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Could Broncos find a starting left tackle after the first round?

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The Denver Broncos need a left tackle. Is it feasible they will find a rookie starter in this years' draft class?

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
Watson trying to block Watson
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Right now the Denver Broncos have no left tackle on the roster. We have players who could play LT, but none of them has shown an ability to be even a below average LT in the NFL. The roster currently contains four players listed as offensive tackles and one player listed as "OL". Ty Sambrailo has never developed the upper body strength (mostly because of injuries) to play tackle in the NFL - FWIW he is listed as "OL" not OT. Donald Stephenson has never been able to consistently pass-block at any level because of poor technique and mental lapses. Michael Schofield was poor at RT when he was played there two seasons ago, but he is still listed as a tackle despite starting 16 games at guard last season. I doubt Schofield could play LT in the NFL. Menelik Watson has never played LT in the NFL (as far as I can tell). Justin Murray has never made an NFL roster.

I have no confidence in either of those five to be our starting LT in 2017. So we will need to either find a starting LT via the draft or in trade (there is scant left in the free agent pool at LT). This begs the question where do teams normally get their LT’s? or better stated, when were the 2016 NFL starting LT’s drafted. Here is the list of the players from all 32 teams who started the majority of the games at LT (there are 33 players listed because the Jets had two guys start 8 games at LT last season). There are two guys who started at LT for more than 8 games last season who are still free agents, Ryan Clady and King Dunlap. I don’t want either because Dunlap is not any better than what we have on our roster and Ryan Clady is so often injured that he will probably retire this off-season (although other teams are still kicking his tires).

LT Team Round of Draft Overall Draft Spot
Eric Fisher Chiefs 1 1
Greg Robinson Rams 1 2
Joe Thomas Browns 1 3
Trent Williams Redskins 1 4
Russell Okung Broncos 1 6
Jake Matthews Falcons 1 6
Ronnie Stanley Ravens 1 6
Tyron Smith Cowboys 1 9
Ereck Flowers Giants 1 9
Taylor Lewan Titans 1 11
Ryan Clady Jets 1 12
Branden Albert Dolphins 1 15
Taylor Decker Lions 1 16
Nate Solder Patriots 1 17
Anthony Castonzo Colts 1 22
Michael Oher Panthers 1 23
Duane Brown Texans 1 26
Joe Staley 49ers 1 28
Donovan Smith Buccaneers 2 34
Cordy Glenn Bills 2 41
Ben Ijalana Jets 2 49
Andrew Whitworth Bengals 2 55
Jared Veldheer Cardinals 3 69
Terron Armstead Saints 3 75
David Bakhtiari Packers 4 109
T.J. Clemmings Vikings 4 110
King Dunlap Chargers 7 230
Charles Leno Bears 7 246
Kelvin Beachum Jaguars 7 248
Jason Peters Eagles UDCFA UDCFA
Donald Penn Raiders UDCFA UDCFA
George Fant Seahawks UDCFA UDCFA
Alejandro Villanueva Steelers UDCFA UDCFA

Eighteen of these thirty-three (55%) LT’s were drafted in the first round. So the odds of finding a starting left tackle after the first round are not great. If you expand that to the first and second round, 22 of 33 (67%) of all starting LT’s in the league were taken in the first or second round of the draft. Meaning that if we don’t get an offensive tackle in the first or second round, we might still find one in this draft.

The other side is that we NEED a rookie to come in and start immediately at LT. In general you don’t find those guys late in the draft (or as UDCFA’s) - guys capable of starting immediately as rookies on the OL. Let’s look at the four most extreme casese - the UDCFAs who started at LT last season. George Fant did it last season for the Seahawks, but their offensive was one of the worst in the league (similar to ours). Like us, Seattle went cheap on their OL in 2016. They were the only team in the league to spend less on the OL than the Broncos. Similar to Fant, Donald Penn started immediately at LT for the Bucs in 2007 when their OL was OK (They actually started two rookies on the OL that year, Penn and LG Arron Sears). Jason Peters didn’t start a game at LT until his third NFL season. Alejandro Villenueva did start his first game as a rookie at LT for the Steelers, but he was a 26 year old-rookie at that point after he had spent three years with the Army Rangers in Afghanistan (he played at West Point) so he is not your typical NFL player (or typical LT for that matter). That was not tremendously helpful, so let’s look at the day 3 picks (rounds 4-7).

