It’s no secret that the Denver Broncos need help on the offensive line. The prevailing thought is that Denver will attack the offensive line heavily in free agency and also add talent through the draft.
Many fans would love to see an offensive lineman drafted within the top three picks. As a result, a lot of the mocks you’ll see from draft gurus and experts out there will have Denver taking an offensive lineman somewhere in the top 100.
While there is a lot that goes into evaluating an offensive lineman. From athletic traits, technique, and size, to football smarts, attitude, and work ethic, there is one attribute that stands out to me above the rest: what college scheme are they coming from.
This is so paramount to me that I have created a handy flow chart to help us decide which linemen we want on our team. Do they come from a spread scheme? Then we don’t want them. Don’t get caught up in measurables and athletic abilities, just say ‘no’ to the spread scheme guys.
@PriscoCBS spread offenses in college have ruined pass blocking. Guys are also smaller now because of those offenses— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) February 10, 2016
Many experts have recently opined about the horrific state of offensive line play across the NFL today. The consensus among many of these critics is that spread offenses in college are to blame for the poor technique that we see on Sundays.
One of the biggest reasons for this is the variance in the things the players are asked to do in a spread scheme versus what they are then expected to know coming into the NFL. Many of these linemen have never learned a proper pass set because in the spread offenses they are never blocking for more than two or three seconds.
Stanford Head Coach, David Shaw, joined Peter King on the MMQB Podcast and talked about this very issue.
Aspects of the spread offense have hurt the NFL. Because it’s not a 1:1 correlation. The skills don’t come over. So you’ll have a ton of offensive linemen that are very very talented that are going to come into the NFL and have never pass set. They’ve never sat there with a quarterback who’s nine yards deep and ‘kick...kick...punch’ to protect the quarterback, because there’s so many run/pass options.
What will never change about the NFL is that playing quarterback in the NFL is all about sitting in the pocket, throwing the ball through a door that’s closing with dogs chasing you. That’s not college football. So you’ve got these offensive linemen that have never experienced that world.
And if you’ve never done it before, it’s hard to learn it on an NFL team....So now your hundred million dollar quarterback is sitting back there with guys protecting him that have never done what you are asking them to do.
Other experts agree that the spread offenses are a problem, but don’t necessarily blame the college coaches or offense, they blame the lack of practice time in the new CBA for not allowing them to properly develop and teach the players who are experiencing all the things that David Shaw talked about.
Offensive line guru, Alex Gibbs, and some other experts sat down with Sports Illustrated a while back and were discussing this.
Alex Gibbs: The other thing that makes it a little different is we've got the best proving ground in college football, but of late, the college game has become a game of the quarterback running and a throwing game that is not a training ground. You literally have to start over in those phases.
The offenses they're running right now, it's not helping the young player speed up and step up. You're not as good at dropback blocking as they were five years ago. And the quarterback running game has put them in a whole different system in my opinion.
Paul Boudreau, the Rams’ offensive line coach who is in his 29th NFL season: When we got into the league, the biggest jump for a player as an offensive lineman was from his rookie season to his second season. Now, you don't see the kid until April. From January until April, you can't talk to him, you can't touch him. He's behind the curve. When we go out scouting, it's an advantage for a guy, like at the Iowas and Stanfords, the Notre Dames, Alabamas, Wisconsin, they play an NFL style. It's nothing against the read option. I've coached wishbone guys, I've coached veer guys. It's my job to get them up to speed, but if I can't because of the CBA, at the end of the day, that owner still wants to win a Super Bowl. How do you get those guys ready? It's hard. They put you in a bind.
I've got this guy, Greg Robinson, the second pick overall (in 2014). They had four plays (at Auburn) and one protection: slide left, slide right. He didn't have a snap count. Now, I coached Willie Roaf when Willie was a rookie. Willie's in the Hall of Fame. And I can tell you from a coach who coached Willie and now coaches Greg Robinson, Greg Robinson as a rookie has more talent and is a better player than Willie. Willie had a great coach at Louisiana Tech and Willie was ahead of the curve because of the techniques he was taught, just like how we talk about preferring the Wisconsin, Iowa, Stanford and Notre Dame guys. They have one up on the guys from the spread.
There are a lot more great nuggets from that conversation that would be too lengthy to include so go check it out at the link above.
So what does this mean for Denver? I don’t think they should even consider an offensive lineman from a spread system because of the level of development and time required coupled with the needs we have for a player we draft to contribute early.
This may sound harsh, but take a look at the linemen drafted over the last several years that have contributed for their respective teams and see where they played their college ball.
#6 - Notre Dame
#8 - Michigan State
#16 - Ohio State
#18 - Alabama
#28 - Stanford
#5 - Iowa
#13 - Stanford
#19 - Florida State
#28 - Duke
#11 - Michigan
#16 - Notre Dame
What do all those schools above have in common: they run a pro-style offense.
Meanwhile, other first rounders from schools like Texas A&M, Auburn, Miami, Florida, and Texas A&M (again) have struggled adjusting to the NFL and showed serious flaws in their technique.
This isn’t to say that linemen from a spread scheme can’t succeed. Laremy Tunsil from Ole Miss has looked pretty solid and is loaded with talent, and he came from a spread scheme; but guys like him are the exception, not the rule.
So next time you see a lineman mocked to Denver or as you consider prospects, the first question you should ask yourself is what style of offense did he play. The answer to that will go a long way in determining if he’s a fit for the Denver Broncos.