It is no surprise that the Denver Broncos offensive line was the worst performing unit for the team over the course of the 2016 season. If bearing witness their horrendous performances week in and week out wasn't enough proof, Pro Football Focus recently released their comprehensive rankings for offensive lines in the NFL and slotted the Broncos at twenty-fourth overall.
The only bright spot on the Broncos' line all season long was center Matt Paradis, who was one of PFF's top ten breakout performers of 2016. His 90.7 overall grade was second best at his position, and his 84.4 pass blocking and 90.6 run blocking marks were easily the highest for the team.
As pointed out in their analysis, the rest of the Broncos lineman were average at best, but without question the teams' largest problem was the right tackle duo of Ty Sambrailo and Donald Stephenson, to which PFF states:
Stephenson finished the season with the lowest overall grade of any offensive lineman, at 28.0, and yet it felt like he was the better option of the two; the only thing saving Sambrailo from earning a lower grade was opportunity.
If Pro Football Focus' analysis wasn't enough to demonstrate how bad the Broncos' offensive line was this past season, Football Outsiders' statistics help reinforce PFF's narrative.
According to Football Outsiders, Denver's line was ranked 27th overall in pass protection, allowing 40 sacks on the season and having an adjusted sack rate of 7.4%. In respect to the running game, the Broncos were 18th best due to their 3.8 yards per carry average. That's almost middle of the road, however, the Broncos ranked an appalling 29th in the NFL in regard to 'power success' which is defined as:
The percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.
It was painfully evident that our beloved franchise couldn't convert a third and short to save their lives all season long, and the statistics provided by Football Outsiders demonstrate that further. In addition to overall rankings, their breakdown also includes how teams did when running to certain areas of the field.
The Broncos averaged 5.39 yards per carry when rushing to the left end, which was second best in the NFL. When rushing behind the left tackle, the Broncos averaged 3.89 yards per carry, which was 20th league-wide. The team was in the top half of the league (12th) when running up the middle and between the guard and averaged 4.03 yards per carry there. Last but not least, their worst performances by far (which corroborates with PFF's analysis) was running behind the right tackle and right end, which were ranked 23rd and 32nd respectively.
Oddly enough, the Broncos only ran six percent of their rushing plays to the left end, the area of the field where they averaged the most yards per carry and spent nearly a quarter of their rushing plays to the right tackle and right end areas where they combined for barely three yards per carry. That certainly isn't a recipe for success, and something that needs to change in order to improve the run game next season.
If the Broncos want to get serious about fixing their offensive line, making a splash investment in free agency should be at the top of their priority list this off-season.
There aren't too many big named free agents available at tackle, but Baltimore Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner should be considered. Wagner was graded out as a top ten performer at his position for the 2016 season. However, it is uncertain whether or not he will become available, as the Ravens would certainly like to retain his services for 2017 and beyond. Riley Reiff, Kevin Zeitler and T.J. Lang are also possibilities that could help improve Denver's efficacy in the trenches.
Even if the Broncos snag a top-flight lineman in free agency, expect them to use an early round selection in the NFL Draft to bolster their overall talent pool which is certainly lacking firepower at the moment.
It all starts in the trenches, and if the Broncos want to have a formidable offense next season, they have to make vast improvements to one of the worst units in all of football. Here is to hoping John Elway and the rest of the Broncos front office do whatever it takes to ensure the struggles they endured there this year don't ever happen again.