The grass always seems greener in your neighbor’s yard. In much the same manner, Broncos Country likes to complain about just how bad the play of Garett Bolles has been and how much of a disappointment he has been after he was selected as the first offensive tackle taken in the 2017 draft.
In most ways, that criticism is warranted, but I, like I normally do, wanted to put some data behind that perception. Has Bolles been the worst starting left tackle in the league this season?
So let’s put some data to this.
Overall OL performance in pass protection
|3||New England Patriots||10||260||408||36||15||17||68||16.0%|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||10||219||318||24||20||19||63||18.7%|
|6||New Orleans Saints||10||264||369||35||20||19||74||19.1%|
|11||Kansas City Chiefs||10||252||383||34||31||18||83||20.7%|
|12||Los Angeles Rams||10||226||375||35||30||16||81||20.7%|
|15||Los Angeles Chargers||10||241||365||29||33||21||83||21.5%|
|23||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||10||242||406||41||32||36||109||24.7%|
|24||Green Bay Packers||10||225||347||45||27||22||94||25.5%|
|29||New York Giants||10||243||386||43||47||34||124||29.5%|
|31||New York Jets||10||198||314||37||30||41||108||30.4%|
So far this season the Broncos have been 25th at protecting the QB. A pressure is a hurry, a QB hit or a sack. A QB hit does not count as a hurry, nor does a sack count as a QB hit. The Bronco pass blockers (not just the OL - the TE’s and the RB’s have had their share of whiffs when attempting to pass block) have allowed pressure on 25.7 percent of the dropbacks this season through the first ten games. The Dolphins have been the worst at 31.7 percent while the Ravens have been the best at 15.0 percent.
Sacks allowed data (from Stats INC.) and penalty data (from nflpenalties.com) for our starting offensive line are in the table below.
|Player||Games Started||Off. Snaps||False Starts||Holds Called||Holds Accepted||Sacks Allowed|
We can see that Bolles has only been “credited” with allowing 3.0 sacks this season which is the total that he allowed in 16 games in 2018. Bolles has been much better and not allowing sacks since his rookie season when he allowed 8.50 (IIRC that was one of the highest total in the league). Bolles has been called for holding ten times, but only four have been accepted. Ron Leary has been called for holding six times, but five have been accepted. Dalton Risner and Connor McGovern have not been called for holding this season (hoping that I just didn’t jinx them). Elijah Wilkinson’s 7.0 sacks allowed is bad. I’m not sure how bad since I can’t find a listing of most sacks allowed so far this year. Among starting left tackles, who generally face the opponent’s best pass rusher, the worst in the league is Nate Solder of the Giants who has allowed 8.5 sacks so far this season. If Wilkinson were a LT, he would have the third most sacks allowed in the league. Only Solder and Daryl Williams of the Panthers (7.5) have allowed more.
I don’t have a PFF subscription but I have been told that Bolles is about the middle of their current 2019 rankings among starting left tackles in the league.
In 2018 according to PFF, the best left tackle in the league was David Bakhtiari. He had an overall grade of 88.4 (out of 100) with a run blocking grade of 68.2 and a pass blocking grade of 93.6. Bolles’ overall grade in 2018 was 70.7 with a run clocking grade of 72.1 and a pass blocking grade of 66.5. That overall grade was 33rd out of 98 qualifying offensive tackles (100 or more offensive snaps). His overall grade will probably be lower this year due to his 10 called holds already this season. Bolles was really bad as a rookie having one of the worst PBE’s (pass blocking efficiency) in the league in 2017.
In 2017, Garett Bolles allowed pressure on 7.4% of his pass blocking snaps (37th out of 47 starting OT’s). That had improved to 4.3% last season (17th out of 63 starting OTs). It will be interesting if his pressure allowed percentage continues to improve in 2019 with the tutelage of Mike Munchak. Last season Tyron Smith and Ronnie Stanley were best in the league allowing pressure on only 2.9% of the pass blocking snaps. Sam Tevi was the worst of the starting tackles (by far) at 11.8%.
