Breaking Down the Roster - Part Five: Offensive Line

Opening Statement

After a busy weekend with work, I finally resume my series on Denver's roster with this edition discussing the offensive line.

As always, it is important to put each player, or unit, into context to understand their role more clearly. While there are several metrics out their on websites with a paid staff that are infinitely more sophisticated than mine, I will discuss the players as they relate to each other.

The Broncos suffered through injuries and a lack of experience through the first half of the season before turning it around with the home game against Kansas City following the bye. Despite their numbers in 2010, the Broncos should field a solid offensive line this upcoming season.

In case you missed any of the other editions of Breaking Down the Roster, here they are:

Breaking Down the Roster - Part One: Quarterback

Breaking Down the Roster - Part Two: Running Back

Breaking Down the Roster - Part Three: Wide Receiver

Breaking Down the Roster - Part Four: Tight End

As always, stats used here are from my website - www.queuestats.com - as well as NFL.com or DenverBroncos.com.

The Stats

Denver currently has 13 linemen: Zane Beadles (G), Jeff Byers (G), Ryan Clady (T), Chris Clark (T), Stanley Daniels (G), Orlando Franklin (T), Russ Hochstein (G), Chris Kuper (G), Shawn Murphy (G), Eric Olsen (G), Manny Ramirez (G), JD Walton (C) and potentially Ryan Harris (T). (The ones in bold are the players most likely to make the team)

The lineup with the most experience in the NFL and time together would go like this (from left tackle to right tackle): Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, JD Walton, Chris Kuper and Ryan Harris.

  • Ryan Clady has been ranked by many sports websites as the 3rd best left tackle in the NFL (behind Joe Thomas and Jake Long) and I would agree. Although he is not the best run-blocking tackle, he has been great at pass-blocking. In 2008, he was credited with 0.5 sacks and only 3 penalties. He started his career with 20 straight games without allowing a sack.
  • Arguably the weakest position on the line is right or left guard. Whoever plays the guard spot opposite of Chris Kuper has limited experience or is simply not as polished of a lineman yet. While Beadles is not bad, he struggled to create any push for Denver's running backs.
  • JD Walton actually played well last year. He was far from pro-bowl status like Maurkice Pouncey was for the Steelers, but he held up well. Much of his struggles came from an offensive line that shifted players around often and had too many other failures on the offense that were not his fault. With another year and more experience with the other lineman, his performance will definitely increase a lot. Only the Buffalo Bills had an offensive line with less collective game experience (147-169).
  • Chris Kuper will be in his 6th year and can play both left and right guard. In 42 starts, he has only allowed 6 sacks, or 2.3 in a 16-game season. In 2008, he was the only guard to play all 16 games and not allow a single sack. 
  • Ryan Harris will be in his 5th year and is almost as impressive as Clady when pass-blocking. He has only allowed 3.5 sacks in 24 starts (2.33 for a 16-game season). He is a very good tackle and would provide great stability for this offensive line. I know some would feel better if money was spent elsewhere, but there are few positions as important as tackles. The only question mark for Ryan Harris is his durability. Since he has been the starter in 2008, he has only played in 35 games out of 48.

With the injuries to Clady and Harris and the addition of three rookies (Beadles, Walton, Daniels) to the offensive line, it was very simple why the Broncos struggled to run the football.

According to my Offensive Line rating, Denver ranked 25th (t) in the NFL with a score of 70.8. To put that in perspective, the Giants (1) had a rating of 114.1 and almost half (15 teams) of the NFL had a rating over 80.

They averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 96.5 yards per game and allowed a sack on 6.5 percent of all dropbacks.

Since the guards are key to creating a push in the center of the line and making holes for the running game, utilizing rookie Orlando Franklin in the middle instead of as a tackle is one solution (also depends on if Harris is re-signed or let go).

In college, Franklin played guard and tackle for Miami, but would have the most immediate impact if he stayed in the middle. If this were the case, Denver's lineup would look the same, except Franklin would take Beadles' spot. If Harris was to get injured again, Franklin would then slide over to right tackle and Beadles would reclaim the left guard position.

The whole idea behind the argument that Denver should keep Harris is simple: this offensive line needs experience, pass-blocking talent, and run-blocking guards in the middle. If Orlando Franklin replaces Harris, there is still a void at left guard and it is still an unknown whether he will perform at the level Ryan Harris played at for 2+ seasons with a lack of training with the team because of the lockout.

As is the case with most of these issues, a viable solution will arise once the CBA is signed and free-agency begins. If Harris becomes too pricy, then Denver will be forced to make a business decision for the long-term. However, if Denver can keep Harris, Franklin would make a huge impact at guard and the running game will definitely improve.

Finally, Orland Franklin started 40 of his 51 games at Miami and earned All-ACC honors his last two years there.

Closing Statement

In many ways, Denver's struggles last year were so obvious it hurt watching them at times. The coaches have game tape of all offensive lineman with NFL experience and they have a good understanding of what Franklin brings as a rookie guard and tackle. I fully expect them to make the best decision when it comes to the offensive line allignment.

Denver ranked 17th in scoring offense in 2010 despite have such a prolific passing attack. Part of the problems were a result of an inability to run the football effectively. If Denver is going to average over 4.0 yards per carry, over 120 rushing yards per game and score more than 10 touchdowns by running backs, they will need a healthy and talented offensive line.

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