Day 3 starting LT’s

David Bakhtiari lasted until the 4th round in 2013 because he is short for an offensive tackle in the NFL (6’4"). He also had a fairly lackluster combine. The Packers took him with the 109th overall pick and found a gem. He immediately started 16 games at LT for them as a rookie. That season the Packers were 4th in the league in average ypc and in the middle of the pack in terms of allowing QB hits and sacks.

T.J. Clemmings was a very raw prospect coming out of Pitt. I wanted the Broncos to draft him. He has all the physical tools, but his technique is horrible. He fell to the 4th round where the Vikings took him with the 110th overall pick in 2015. He has been one of the worst starters on one of the worst offensive lines in the league over the past two seasons. He was forced to play some LT this year when Mat Khalil was lost for the season. The Vikings allowed 142 Watts last season (sacks + QB hits) - 25th in the league. Their 3.2 ypc was dead last in the league. Clemmings has been one of the worst tackles in the league during his first two seasons according to PFF.

King Dunlap was a 7th round pick of the Eagles in 2008. He made their practice squad as a rookie and then made the roster in 2009. He didn’t start his first game until 2010 (5 games), but he did play some LT that season for the Eagles. Dunlap has been a below average LT when he has been healthy. He has only play 16 games once in his NFL career - in 2014 - when he started all 16 games at LT for the Chargers. PFF rated Dunlap very poorly last season. Like Clemmings, he was one of the worst in the league (though not worse than Stephenson or Sambrailo).

Charles Leno (no relation to Jay) was a 7th round pick of the Bears in 2014. The Boise St. product was active for 6 games as a rookie and started one, but was used mainly as a TE (6th offensive lineman) for the Bears in 2014. In 2015 he started 13 games at LT, but the Bears’ OL was atrocious that season. Leno started all 16 games for the Bears at LT in 2016. They were better in 2016 than they were in 2015.

Kelvin Beachum is extremely short for an NFL offensive tackle. He was measured at 6’2" at the combine and was listed as a guard (6’2" is even short for an OG in the NFL). Beachum was drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round in 2012 and was forced into service that year because of injuries on their OL. He started 5 games a rookie. By 2014 he was the everyday starting LT for the Steelers - starting all 16 games. He would get injured in 2015 and the Steelers would allow him to take a free agent deal from the Jags in 2016. He started 15 games at LT for the Jags, whose offensive line was average in 2016 (better than ours). Beachum signed an $8MM/yr deal with the Jets this off-season - that was the smallest contract signed by any of the free agent LT’s this off-season.

Back to this year’s draft

Of the first round graded LT’s in this year’s draft, the only one that I like is Cam Robinson. The other two, Ramczyk and Bolles, have too many red flags for my liking. From what I have read recently, the consensus is that Robinson has moved into the spot as the highest rated OT in the draft - meaning that he will most likely be gone when the Broncos draft at 20. This century we have seen three or more OT’s taken in the first round of the draft almost every year. The exception is 2012 when only two were taken in the first round. There were six taken in the first round the year before. The lowest that the first offensive tackle has been taken this century was in 2003 when Jordan Gross was taken with the 8th pick. The Broncos were picking 20th that year and took George Foster with the 20th pick. Foster was the second OT drafted in 2003. Foster was out of the league after five season and never started a game at LT for the Broncos. Foster also only appeared in one game for the Broncos as a rookie. 2003 was a weak year for offensive tackles. Jordan Gross was the best of the bunch. He was named All-Pro once and made the Pro-Bowl 3 times. No other tackle taken that year was named All-Pro and only two guys were named to the Pro-Bowl - once per player, John Stinchcomb and Wade Smith. Of the top 6 OT’s taken that year, 3 were out of the league after 5 seasons.

Is 2017 another 2003? Some draftniks seem to think so. If it is, Cam Robinson is this year’s Jordan Gross. That would make Ramcyzk or Bolles this year’s George Foster. Do you want to draft another George Foster?