The Denver Broncos entered this season with significant question marks on their offensive line. They added three new starters in Ronald Leary, Menelik Watson and Garett Bolles over the offseason and to date, it’s safe to say that two of those three acquisitions have been positive for the team. Unfortunately, Watson has been horrible in his first two games with the Broncos and while it’s possible for him to improve over the course of the season, I don’t see him growing into a competent starter who will play out the length of his contract he received to join the team.
DEN O-line & PFF grade:— Denver vs. (@denVSeverybody) September 21, 2017
LT - Bolles 77.5
LG - Garcia 48.5
C - Paradis 70.5
RG - Leary 87.4
RT - Watson 28.4
That concern, coupled with several other issues such as lack of long-term depth and Max Garcia continuing to struggle and you can see why adding a prospect or two in the 2018 NFL Draft is paramount for the Broncos if they want to be competitive for the long haul. The franchise has nine selections in the 2018 NFL Draft, which will likely rise to ten with a compensatory pick for Russell Okung. With that many selections at John Elway’s disposal, it’s almost a virtual certainty one or two of them will be used to upgrade the offensive trenches. Listed below are some of my thoughts on several of the top draft eligible offensive line prospects in next year’s draft.
Mike McGlinchey, OT - Notre Dame
Undoubtedly the top offensive lineman on my preliminary board, McGlinchey had the ability to come out last year, but opted to return to the Fighting Irish for his senior season and solidify his draft stock. He’s manned down the left tackle position for Notre Dame for several seasons, but also as experience at right tackle as well. He has everything you look for in an offensive lineman and according to advanced statistics, didn’t surrender a sack and was credited with only allowing one pressure while protecting Deshone Kizer in 2016.
Any team looking for a future blindside protector would love to have him. His pass blocking, run blocking, tremendous football IQ and durability are all in the “plus” category for evaluation and in my opinion, he is a virtual lock to be a Top 5-7 selection when April rolls around. The Broncos likely won’t have a shot in Hell at landing the blue-chip prospect, but it wouldn’t be a proper list without giving credit where it’s due.
Quenton Nelson, OG - Notre Dame
We can stick with the Fighting Irish to find another gem in the 2018 NFL Draft and that player is Quenton Nelson. Nelson is the premier guard prospect eligible in this year’s draft and should be within striking distance for the Broncos if they are interested in ending the Max Garcia experiment for next season.If you want a trench player who is prolific in pass protection and a beast in the run game, Nelson is your guy.
LG Quenton Nelson had one of the most impressive blitz pickups I've ever seen. Crazy awareness pic.twitter.com/Grhk1dk7CB— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 10, 2017
According to ND Insider, Nelson only allowed one hit and no sacks in 2016 and is off to a great start for the Irish this season. I think Nelson could go as high as the top half of the first round based on his play, but guard prospects typically slide on draft day. Denver would likely have to move up to acquire his services, but they have the ammunition to do it if they so wish. There is no question Nelson would be a significant upgrade over Garcia, Barbre or anyone else on their roster with the chance of developing to an All-Pro and Pro-Bowl player in his career.
Brian O'Neill, OT - Pittsburgh
I was a big fan of Adam Bisnowaty out of Pittsburgh last year, and while evaluating his tape, teammate Brian O’Neill stuck out as a player who has NFL potential. O'Neill started the last two seasons for Pittsburgh at right tackle, but is a left tackle for the team in 2017. O’Neill doesn’t have to come out this season for the draft, as he is a redshirt junior with another year of eligibility. However, if he plays as well as he did in 2016, I see him declaring and being a Day 2 selection in this year’s draft.
Penn State QB Trace McSorley & Pitt OT Brian O'Neill are two of the top draft-eligible prospects who headline the Penn State-Pittsburgh game pic.twitter.com/TaDnpIQkkB— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 9, 2017
O’Neill is well-rounded in pass protection (only allowed two sacks in 2016) and run blocking and could be a plug-and-play starter at right tackle in the NFL. A lot of current Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner’s runs last year were off his blocks, and I believe he could be a impact performer in the run game for Denver. I would like to see him add more strength and weight to his frame (currently playing around 295 pounds), but his fundamentals and high-football IQ translate well and should provide him with a promising NFL career if he continues to grow and develop as he has in college.
Chukwuma Okorafor, OT - Western Michigan
Fans and draftniks who were interested in the Broncos selecting Taylor Moton may have realized that it was senior offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor that has been their best offensive lineman for Western Michigan the past two seasons. In 2015, Okorafor started all his contests at right tackle, but moved to left tackle in 2016 as a junior and remains their offensive line stalwart at the position for this season.
2017 Best Players in the MAC: #5 Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan Broncos https://t.co/MpSr4VqToe— SB Nation College (@sbncollege) August 30, 2017
At 6’5 and 335 pounds, Okorafor is a bohemoth on the offensive line and has no problem getting a major push in the run game. His footwork and pass protection is solid for a man his size, with advanced statistics revealing that he was dominant in pass protection, allowing only one sack and just several hurries in his move to left tackle in 2016. He might not be a household name among draft analysts quite yet, but I believe he will have a meteoric rise up draft boards and solidfy himself as a first-round selection when it’s all said and done.
The Broncos drafted Garett Bolles in the first-round of last year’s draft to be their left tackle of the future. I would have absolutely no problem with them snagging Okorafor in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, which would give the team bookend tackles for the future who can maul in the running game, as well as provided tremendous protection for their quarterback.
Other names to consider: Archie Lewis, OT - Boise State, Connor Williams, OT - Texas (injured, would have been covered in-depth had he not been), Cole Madison, OT - Washington State, Trey Adams, OT - Washington (profiles strictly as a LT in my opinion), Orlando Brown, OT - Oklahoma, Mitch Hyatt, OT - Clemson, Wyatt Teller - OG, Virginia Tech, Braden Smith, OG - Auburn and Will Hernandez, OG - UTEP.
Feel free to discuss some of your favorite offensive line prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft in the comments sections. As always, thank you for reading!