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USATSI

The Denver Broncos have cycled through so many quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired I’m surprised that on gameday John Elway hasn’t gone from suit and tie in the owner’s suite to shoulder pads and helmet on the sidelines to take over the huddle. Since the beginning of 2016, eight different quarterbacks have started for the Broncos. And it’s now time for you to be properly introduced to No. 9 by someone who watched hundreds of his throws in college while evaluating him as a prospect just one year ago. 

Former Boise State passer Brett Rypien will make his first NFL start for Denver on Thursday Night Football against the New York Jets. Theoretically, as Denver’s third-string quarterback, expectations for Rypien should be set rather low, but as you’ll read here, I have more faith in Rypien than the typical backup to the backup.

During the 2019 pre-draft process, I stylistically compared Rypien to former Rams passer Marc Bulger. Here’s what I wrote about that comparison:

Bulger was an intelligent quarterback who had a brief stint as one of the most efficient passers in the league who got it done with his mental processing, accuracy, and quick release from inside the pocket without having standard NFL size, athleticism, or arm strength. While watching Rypien’s illustrious career unfold at Boise State, I got that same vibe. Rypien actually takes hits and sacks at times because he doesn’t notice pressure. He almost always keeps his eyes up to scan the field. Love that attribute; many passers have a tendency to drop their eyes when they initially don’t like what they see or feel pressure. Rypien has a decent, not great arm, consistently throws with anticipation, and you don’t have to worry about him misfiring to any portion of the field. 

Unfortunately for Rypien, he can’t bring mid-2000s Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Steven Jackson with him into tonight’s game. In terms of strengths and weaknesses, Rypien is strikingly similar to Bulger. It was one of the comparisons I felt most confident about before the draft after discovering a few scouting reports on Bulger as a prospect. He went in the sixth round out of West Virginia in 2000. 

Also before the 2019 draft, I ranked top quarterback prospects in each of the specific skills needed to play the position in the NFL. The below chart shows where Rypien ranked in each category out. Beyond Rypien, the six other quarterback prospects included were Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones, Will Grier, and Ryan Finley.  

Rank (of 7)
Short/Intermediate Accuracy 3rd
Processing 1st
Pocket Movement 2nd
Decision-Making 6th
Under Pressure 3rd
Deep Passing 3rd
Arm Strength 4th
Mobility 7th

Yeah, you can say I was rather high on Rypien, someone who fell to the undrafted ranks. He was my QB5 and No. 77 overall prospect. That high?! Well, positional value is built into my grading system. In short, quarterbacks get the biggest boost to their grade, running backs get the least (no boost). But why wasn’t Rypien picked? Probably because his arm strength only reaches “average” by NFL standards, and he doesn’t fit the mold of today’s most successful quarterbacks who can be counted on to create outside the structure of the play with his legs (hence the last-place ranking in mobility). 

And while the league is starting to be dominated by supremely athletic quarterbacks with monster arms, I do believe there still is room for the pocket technician to thrive. And the latter is precisely the type of passer Rypien is, although he did love to stretch it vertically at Boise State, where he started 50 (!) games. 

During his relief appearance last week against the Buccaneers, Rypien methodically guided Denver’s offense down the field (8 of 9 passing) with mostly underneath throws and one big play to an open Jerry Jeudy over the middle. The drive ended when he tried to hold or move safety Mike Edwards with his eyes before ripping a pass into the end zone, but Edwards made a spectacular one-handed interception. That play demonstrated Rypien’s refinement — attempting to hold the safety with his eyes — but the throw just didn’t have quite enough velocity to squeeze through the tight-window to Jeudy for a score. Worth noting too — Rypien came off the initial read a little too quickly to really sell it, and the pass was going to be on the money. 

Rypien will catch shotgun snaps behind an offensive line that’s allowed Lock and Jeff Driskel to be pressured on 43.2% of their drop backs through Week 3, the highest rate in the NFL. That’s frightening for an essentially non-mobile quarterback making his first NFL start. Fortunately for him, the Jets have only created pressure on 29.3% of the drop backs they’ve faced heading into this contest, one of the lowest rates in the league. 

How Rypien handles pressure will likely swing his NFL debut one way or the other. But I will not be surprised if he reads the defense well, throws accurately to all levels, and doesn’t shy away from taking a few deep shots to Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Co. on Thursday Night Football.