With the free agency season about to kick off for the Denver Broncos, it is a great time to step back, take a look at the roster, and play a little armchair GM leading up to all of the excitement of possible free agent signings, trades, and of course the NFL Draft.
All of this is my own personal opinion based on the tried and true eye test of what I’ve seen from these players on the field. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be leaving out guys that didn’t see the field in any significant way in 2019. Enjoy the discussion, join the subjective debate, and share your thoughts good or bad in the comments.
All snap count numbers come from https://www.footballoutsiders.com/. All contract information is from https://www.overthecap.com. Any football statistics noted are from https://www.pro-football-reference.com.
For our first look at the offensive side of the ball, we’ll start in the trenches and take a closer look at what the Broncos will need to improve on in order to see more impact out of their offense in 2020.
Player Rating Key:
1 - Project / developmental - lacking necessary skills to contribute as it stands today
2 - Backup quality - Can play, but isn’t a guy you want out there every snap
3 - Mediocre starter - Doesn’t bring anything special to the table, but is able to do the job
4 - Good starter - An above-average talent
5 - Blue chip player - Top 10 talent in the NFL at what he does
Unit Rating Key:
1 - Critical Need - lack of talent at starter and depth
2 - Lacking at least one starter
3 - Mediocre need
4 - Solid talent and depth
5 - Elite talent level
Garett Bolles - 2
I’m not buying the hype any longer on Bolles. He’s a chronic holder due to poor technique and a complete lack of growth as an NFL player over the course of 3 years so far.
Is he sound at times? Sure. Especially as a run defender. He’s always been a gifted athlete who has plenty of power and grit to go along with it.
But this is the NFL and you have to have both gifts and skill grown from learning and that’s where we are seeing year after year a broken record on Bolles. He starts out sloppy. As the season wears on and the games stop mattering, all of a sudden he looks somewhat solid.
The problem is that’s 10 holding penalties later and those drives are already dead just as the team’s shot at a playoff appearance.
This team needs a real NFL left tackle, though I doubt any change will be made to get one. One of John Elway’s few flaws in his tenure as GM of the Broncos is that he doesn’t know when to let go of his busts and Bolles is a prime example of it.
Ja’Wuan James - 2
James is a player that honestly pisses me off more than Bolles. At least with Bolles, I know he’s busting his ass and giving his all week after week. Effort isn’t ever in question with Bolles.
But with James, we brought in an answer at right tackle which had previously been a swinging gate of failed free agent after failed free agent that just couldn’t hang and wasn’t fit to even be a backup.
And here we are a year later and have almost no idea if James can even play. He’s had an injury, of that I’m certain, but the question around the media constantly at the end of the season was how serious that injury was and why he wasn’t on the field. Players play injured every week in the NFL.
Hopefully his head is screwed on straight and he’s ready to earn his paycheck this year and then some. He made $8M last season for playing a whopping 65 snaps on the year. I know he’s got the ability to be a solid starter for the Broncos, but until he shows up on the field consistently for this team, he’s not getting a rating higher than a 2 from me.
Jake Rodgers - 2
Rodgers is one of the young guns that got some serious playing time at the end of the season. He started two games and accounted himself fairly enough given the circumstances.
I didn’t see anything in either game that led me to believe he was anything other than a backup lineman and isn’t likely to be an answer to any question the Broncos have at tackle of the future.
Unit Rating - 1
Our tackle situation is one made of hopes and dreams. The sad part is that this is the offseason and we’re getting far removed from any memories of how bad our tackle situation was in 2019. So now the narrative is that Mike Munchak is really turning things around. James is going to be healthy finally and Bolles is growing, so everything is fine.
No, everything is not fine. The Broncos are going to go into the season likely with plans to start Bolles and James. One guy is good for 5 killed drives a year minimum in critical situations. The other looks like a guy who is just here to get paid while he rehabs (And for those of you who want to argue this point in the comment section, please remember to lead off with sound evidence to the contrary because I have yet to find any in anything I’ve seen on the field of play in 2019).
Guards / Centers:
Dalton Risner - 4
I’m pretty tempted to give Risner a 5, just because I’m that high on how well he’s likely to play in 2020 after an offseason of solid training. That being said, I’m going to temper my expectations and just go off what I saw last year.
Risner is a prototypical NFL guard. He was superb as a rookie and fit right in from day one as a starter in his rookie season.
He pass blocks well, he run blocks like a beast. There is no QB in the NFL who wouldn’t like having a guy like Risner in front of him at guard.
Connor McGovern - 4
McGovern isn’t the best center in the NFL, but he’s top 15 for sure. He’s a solid player and that is something the Broncos should be looking to keep heading into 2020.
McGovern’s always been a player that plays with power and I’ve honestly thought he did a great job taking over after the team moved on from Matt Paradis. He pass blocks well enough and is at times a mauler in the run game.
The only problem is that the Broncos may not want to pay him his market price which is going to be north of $10M per season.
RFA Elijah Wilkinson - 2 / 3
Wilkinson isn’t a tackle and I’m not listing him as one. Thank goodness he’s a guy who has NFL ability at all regardless of whether he belongs out at tackle or not (spoiler alert: he doesn’t).
I love hearing this offseason that the team thinks he can be successful at guard because I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.
The weakness in Wilkinson’s game has been how slow he is to get his feet shuffled out and into position on pass rushers going wide on him. He struggled with that all year long at right tackle.
He’s got the power to be able to hold down the right guard position and that won’t require him to move laterally like tackle does.
If the Broncos use him at tackle, he’s a 2. If he’s used at guard I think he’s a 3 with the ability to get better as the season wears on.
Austin Schlottman - 2
Schlottman was a guy that saw heavy action in the last four games of the season. It wasn’t great action, but he at least got on the field and got to play.
Schlottman is a guy that looked like he lacked power up front. He got pushed around quite easily and that’s never a good thing for a guard in the NFL. He’s heading into this 3rd year in the NFL and if he’s going to show anything it will be in this year’s training camp.
Unit Rating - 3 / 4
Signing or not signing McGovern is why there’s a split score here. With McGovern, I can easily see Risner, McGovern, and Wilkinson as starters on week 1 of the 2020 season. If they don’t resign him, there’s now going to be a need at center that is going to require a free agent. Even with McGovern, the team could be looking for an upgrade at right guard.