Diamond in the rough Kaleb Eleby might be the Broncos future at quarterback

Sep 4, 2021; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Western Michigan Broncos quarterback Kaleb Eleby (5) rushes in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It is safe to assume, Aaron Rodgers is the Denver Broncos Plan A at quarterback for the 2022 season. However, Rodgers’ NFL future remains cloudy after his appearance on the Pat McAfee Show this past week.

Plan B should be targeting Russell Wilson. The Broncos could offer Wilson his best chance to win while also giving his current team a respectable haul in return. However, Wilson is not available by trade at this point. His availability remains unclear as the Seattle Seahawk quarterback continues to make public statements in support of a return this upcoming season.

So, if Plan A and B do not come together what might the Broncos plan be at quarterback?

Plan C is likely to be free agents such as Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, or Mitchell Trubisky. All of which are young enough to be more than a short-term answer if they play well. On the other hand, none have earned the financial investment of a long-term fixture either.

General manager George Paton will likely add a veteran via trade or free agency no matter what. Just what kind of veteran the Broncos land is yet to be determined.

Outside of Wilson, an elite quarterback in his prime, Denver will likely draft a quarterback to develop behind its veteran addition.

It has been widely said the 2022 rookie quarterback class lacks top-end talent. If the Broncos brass believes that to be true, look for Denver to address the position later in the draft.

One intriguing prospect is Kaleb Eleby, a collegiate Bronco from Western Michigan. Paton and the Denver staff may have hinted Eleby is a target for them this April.

Here is why you should get more familiar with Eleby.

Kaleb Eleby is a legitimate NFL prospect with starter upside

Eleby was a high school phenom out of Pattonville High School in Missouri. The former Class 5 Player of the Year totaled 95 touchdowns and 10,000 yards in his high school career.

Eleby had plenty of offers to play football for Power 5 programs but chose to play at Western Michigan for very personal reasons. In a wonderful piece by Simon Carroll, the mature and family-dedicated Eleby discussed why he chose to play at Western Michigan. The sought-after high school quarterback knew he was playing for more than just himself, and wanted to share the experience with his family by staying closer to home.

Eleby remained patient and got his chance to shine in 2020 where he simply balled out. Per Sports Reference, in six contests, Eleby totaled 1,699 yards through the air for 18 touchdowns with only two interceptions.

In 2021, Eleby took it up a notch. He threw for an impressive 3,277 yards with 23 passing touchdowns and six interceptions.

Furthermore, Eleby showed he stacks up with some of the best quarterbacks in this class even though he likely will not hear his name called until Day 3.

Eleby ranked 11th in the NCAA in EPA, ahead of all the quarterbacks assumed to hear their name called early in April’s draft.

Assessing Eleby’s fit was a fun task as he has a much different game than most of the other quarterbacks in this class.

Scouting Eleby and his fit with Broncos

The biggest strength of Eleby’s game is his arm talent.

First, unlike the only quarterback on Denver’s roster now, Drew Lock, Eleby has natural accuracy.

His ball placement is impressive and easy to see on film.

Eleby shows a nice ability to navigate the pocket. Against Michigan, Eleby ducks onrushing defenders to buy himself time before delivering a strike for a touchdown.

First, you see Eleby hit the top of his drop and rotate to his left before dropping a dime to his receiver up the sideline. Eleby has one of the nicer deep balls of any quarterback in this class.

Additionally, the ball jumps out of his hand with ease. Eleby’s comfortability to play in rhythm fits well with the west coast system that will be run by Nathaniel Hackett next season. Being on time and accurate is one of Eleby’s strengths and was on full display in this clip against Northern Illinois.

Against one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Kenny Pickett, Eleby played one of his most impressive games of the season as Western Michigan topped Pittsburgh 44-41.

Eleby showed his tremendous accuracy and command of the offense throughout the contest. Often fitting the ball into the smallest of windows.

Eleby not only can anticipate throws, but he also allows the receiver to get yards after the catch. Something missing from the Broncos’ offense the last few seasons.

Finally, Eleby shows poise. He’s able to stand in the pocket under duress and deliver a strike. With the number of pressures given up by the Broncos’ offensive line, the team’s next quarterback must anticipate a bit of the same. Without a clean pocket, Eleby has shown he’s tough enough to stand in the fire long enough to give his receiver a chance to get open.

Areas of concern with Eleby

Like any quarterback, there are areas of concern with Eleby. At Western Michigan, he played against lesser competition regularly.

Although Eleby has plus accuracy and arm talent, he lacks a ‘wow’ physical trait. For example, he was rarely asked to do much with his feet. Unlike many quarterbacks in this class, Eleby’s game is not built on his mobility. Similar to other prospects such as Malik Willis, Sam Howell, and Matt Corral, Eleby has an underwhelming build at 6-foot-1 and 210-pounds. Unlike the aforementioned Willis, Howell, and Corral making an eye-popping play outside the pocket is not a part of his repertoire.

Additionally, the RPO system at Western Michigan gave Eleby little prep for multiple progressions he will be asked to go through at the NFL level. Though he did have some autonomy at the line of scrimmage, Eleby was not asked to make full-field reads. Thus, he will need a lot of reps to acclimate the complexities of an NFL offense.

Lastly, like most college coaches, Eleby’s staff put a premium on winning games and not his development. His footwork and arm slot lack consistency and refinement. Eleby will need to be coached up. He needs work to create a solid NFL base. This will improve his consistency as a passer.

In the end, every quarterback in the 2022 draft class may have to sit a year before they are ready to start. Paton may be wise to draft Eleby later and preserve flexibility at the top of the 2022 draft. The Broncos would also have the flexibility to draft another quarterback early next season if need be.

With Hackett’s staff in place, grooming Eleby could give the Broncos a low-cost starter or at minimum a viable backup for years to come.

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