranks and succeeded with reclamation projects, he hasn’t yet done so from what is historically the most fertile — albeit still imperfect — territory: the top half of the first round.

It would surprise few if that changed in two months’ time.

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