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Michigan's Michael Schofield is a quiet giant, versatile and reliable

The associate editor of Maize n' Brew, SB Nation's Michigan blog, talks with Mile High Report about the Wolverines' right tackle - who was often overshadowed by teammate and first-round pick Taylor Lewan - but is every bit as talented.

Justin Edmonds

To help Broncos fans get a little more insight on our NFL Draft signees, we talked with writers of SB Nation's college blogs.

Jack Stearns - aka Big House Jack - is associate editor of Maize ‘n Brew, the University of Michigan football blog. As he notes, he's probably biased on Wolverines players but will offer us his most objective view on our third-round pick, Michael Schofield.

Jack - I'm almost certainly going to sound incredibly biased as a Michigan fan. I try not to be, and I try to look at our players and NFL prospects objectively, recognize other players who are - or might be - better, and try to properly place the Michigan prospect among them honestly and without prejudice.

So what I'm going to try to provide here is not just an overall opinion but some concrete, observable data that Mile High Report readers can utilize to form their own conclusions.

Many in the Broncos community were screaming for offensive linemen to be drafted, and following the choice of Schofield, 72 percent of the Mile High Report community voted it was a good pick. Yet, he was virtually unknown to many readers and fans. What should Broncos fans - specifically our readers - know about the guy we are getting in Schofield?

Jack - First, some context. Michael Schofield and Taylor Lewan were the two bright spots on an offensive line that was terrible. It's a unit that tends to get judged more by the sum of its parts than by its individual components. Even so, you can look at Michigan's offensive line throughout the 2013 college football season and see quite clearly that the problem was the interior. We had a walk-on at center, a redshirt freshman at left guard, and a true freshman at right guard. The two tackles (Schofield and Lewan) were redshirt seniors, and you can see the noticeable difference in their technique and style of play.

Case in point, check out this play against Nebraska plus an alternate view:

Schofield is the tackle on the right side of the line (No. 75) who squarely locks into the edge rusher, anchors his feet, and puts the guy firmly in limbo. He gets an almost identical block to what Lewan (No. 77) has on the left side, and once his block is locked in, his part of the pocket is secure and the rusher is not going anywhere.

But what the heck happened? A linebacker comes down the middle, Michigan's running back throws up a quick but ineffective block, and then the interior of the line breaks down. That, summed up in one play, is why Michigan's offensive line struggled last season. It had almost nothing to do with Schofield.

So, what exactly are you getting? You're getting an offensive tackle who played right tackle very well, who has also played left guard when he was younger, who at times looks like he can block just as well as the first-round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans, and who to my knowledge had zero off-the-field issues. That's pretty much Michael Schofield in a nutshell.

The Maize ‘n Brew crew published a story about the surprise among many mock drafters and analysts that Schofield was picked up in the third round of the NFL Draft. In your opinion, is he worthy of a third-round pick?

Jack - Well, let's just say we have a lot of "differing opinions" over at Maize n' Brew, and what one writer says is not indicative of what the blog, or certainly the fan base, thinks as a whole. I was personally in the camp that believed Schofield's value was overshadowed by Lewan's celebrity, and that under different circumstances he would have been a high value draft target.

But to answer your question, is he worthy of a third-round draft pick? No. He should have been taken sooner.

I know what you're thinking: this crazy Michigan fan is so out of his mind that he just suggested Schofield should have been drafted in the second or, dare he say it, first round?! Yes. Yes, I did. That statement is 50 percent Michigan bias, 50 percent observable metric.

As we all know, the draft varies year to year and one year's first rounder is not necessarily the equivalent to another year's first rounder. The 2014 NFL draft in particular was one of the deepest in recent memory, but more at skill positions like wide receiver. The offensive line prospects were really categorized by the Big Three (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan) versus everyone else. Yes, there's admittedly a gap between those three and the rest, but that doesn't exactly mean the others were cannon fodder.

I know you're thinking this crazy Michigan fan is so out of his mind that he just suggested Schofield should have been drafted in the first round?! Yes. Yes, I did.

As a college football fan, I generally don't spend too much time worrying about or watching the NFL. Although it's always nice to see Michigan players perform well and succeed at the next level, we tend to be more focused on our upcoming season as well as recruiting, which is itself an entirely other world of sports.

