At first blush, you have to wonder what Denver was thinking here.
First the Broncos mishandle trying to trade for Matt Cassel, and then they completely screw up calming Cutler down.
Then they trade a franchise quarterback for a perennial backup.
Or did they?
Sure, Kyle Orton didn’t wow us back in 2005 when he stepped in to cover yet another glorious Rex Grossman setback and played well enough to not lose.
And sure, while he looked incredibly good in the first portion of the 2008 season, he hurt his ankle and then completely fell apart.
But a bad ankle can hurt any quarterback and shouldn’t diminish what he did when healthy.
So the question is: Which Orton is the one coming to Denver?
Certainly you have to credit Orton for stepping in during the 2005 season and holding the fort. It’s a lot to ask of any rookie, especially a guy like Orton who was a fourth round draft pick – expected to have to no more than back up duties to incumbent Rex Grossman in his first year.
He wasn’t perfect, throwing just 9 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. But he was serviceable.
It’s odd, but the perception is often that Orton is very accurate, and that’s not necessarily a fact. On the surface, his TD/INT ratio is almost 50/50 (30/27 actually). Mind you, it’s not much data to go on – he’s only got 33 games to go on.
But he’s not a laser-accurate passer by any means.
The other assumption is that Orton lacks the arm strength to take advantage of his wide receiver corps. But in the same breath, many say that Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal automatically spell big numbers for Orton.
Once again, we don’t have a good measure of what Orton can do based on just two seasons, one of which was filled with a lingering injury.
Certainly Marshall, Royal and – to a lesser but no less important extent – Brandon Stokley and Tony Scheffler, all contributed to Jay Cutler’s success.
But I would make the argument that he made them as much as they made him, if not more.
The fact is, I think Orton will benefit from throwing to the group of targets he has in Denver. He’ll also benefit from having to throw more than in Chicago.
Denver hasn’t yet made enough strides for the defense to avoid struggling again this year and it’s possible the team will find themselves behind often enough to where Orton may have to come from behind.
The question is whether Orton has what it takes to come from behind and succeed. According to stats on footballguys.com, trailing the opposition last season, Orton threw for 1,002 yards but had a TD/INT ratio of 6 TDs to 7 INTs.
Again, some of that surely comes down to his wide receivers. Still, some of that is Orton and he’ll need to be able to be more accurate in Denver.
In the end, I’m not totally sure what we can expect from Orton and that’s a great deal of the problem. He’s been hot and cold, produced well and not at all, had few decent wide receivers, and was in an offense which favored the run because they didn’t trust their quarterbacks.
He’s done a bunch of different things in different situations but what he hasn’t been is around long.
We have very little to go on which is dependable.
In this Denver offense, it’s tempting to just plug Orton in and assume the same numbers JC had will emerge. By the same notion – given the not-always-impressive numbers previously put up – it’s easy to dismiss him.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. But the doubts I have place him a little further back right now in my rankings.
I can’t get too hot and bothered about Orton, even if he played well half of one season. He’s got the job, so no Training Camp battle. But until camp starts, we won’t see how he clicks with his receivers – the best of which might not even be there.
This gets worse not better if Marshall gets traded or holds out (right now, Marshall says he’ll be in camp and the Broncos say they will not trade him). Again, nothing I can judge now.
So while I reserve the right to move him up later, in mid July, Orton is where he deserves to be on the list.