Whilst much of the narrative coming out of the Denver Broncos’ 2020 draft has been positive, there has been one area in which the negativity has been focused. The decision to not address the tackle positions.
There has been talk of the Broncos offensive line being the weak link on the offence, and specifically talk that left tackle Garett Bolles is a significant problem on the left side of the line.
To an extent that is correct, and a new left tackle would have likely been a huge improvement. But any suggestion that John Elway has not sought to address the offensive line issues and improve the group are wide of the mark.
Elway Making Moves
In 2019, Elway signed right tackle Ja’Wuan James to a 4-year $51 million contract and drafted left guard Dalton Risner in the second round. This year, the Broncos’ general manager acquired right guard Graham Glasgow in free agency, before drafting centre Lloyd Cushenberry III in the third round.
The Broncos have signed four new starters on the offensive line in the last two years, and given James’ injury troubles last year, it will effectively be like having three new starters in 2020.
New acquisition Glasgow had a 74.1 overall grade on PFF for the 2019 season, in which he allowed 0 sacks, whilst the third-round selection Cushenberry comes from being the offensive line leader on the national champions.
And whilst James will remain a question mark until he steps out on the field, the right tackle has been afforded the time to recover. Every year after suffering injury issues he has played a full season, which bodes well for 2020.
The Bolles Problem
Of course, to the frustration of many Broncos fans, Garett Bolles is still slated to be the Broncos’ starting left tackle, although Elway has said there will be an ‘open competition’ with Elijah Wilkinson.
In his third season in the league many of the same problems persisted for Bolles who committed 17 penalties, the second most in the league, and also allowed four sacks.
Many have advocated the signing of nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters who is still on the open market, and if his body can hold up at 38-years old, he would present an upgrade on Bolles.
But even if Peters is not brought in, there is reason for optimism. Bolles was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded left tackle from week 13 onwards, which coincided with Drew Lock coming in as the Broncos starting quarterback.
Last offseason, the Broncos brought in arguably the best offensive line coach in the league in Mike Munchak, and signs of improvement towards the end of the season, particularly from Bolles, were encouraging.
Another offseason with Munchak could develop the offensive line further.
The Drew Lock Effect
Alongside Mike Munchak, the Broncos can also rely on a mobile quarterback in Drew Lock to improve the line somewhat. 35-year-old Joe Flacco’s lack of mobility and anticipation of pressure proved a real issue last season as was sacked 26 times in eight games.
In contrast, Lock was taken down just five times in five games, and his protection featured the inexperienced Jake Rodgers and Austin Schlottman playing significant snaps. With Lock at the helm, a threadbare line looked competent.
Despite injury issues and inconsistency, the Broncos offensive line graded in the top half of the league in 2019, and with the further strengthening that has occurred this offseason, particularly on the interior, this group shouldn’t harm any chances of success.
Heading into the offseason programme, question marks do remain at the tackle positions and bringing in Peters would help answer some of those. However, Drew Lock now has a number of dynamic weapons to throw to, and the offence should take a leap in production this year, unhindered by the offensive line.