So how does Bolles compare to other starting left tackles in the league in 2019? I can’t show PFF data, but I will show what I can which is penalties and sacks allowed for the starting LT on every NFL team.
|Rank||Team||Starting LT||Games Started||False Starts||Declined Holding Calls||Accepted Holding||Total Holding Penalties||Sacks Allowed|
|13||AZ||D. J. Humphries||11||3||1||4||5||2.0|
So, yes, the holding penalties are terrible and he is still the most flagged LT in the league for holding (by 3 at this point), but from a sacks allowed perspective, he’s been average to below average. I don’t recall him having allowed a sack in quite some time, but I have not done a sack-blame analysis since game four (IIRC).
So given the data we can see that while Bolles is not, and might never be, an elite left tackle, he is not the worst in 2019 (at least in terms of allowing sacks).
So now to the titular question - do the Broncos move on from him this off-season?
Since this is Bolles’ third season in the league, he will still be on his rookie contract in 2020, meaning that he is still cheap, relative to a free agent left tackle. There are four“big name” left tackles who will be unrestricted free agents this off-season, Andrew Whitworth, Jason Peters, D.J. Humphries and Anthony Castonzo. Whitworth and Peters are well past the normal age-wall for offensive tackles, they are both 37, and it has been amazing that they have played as well as they have so far this season. Castonzo will get a huge contract from someone since he is only 31 right now. He is currently ranked one of the top LT’s in the NFL according to PFF. Humphries probably will get a big free agent contract as well despite being a step below Castonzo in terms of performance. PFF ranks Humphries as a step below Bolles even. So, I’d rather we stay away from free agent left tackles as they are very expensive.
Top left tackles make upwards of $13MM/yr. There are some other starting LT’s who will be unrestricted free agents next season, but I would rather not revisit the bargain free approach that John Elway took with our offensive tackles in the past (e.g. Donald Stephenson, Billy Turner and, to a certain extent, Elijah Wilkinson and Chris Clark). Donald Penn (currently 36 years old), LaAdrian Waddle (28), Greg Robinson (only 27, but already on his third team in four seasons), Kelvin Beachum (currently 30) and Marshall Newhouse (31) will all be UFA’s in 2020, but none would be an upgrade over Bolles, IMO.
So while it would be relatively cheap to keep Bolles, what about using our presumably high first round draft pick on a LT? Does that make sense?
In my opinion it only makes sense if the coaching staff is convinced that Drew Lock (or Brandon Allen) is our quarterback of the future (don’t even bring up Joe Flacco, I’ve already moved on from him as I hope the team has). If we do have a QB that the team wants to ride into the future, then I would suggest the best use of our putative top-10 draft pick in 2020 is on a left tackle.
The success rate (and I’ll define that shortly) for left tackles taken in the top 10 is higher than quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean that taking a left tackle with the 6th pick (where we would be picking if the season ended today) will get you a pro-bowl left tackle 90% of the time. So, as you might have guessed, my definition of success when taking a LT in the top 10 is a player that plays beyond their rookie contact as a starter and makes the Pro-Bowl at least once in their career.
There have been 28 offensive tackles taken in the top 10 picks this century - 15 of them made the Pro-Bowl at least once. Three recently drafted OTs who haven’t probably will at some point in their careers: Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey and Jack Conklin. So that means 18 of the 28 fit my definition for “success”.
|Year||Pick||Player||Tm||From||To||AP1||PB||Yrs as Starter|
So does a 64 per chance of success sound like good enough odds to upgrade our LT spot in the draft next season, or would you rather go a different route? Both the first option and the second option in the poll allow us to use our first round pick on a QB.
What would you do about our LT position?
This poll is closed
Stay with Bolles, he’s got to get better with Munchak’s coaching, right? He’s servicable and he’s relatively cheap
Throw big money at Anthony Castonzo, we need an established elite LT and we have have the cap space
Use our first pick on one of the two elite LT prospects in the 2020 draft
something else (elaborate in the comments)
For what its worth, if you apply the same “success” criteria to top 10 drafted QBs this century, you get a success rate of 47 percent, but that does not include recently drafted QBs who have not yet made the Pro-bowl but who still might.
Sixteen of the 34 QBs taken in the top 10 this century have made the Pro-Bowl, but QBs like Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold very well might at some point in their careers. Even Marcus Mariotta could still do so if he finds a new team and a good situation once he moves on in free agency. If you exclude the 2018 and 2019 drafted QB, then 16 of 28 QBs taken in the top 10 have made the Pro-Bowl and become long-term (greater than 2 years) starters. That success rate is 57 percent, which is not too far from the left tackle success rate.