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Should the Broncos move on from Garett Bolles after this season?

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How does Garett Boles compare to other starting left tackles? And should the Denver Broncos move on from him?

Denver Broncos vs Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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

Rank Team G Cmp Att Hurries Hits Sacks Pressured Pressured%
1 Baltimore Ravens 10 197 293 22 5 20 47 15.0%
2 Oakland Raiders 10 226 313 29 7 15 51 15.5%
3 New England Patriots 10 260 408 36 15 17 68 16.0%
4 Dallas Cowboys 10 247 366 25 32 12 69 18.3%
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%
7 Arizona Cardinals 11 255 395 35 13 36 84 19.5%
8 Cincinnati Bengals 10 233 399 31 18 36 85 19.5%
9 Detroit Lions 10 229 363 31 24 23 78 20.2%
10 Philadelphia Eagles 10 213 349 32 20 25 77 20.6%
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%
13 Minnesota Vikings 11 226 320 31 19 22 72 21.1%
14 Atlanta Falcons 10 289 410 34 33 25 92 21.1%
15 Los Angeles Chargers 10 241 365 29 33 21 83 21.5%
16 Carolina Panthers 10 225 374 36 21 34 91 22.3%
17 Chicago Bears 10 221 346 35 20 30 85 22.6%
18 Cleveland Browns 10 203 344 47 11 26 84 22.7%
19 Indianapolis Colts 10 203 326 29 30 20 79 22.8%
20 Jacksonville Jaguars 10 226 362 46 19 24 89 23.1%
21 Houston Texans 10 230 333 26 27 32 85 23.3%
22 Buffalo Bills 10 200 333 36 27 23 86 24.2%
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%
25 Denver Broncos 10 201 322 43 16 32 91 25.7%
26 Pittsburgh Steelers 10 215 343 50 28 15 93 26.0%
27 Seattle Seahawks 10 224 327 42 33 27 102 28.8%
28 Washington Redacted 10 190 294 38 24 32 94 28.8%
29 New York Giants 10 243 386 43 47 34 124 29.5%
30 Tennessee Titans 10 192 296 36 23 42 101 29.9%
31 New York Jets 10 198 314 37 30 41 108 30.4%
32 Miami Dolphins 10 218 362 47 39 42 128 31.7%

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
Garett Bolles 10 668 2 10 4 3.0
Dalton Risner 10 667 1 0 0 1.0
Connor McGovern 10 668 0 0 0 2.0
Ronald Leary 10 668 2 6 5 1.0
Elijah Wilkinson 8 636 1 1 1 7.0

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
1 PHI Jason Peters 7 1 1 1 2 0.0
2 BAL Ronnie Stanley 10 0 0 2 2 0.0
3 PIT Alejandro Villaneuva 10 0 0 4 4 0.0
4 NOR Terron Armstead 10 1 0 4 4 0.0
5 TEN Taylor Lewan 6 4 0 3 3 0.5
6 LAR Andrew Whitworth 10 1 1 6 7 0.5
7 SEA Duane Brown 8 0 0 1 1 1.0
8 DAL Tyron Smith 8 0 0 4 4 1.0
9 IND Anthony Castonzo 10 0 0 0 0 1.5
10 HOU Laremy Tunsil 9 9 0 0 0 2.0
11 CHI Charles Leno 10 2 1 4 5 2.0
12 DET Taylor Decker 9 3 1 4 5 2.0
13 AZ D. J. Humphries 11 3 1 4 5 2.0
14 MIN Riley Reiff 11 2 1 3 4 2.3
15 BUF Dion Dawkins 10 2 0 2 2 2.5
16 GNB David Bakhtiari 10 4 0 5 5 2.5
17 CIN Andre Smith 5 2 0 2 2 3.0
18 JAX Cam Robinson 8 3 0 2 2 3.0
19 OAK Kolton Miller 10 1 0 2 2 3.0
20 TB Donovan Smith 10 2 3 0 3 3.0
21 SF Justin Skule 7 0 1 3 4 3.0
22 DEN Garett Bolles 10 2 6 4 10 3.0
23 ATL Jake Matthews 10 1 0 1 1 3.5
24 CLE Greg Robinson 9 1 1 2 3 3.5
25 WAS Donald Penn 10 2 3 3 6 3.5
26 LAC Trent Scott 8 0 2 2 4 4.0
27 NYJ Kelvin Beachum 7 0 1 4 5 4.0
28 KC Cameron Erving 8 2 3 1 4 4.5
29 MIA J'Marcus Webb 8 0 3 4 7 5.0
30 NE Marshall Newhouse 9 0 2 1 3 5.5
31 CAR Daryl Williams 7 0 0 0 0 7.5
32 NYG Nate Solder 10 0 1 4 5 8.5

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
2007 3 Joe Thomas CLE 2007 2017 6 10 10
2010 4 Trent Williams WAS 2010 2018 0 7 9
2011 9 Tyron Smith DAL 2011 2019 2 6 9
2000 3 Chris Samuels WAS 2000 2009 0 6 9
2008 1 Jake Long MIA 2008 2016 1 4 6
2006 4 D'Brickashaw Ferguson NYJ 2006 2015 0 3 10
2003 8 Jordan Gross CAR 2003 2013 1 3 11
2001 2 Leonard Davis ARI 2001 2012 0 3 10
2015 5 Brandon Scherff WAS 2015 2019 0 2 5
2013 4 Lane Johnson PHI 2013 2019 1 2 6
2010 6 Russell Okung SEA 2010 2019 0 2 9
2014 6 Jake Matthews ATL 2014 2019 0 1 6
2013 1 Eric Fisher KAN 2013 2019 0 1 6
2012 4 Matt Kalil MIN 2012 2017 0 1 5
2002 7 Bryant McKinnie MIN 2002 2013 0 1 10
2018 9 Mike McGlinchey SFO 2018 2019 0 0 2
2016 6 Ronnie Stanley BAL 2016 2019 0 0 4
2016 8 Jack Conklin TEN 2016 2019 1 0 4
2015 9 Ereck Flowers NYG 2015 2019 0 0 4
2014 2 Greg Robinson STL 2014 2019 0 0 5
2013 2 Luke Joeckel JAX 2013 2017 0 0 3
2009 2 Jason Smith STL 2009 2012 0 0 1
2009 6 Andre Smith CIN 2009 2019 0 0 8
2009 8 Eugene Monroe JAX 2009 2015 0 0 6
2007 5 Levi Brown ARI 2007 2013 0 0 5
2004 2 Robert Gallery OAK 2004 2011 0 0 7
2002 4 Mike Williams BUF 2002 2009 0 0 3
2002 10 Levi Jones CIN 2002 2009 0 0 7

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.

Poll

What would you do about our LT position?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Stay with Bolles, he’s got to get better with Munchak’s coaching, right? He’s servicable and he’s relatively cheap
    (466 votes)
  • 13%
    Throw big money at Anthony Castonzo, we need an established elite LT and we have have the cap space
    (230 votes)
  • 55%
    Use our first pick on one of the two elite LT prospects in the 2020 draft
    (957 votes)
  • 4%
    something else (elaborate in the comments)
    (83 votes)
1736 votes total Vote Now

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.