But because we had three legitimate prospects for the NFL draft - and at least one was pegged as a top 10 pick - I've taken more of an interest in the transition to the NFL and watched the Senior Bowl and Combine both last year and this to see who Michigan's three prospects might be most comparable to. Schofield is probably most similar to two former prospects - Eric Fisher in the 2013 draft and Zack Martin in this year's draft.

Fisher and Schofield have similar measurables - both are roughly 6'7" and just over 300 pounds; both blew up at the Senior Bowl; and both were bright spots on otherwise terrible offensive lines for their respective teams.

Schofield is also similar to Martin (who is 6'4") in that they're both highly versatile - having played and started at various positions on the offensive line - and they both have solid technique that improved significantly over their respective careers. Plus Martin and Schofield were both extremely reliable and rarely made technical errors, as both Michigan fans and Notre Dame fans will tell you.

Yet look at where they were each drafted. Fisher was the No.1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Although the general consensus among nearly all draft analysts  was that this year's Big Three (Lewan, Robinson and Matthews) were each better than Fisher - yet none was drafted first.

And then there's Zack Martin. Had he been in last year's draft, his versatility and the fanfare of being a Notre Dame offensive tackle would have likely made him a more attractive prospect than was Fisher. And it's a good bet (although we'll obviously never know) that he could have been drafted by Kansas City with the first pick.

So that brings us to Schofield, a guy who pound-for-pound and motion-for-motion looks very similar to a first overall pick and another guy who was taken in the first round, and we're asking if he's worthy of a third-round draft pick? Watch Eric Fisher's Senior Bowl tape, and then watch Schofield's (and listen to Mayock's analysis as well - it's pretty damn spot on.)

Fisher and Schofield obviously aren't identical, but they're definitely in the same boat, and when you look strictly at the little nuances of their game, it was like watching almost the exact same thing. I don't presume to assume that all Michigan players are world-beaters, but when I looked for comparables, those were the closest I could find.

And more importantly, does it even matter - in what ways will Schofield be a good fit for the Broncos and prove his worth as a third-round pick?

Jack - When I saw that Denver selected Schofield, my first thought was "What an Embarrassment of Riches." As I said, I don't follow the NFL uber-intimately, but even I've heard the tales of how good Denver's offense and Denver's offensive line were last season. That the Broncos chose a guy like Schofield will be eventually seen as just another decision that keeps them in the conversation for the Super Bowl year in and year out. Offensive linemen are typically not seen as "game changers," and as much as I like Schofield, I won't say he'll be the deciding factor that gets Denver another championship, but he's definitely a strong cog that can help you get there.

As for how he fits, he's a Peyton Manning type of guy. He's quiet, reserved, and likes to focus on his craft. He doesn't say any flubs to the media. He won't go rogue off the field. He'll come to work every day and do his job and will be a valuable part of not only the team as a person but as a protector for your quarterback. I've always thought of Schofield as an unsung hero, and he'll probably continue to be that, and he won't mind the lack of fanfare at all.

"Versatility" has been a word used a lot by the Broncos brass with Schofield. How did you see that strength play out while at Michigan and how will it be good for the Broncos?

Jack - Well, let's start by looking at the facts. Schofield started 32 games and appeared in 52 throughout his career at Michigan, so he's clearly got some experience. He was the starter at right tackle for both his senior and junior years, adding up to 26 straight games. He started at left guard for 10 games in 2011 when he was a redshirt sophomore, the season Michigan went to the Sugar Bowl. Before that he saw time as a reserve offensive lineman and contributed on special teams.

What does this mean? It means he developed significantly as an offensive lineman throughout his career, going from a reserve lineman to a starter, and then to a starter at another position.

It means he was dependable where the line needed him to be. He may not have been the early stud Taylor Lewan was, who started at left tackle as a redshirt freshman and held the position for four straight years, but Schofield did hone his craft enough to where he was able to lock down his own position eventually, which is generally how we expect offensive linemen's careers to go. It's one of those positions that takes so much time and training, but it's the most important unit on the field. As they say, the game is won or lost in the trenches.

