Sean Keeler: Why wait, Broncos? Sooner Bo Nix is named Sean Payton's QB 1, the better.

Sean Keeler, The Denver Post on

Published in Football

DENVER — Jon Cooper goes so far back with Sean Payton, he remembers when the Denver Broncos coach was the second-smartest guy in the room.

“I watched him play football in high school (in Chicago), that’s how far back I go with Sean,” Cooper, associate general manager and senior draft analyst with the Ourlads scouting service, chuckled over the phone. “I know what kind of competitor he is. His learning curve in the NFL really got a boost working with Bill Parcells.

“There’s some Bill Parcells now in how he operates. The Broncos are in some good hands, in my opinion.”

He thinks Bo Nix is in good hands, too.

Heck, he thinks Nix and Payton are destined to go together like green chiles and smashed ground beef. More to the point, he thinks the two will be ready to serve, hot and fresh, at Seattle. Week 1. Right outta the chute.

“I’m not sure Zach Wilson is going to become a better quarterback from working with Sean,” Cooper said. “And Nix is a veteran with all that college experience. (As a) guy who’s played a lot of football, there’s an advantage, to a degree.

“There’s some inconsistency (with Nix). And I think where Sean can help is develop that consistency and develop some consistent things in his mechanics and also the mental side of playing quarterback. They’ll be coming up with a teaching plan – there’s a lot of teaching with a (rookie) QB, and Sean will be involved with some plans. But my confidence level is pretty high with him, obviously.”

And the meter’s running. Nix will be 24-and-a-half during the preseason. He’s older than Trey Lance. He’s older than Sam Howell. He’s older than Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson.

You didn’t draft a kid. And you sure as heck didn’t draft him to lug Jarrett Stidham’s clipboard around for six weeks.

“Bo Nix (needs) consistency to get to that next level of QB,” Cooper said. “He’s inconsistent. He’s got a strong arm. He’s a big, tough kid. There are some inconsistencies there, some mechanical things he’s going to have to work on. But with Sean, I’d trust Sean more than almost anybody when it comes to QBs.”

Cooper, who coached high-school ball in Illinois back when a teenage Payton was slinging it as a QB all over the Windy City, is into his sixth decade of either coaching or scouting football. He’s forgotten more about the game than most of us will remember. If we’re lucky.

All that being said, I wondered, why did one of the NFL’s most venerated QB fixers go nuclear on Russell Wilson, only to let the capologists deal with the fallout?

“Obviously, Russell Wilson was not the best match,” Cooper laughed. “But Russell Wilson kind of wore out his welcome at a number of places.”


You don’t say.

“There’s not always a perfect match,” Cooper continued. “The nice thing about an NFL team developing a QB and drafting one is that they do an awful lot of research on these guys.

“An old GM told me that ‘You don’t really know for sure until you get them in the building. You can watch film, you can see them at the combine, but you don’t know for sure what you have to work with until you get them in the building.’”

Yet Payton, for all that gravitas, never really drafted a true successor to Drew Brees in New Orleans. He never built a franchise QB from scratch before.

“There’s some truth to that,” Cooper said of the whole Payton-rookie-QB quandary. “But on the other hand, he’s evaluated the QBs he could’ve possibly drafted.

“He takes a great approach. He understands. He listens. He understands what guys have to work with. I think there were three or four QBs in this draft that he would’ve been able to develop had he been unable to draft one of those top 6 QBs.”

Shove a rookie signal-caller into the deep end before he’s ready, everybody drowns.

The pro football QB growth curve isn’t always linear. Or logical. Carson Wentz and Robert Griffin III burned hot, burned fast and flamed out. Kurt Warner found his footing at age 28, lost it at 33, and found it at 36 again. Joe Flacco stole John Elway’s money at 34, then steered the Browns to the playoffs at 38.

As rookies go, Justin Herbert made it look easy. Stroud made it look fun. The latter also slotted into a friendlier cockpit with a more illustrious supporting cast. Pro Football Focus ranked three members of the Texans offense among their top 101 highest-graded players last fall, including Stroud (No. 100), who was joined by tackle Laremy Tunsil (No. 55) and wideout Nico Collins (No. 34). The Broncos produced one, in left tackle Garett Bolles (No. 99).

“You don’t know for sure. You just don’t know,” Cooper sighed. “But the thing is, knowing Sean and seeing how he’s operated, the odds are good that Bo Nix will be successful.

“So that’s all a part of it. They’re all pieces of the puzzle. But it’s going to take a while. It just might not take as long as you might think.”


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