What Can Broncos Fans Expect From Brett Rypien?

Photo: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing we should revisit is early scouting reports on Brett Rypien. In a 2019 quarterback class that lacked much desirable talent, Rypien only graded out as a Round-5 player for me and the sixth quarterback overall. He was right in a tier with Daniel Jones and Ryan Finley, who we’ve both seen take a solid crack at starting in the league—Finley in relief of Andy Dalton last year for Cincinnati, where he now remains Joe Burrow’s backup, and Jones as the franchise quarterback in New York, as they try to find some successful offense.

But just because the 2019 quarterback class outside of Haskins has yet to really make its mark does not mean Rypien will fall into the same bucket. Rypien had a large, grassroots fan base in that uninspiring 2019 crop for his play at Boise State—and for his physical limitations and play style considered, it was impressive to see how much offense he generated. As I wrote of Rypien in his 2019 scouting report: 

Clean mechanically with an incredibly snappy release. Can threaten tight windows in the short and intermediate areas and dice up zones with his quick motion and great zip on the football...Doesn't have pinpoint accuracy but delivers a very catchable football to almost every region of the field...Will lock onto first pre-snap read at times and attempt to force the ball into unnecessary windows, trusting too greatly in his own accuracy to fit the throw. In that he recruits his full body to generate velocity, does not have amazing arm strength, and throws to the sideline will peter out if he can't set a clean base. Likewise, is strained to his limit when attacking outside of the numbers deep, and will frequently put the ball closer to the numbers than to the sideline, which gives CBs plenty of room to make a play.

We’ve gotten two tastes of Rypien in the pros since he went undrafted to the Broncos in 2019. The first was in the preseason of the 2019 season with the Broncos, during which he battled with Kevin Hogan for a position on the depth chart. Both Hogan and Rypien were cut, but Rypien hung around on the practice squad in 2019, only joining the active roster following Joe Flacco’s injury, and leaving it when Drew Lock came off of IR. Rypien was once again carried on the practice squad to start the 2020 season until an injury to a starter—this time, Lock—brought him onto the active roster, where he waited behind Jeff Driskel for three quarters before getting his first regular season action against Tampa Bay last week.

Rypien was as expected against Tampa Bay in Week 3. A young quarterback can’t ask for a tougher defense to handle for his first live bullets, as Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has some of the most exotic and aggressive blitzing structures in the NFL, with the secondary talent to back it up. But Rypien completed his first seven passes, operating Pat Shurmur’s quick game approach with aplomb, directing his unit from the no-huddle, and getting rid of the ball immediately to his pre-snap reads.

Once things got condensed in the red zone, however, Rypien immediately floundered. He took a bad sack after it took him too long to get off of his initial look, inert in the pocket, and easy pickings for Jason Pierre-Paul. On another first read force, he threw an easy pick to safety Mike Edwards on the goal line.

Rypien is unwilling and at times even unable to get off his first look, and this issue is the genesis of many of his bad plays. In the 2019 Contextualized Quarterbacking portfolio (available with TDN Premium), Rypien had the lowest share of chartable passing attempts go beyond his first read, and the third-highest share of his attempts go into a tight window. All 11 of Rypien’s interceptable passes in his senior season at college came on first-read throws. 

The good news for Rypien is that his new offensive coordinator Shurmur is pleased as punch to play the first-read, nickel-and-dime game. Rypien’s collegiate numbers were fairly similar to Daniel Jones’ in another heavy quick game offense under Dave Cutcliffe in Duke, and when Jones played under Shurmur in New York in 2019, he led the 2020 Contextualized Quarterbacking in first-read throws. Shurmur will build an offense for Rypien based on leverage, one-step drops, and half-field looks—similar to the one that Jones captained, with some success, in New York last season. With KJ Hamler, Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant filling the Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram roles, the weapons are there to be successful underneath and on quick vertical routes up the seams.

The best news for the Broncos and Rypien? He goes from first to worst on the rankings of defenses to face as a young passer. Unlike the Buccaneers, the Jets have no semblance of a pass rush, little talent in the secondary, and while Gregg Williams is willing to blitz much like Todd Bowles is, Rypien has the quick release and smart eyes to get the ball out to his playmakers in space. 

The Broncos offense on Thursday night will not be world-beating, awe-inspiring, or anywhere near explosive. But if it is functional—and that’s what Rypien is, in a nutshell: a functional quarterback—it has enough to bring home a win against the Jets. The football will be mistake-free and risk-averse, the passes will be underneath and zippy, and the YAC will be boring (most of the time). But the sticks will move, and Rypien just may put the first mark in the Broncos’ win column this year.