I'd say Denver is getting pretty close to a finished product. Schofield went about as far in college as you can expect an offensive lineman to go - his development never fell behind schedule, he did his job, he lived up to his potential, and he made very few mistakes.

As for how he fits, he's a Peyton Manning type of guy. He's quiet, reserved, and likes to focus on his craft.

At the end of the day, the two biggest things you're looking for from an offensive lineman are reliability and consistency. I can say without any hesitation that Schofield definitely has those two things and will bring them to Denver's line. He'll go wherever you guys need him to and he'll be a highly dependable stop-gap if nothing else.

Since the Broncos have mentioned playing Schofield at Right Tackle or Left Guard, what would you say is his strength/weakness for each position?

Jack - Schofield was put at right tackle because that's where his skill set seemed to fit best. His tall frame and long arms made him a good if not great pass protector. He possibly could have even played left tackle if Lewan weren't there (which is interesting because many Michigan blogs expected Schofield to slide over to that spot once it was rumored Lewan would bolt for the NFL after successfully battling Jadeveon Clowney in the 2013 Outback Bowl.

But once Lewan announced he was staying, no one figured (and rightly so) that Schofield would supplant the position at left tackle that Lewan had locked down for then-three years. The most logical choice for Schofield was to put him at right tackle, where he could still put his pass protecting skills to good use against defensive ends.

I didn't see many weaknesses in Schofield's performance at right tackle, but there were a few times he needed to react better to the speed of pass rushers. I know I've sung his praises throughout most of this Q&A so far, but I will admit that Schofield was not perfect. (Neither was Auburn's Greg Robinson, who was drafted more on potential.)

From what I saw, he works better man-to-man than in a zone scheme. He sometimes struggles to identify the person he's blocking on a blitz, when multiple people are coming at him. The best example of this came when Michigan played Nebraska in 2013. Schofield was better when assigned to one player (usually the defensive end), but when he had to choose between the defensive end and a swift linebacker on a blitz, he occasionally chose the wrong guy and got turned around, which of course results in a sack.

This leads me to believe that Schofield probably can't be a one-man wrecking crew. He needs to have a specific job on the play and has to trust that his teammates are doing their jobs too. In that type of unit, Schofield will be very successful and will be hugely valuable at his position. Still, he needs to get better at recognizing blitz packages and more sophisticated defensive schemes, such as where the defensive end drops back and two linebackers rush in. He won't be completely listless on those types of plays, but I can't promise that early in his NFL career no one will slip past him.

At guard, Schofield was dependable as well, but if you watch how he did against Ohio State in 2011 (No. 75, in between Lewan and the center), he was a little off occasionally on his first step. He was then a redshirt sophomore and still working on his consistency. His play, especially getting himself correctly aligned to the person he was blocking, needed improvement. Once he got his block set, he was generally able to neutralize the defender, most often on a run.

But here's a more important point - even at a position where he did not have a great deal of experience, Schofield was not a liability, which can't be said for other members on the offensive line. That he now has experience at both tackle and guard makes him even less of a liability.

John Elway and John Fox indicated they would put Schofield in the mix with Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark to possibly compete for a starting position in 2014 - do you think Schofield is up to the task of being a starter next year and protecting one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL?

Jack - I personally don't think Schofield will start in 2014, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did. Without a doubt, the biggest thing he adds to the Broncos right now is depth, and I think it's safe to say he'll probably be the first off the bench in the event of an injury. I only say that because there isn't a defined position - an immediate need - for him to go into and that's both a good and bad thing.

So it's tough to say where he'll go or who he'll specifically beat out, whether it's Orlando Franklin or Chris Clark or someone else. Is he good enough as a rookie to supplant guys who have actually weathered NFL defensive lines and played through an NFL schedule all the way to a Super Bowl? Uh, probably not. But I can easily see him being a starter on a Super Bowl-winning offensive line in two or three years.

What is a fun fact we should know about Schofield?

Jack - He makes a mean buffalo chicken dip? Sorry, not a clue but that's what Lewan says. Schofield - unlike his counterpart on the other side of the line - is a quiet guy just focused on football.

Mile High Report - We'll take quiet and focused...and some of that dip, please!