I voted in an interesting poll in the Denver Post today: Which former Broncos starting QB between the eras of John Elway and Peyton Manning ranks as your favorite?
For me, it’s a toss-up between Jake Plummer and Kyle Orton, who are usually remembered less than fondly among Broncos fans. So the most popular answer came as a surprise:
I’ve been a Plummer fan for years, and I can remember many conversations with Broncos fans (in fact, nearly all of them) where I was defended Plummer, while they supported Cutler or Tebow. I wonder what’s changed, to make fans look back fondly on Jake the Snake all of a sudden?
A look at the candidates, after the jump:
Brian Griese: Gutsy, but Stupid
Brian Griese’s career, to me, is defined by a Monday night game against the Raiders on November 13, 2000. Despite suffering a third degree shoulder separation in the first quarter, he stayed in the game, leading the Broncos to a 27-24 victory in a gutsy performance. Woody Paige called it a “courageous, incomprehensible performance,” saying that “legends have been created with less.” As Griese himself explained, “they gave me a numbing shot in that shoulder, and then I came out and just tried to throw to get it loose. This was not a game I wanted to miss, and I was going to do anything possible to get back in there and try to win it.” Paige admits “Griese’s shoulder, which has plagued him for two seasons, is worse than ever.” A courageous performance, sure, but one that changed his career forever: a couple decent years in Tampa Bay and Chicago notwithstanding, he was never the same QB after that game.
Jake Plummer: Denver’s Misunderstood Hero
Jake Plummer signed with the Broncos in 2003 to replace Griese. He had his own moments against the Raiders on Monday night as well, setting a Broncos record running for a 40-yard touchdown as the Broncos won 31-10. Broncos fans remember him for throwing interceptions, but he broke Elway’s records for single season passing yards and touchdowns. He led the Broncos to a wild-card playoff berth in both 2003 and 2004.
In 2005 Plummer led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and the AFC championship game. Though they lost to the eventual super bowl champion Steelers 34-17, it’s surely the best post-Elway season the Broncos have had. But they finished in second place at 9-7 in 2006, and the Broncos traded up to draft Jay Cutler. They tried trading Plummer to Tampa Bay, but instead of playing for Jon Gruden, he retired to enjoy his money and good health, traveling and going to Phish shows. He married a Broncos cheerleader, and became a professional handball player. Yes, Jake Plummer is awesome.
Jay Cutler: “You kinda suck, but my dad says you might be good some day”
Stan: “You kinda suck, but my dad says you might be good some day.”
Jay Cutler: “Thanks!”
Cutler is a good quarterback, as he’s now showing in Chicago. But heading into the 2006 season, the Broncos didn’t need a quarterback. They needed help on defense more than anything. Despite three good years in Denver, you can see a trend developing as they ranked (offense/defense) 18/12, 8/21, and 1/31, their best record was 9-7, and missed the playoffs all three years. Overall they ranked 17, 17, and 24 between 2006 and 2008. They were the 2nd best team in the NFL in 2005, ranking 2/9 on offense/defense.
I thought the Broncos would be better served keeping their two first round picks in the 2006 NFL draft, picking a running back and a defender, perhaps DeAngelo Williams and one of DeMeco Ryans, Antonio Cromartie, or Tamba Hali. With their plug-n-play zone blocking scheme that can make anybody a 1,000 yard rusher, I thought a guy like Williams could rush for 2,000 yards. I thought they were set with Plummer and Colorado State alum Bradlee Van Pelt at QB. But Mike Shanahan married his career to the success of Jay Cutler, and even though Cutler was the best QB in his draft class (over Vince Young and Matt Leinart), Shanny eventually did get fired for that decision.
Kyle Orton: Not Josh McDaniels
Broncos fans often forget that Josh McDaniels orchestrated some really good offenses. Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd were incredible in his system. Lloyd was the 2nd best receiver in the NFL in 2010. Understandibly though, those performances are overshadowed by McDaniels’ personnel decisions that were perhaps the worst in modern NFL history, truly giving Detroit’s Matt Millen a run for his money. I suspect that when a lot of fans express dislike for Orton, they are really expressing a dislike for McDaniels, which is unfortunate. Orton is a good QB, and I have reason to suspect that he would be better than Tony Romo in Dallas right now.
Tim Tebow: Not NFL Material
“QB wins” is the stupidest stat in all of sports. Kyle Orton “went” 1-4 in 2011, and Tebow “went” 7-4. Yet Orton was still the far superior quarterback. He wasn’t as good under John Fox as he was under McDaniels, but Tebow was the worst starting QB in the NFL. He hurt the team more than he helped them passing (he ranked 40 out of 47 players who threw at least 100 passes), and he was dead last in rushing for QBs as well. He and Cam Newton each ran 117 times; Newton had a 14.5% value over average. Tebow was 18.3% BELOW average. The Broncos won seven games despite Tebow, not because of him.
It’s not surprising that in 2012, the teams that thought Tebow was worth trading for (the Jets and Jaguars), have the 27th and 29th best offenses in the league. Nothing more needs to be said.