Paxton Lynch ran out of chances with the Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos moved up in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft to select a quarterback -- Paxton Lynch -- they were the only team in the NFL that had a Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway leading the way on personnel decisions.

They had a former NFL quarterback who played nine seasons in the league as the team's head coach in Gary Kubiak. They had a longtime quarterbacks coach and former playcaller in Greg Knapp on the staff and an offensive coordinator in Rick Dennison who had worked on staffs with both Kubiak and Mike Shanahan.

And Sunday, with all of that collective knowledge, with all of the organizational success that has included a Super Bowl win to close out the 2015 season, it was abundantly clear just how difficult it is to find a quarterback who has all of the attributes needed to lead a team as he survives the attention, never-ending scrutiny and a difficult learning curve.

Because on Sunday, less than 24 hours after saying they had kept Lynch as the team's No. 3 quarterback, a Broncos front office that includes Elway and Kubiak effectively said Lynch is out of chances. The Broncos claimed Kevin Hogan off waivers to be the team's No. 3 quarterback and waived Lynch, ending his time with the Broncos.

"I've said that since day one, I wanted to be the guy here," Lynch said this past week. "I've gone through some things, I've struggled, haven't played well at times and at times I have played well. I've just got to find that consistency, constantly playing well and I know I can get there."

It did not happen in Denver, where Lynch lost consecutive training camp battles to Trevor Siemian for the starting job in 2016 and 2017 and a battle with Kelly to be Keenum's backup this summer.

The Broncos certainly aren't alone in the struggle to turn a first-round pick into a future starter behind center, as even the most basic fundamental skills of the position differ so widely in how the position is played in most college offenses versus what is expected in the NFL.

Yes, the position is the most important in sports, and the mistakes in filling it are also more plentiful, higher profile and more difficult to recover from along the way for both the quarterbacks and the people who selected those quarterbacks.

"I think what's happened is everybody says it's the most important position, they agree and then developmentally there isn't always the structure in the league to help them flourish," said longtime quarterback coach George Whitfield, who trains some of the draft's top prospects each year. "Things can get rushed."

First, the need is so great to find a quarterback that the players are over-drafted, that late first-round picks become top-five picks, second- and third-round picks become first-rounders and so on down the draft board.

Because they are drafted so early by teams that almost always need them greatly, the pressure to play them, to simply "see what he can do" is great. The player then makes the inevitable on-field mistakes and isn't always ready to recover from those mistakes or repair them quickly as he keeps lining up in game-day situations against defenses that have studied those mistakes and are doing everything possible to get the quarterback to repeat them.

"It's like drinking through a fire hose," Elway said earlier this summer. "I've said, it's not ideal. ... I did it and it wasn't always great for me, but if you make it through, if you handle it, you have a chance to be tough enough at the position to make it in this league. That's a tough thing because eventually you have to see what you have."

In Lynch's case his play has often taken a downturn after a mistake. In his start against the Oakland Raiders last season, for example, Lynch was a tentative 4-of-7 passing for 18 yards before an interception at the Raiders' 1-yard line, but he had not been sacked, had 20 yards rushing and he was confident in his movements. After the interception he was 5-of-7 for 23 yards with no rushing yards and was sacked four times before leaving the game in the second half with an ankle injury.

At the time, Broncos coach Vance Joseph said "it went downhill for him after [the interception]." And the trend often reared itself again and again in practices, both in training camp and during the regular season.

Elway, with the No. 5 pick in hand in this past April's draft and Wyoming's Josh Allen and UCLA's Josh Rosen on the board, decided Keenum was his solution this time around and took the draft's best pass-rusher, Bradley Chubb, instead. The Broncos also didn't try to trade up for a chance at Baker Mayfield, who went No. 1, or Sam Darnold, who went No. 3.

Keenum signed for two years and if he isn't the answer or Kelly doesn't continue to advance his game, the Broncos will be back in the draft, maybe even on the first day once again, trying to find the answer to the league's most important question.

"Guys have the abilities, that goes without saying," said former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, whose best seasons came with Denver as his second NFL team. "A lot of qualities define a quarterback so it's always going to be hard, but maybe we should just say, once you see the arm strength you want, is he a competitor? Is he mentally tough? Because that's a hell of a lot more important than how far he can throw the damn ball."