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Why did Lloyd Cushenberry fall to the Broncos at 83?

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To find out, I reached out to And The Valley Shook’s Stephen Baker to talk more about new Denver Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry.

LSU v Alabama
Did the Broncos find a Tiger to anchor their offensive line?
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If you watched Cover 2 Broncos’ live coverage of the NFL Draft, you know how antsy Jeff Essary and I got as we watched Lloyd Cushenberry slide down the board. He would have been under consideration for me in the second round and Jeff mentioned before the big event how Cush was one of his guys.

The Denver Broncos found a way to get him at 83. As I’ve gone back over the roster since that’s seemed really peculiar to me. Why did he slip so far? To try and find out more about the LSU Tiger I reached out to And The Valley Shook’s Stephen Baker.

1st and 10

Cushenberry is a player I’ve been enamored with since I first started diving into LSU tape last fall. Can you tell me what he meant to the LSU program?

Baker: LSU’s offensive line seems like it was built atop an ancient burial ground the last few seasons, as they have lost an almost comical number of man-games to injury prior to 2019. I wrote about our terrible injury luck after the 2018 season and again in 2019. I will now arrogantly quote myself, as anyone familiar with my work would expect:

LSU Needs Better Injury Luck In 2019 - And The Valley Shook

”The offensive line was a MASH unit all year, never boasting the same starting five on consecutive weeks until late October. The defensive line wasn’t much healthier with Ed Alexander limited, Fehoko out for the second half of the season and Rashard Lawrence working through injuries that required offseason surgery. And the two lines overshadowed a defensive backfield that was so ravaged by personnel losses that there literally were no cornerback substitutes available in the overtimes against Texas A&M, and a wide receiver was forced to play corner in the Fiesta Bowl.

How bad was it?

Of LSU’s 22 official starters against Miami, how many of them do you think started all 13 games? Six. Foster Moreau, Damien Lewis, Lloyd Cushenberry, Grant Delpit, Joe Burrow, and Rashard Lawrence were the only six LSU players to start all 13 games.”

Well, lookee there. Lloyd Cushenberry was a rock of stability, and that was as a sophomore coming in to replace a Rimington Award finalist in Will Clapp. There was no backup plan behind Cush and even if there were, the backup plan was probably forced into action somewhere else on the line. Things were bad in 2018, and Cush (and Damien Lewis) were the only things LSU could count on in the line. You could put his name down in ink and not worry about it, which was something in desperately short supply in Baton Rouge two seasons ago.

Consistent is a boring word, but it’s the highest praise I can give a lineman. Cush was consistent. Every week, he was there, and LSU didn’t have to worry about at least one thing, as everything radically changed around him. LSU puts a lot of pressure on its centers, relying on them to make all the calls and lead the unit. LSU’s line went from one marred by inconsistency and procedural errors to a unit so good that you simply didn’t even think about it.

2nd and 8

One thing I like about him is how LSU went from a bit of an old school power running team to last year’s aerial circus. He has experience with a variety of assignments and survived plenty of 5-man pressure calls in 2019. Do you think that will help in the NFL? What should Broncos’ fans expect from him this year?

Baker: I do believe Cushenberry is a stronger run blocker than pass blocker, but that’s not rare. Run blocking is attacking while pass blocking is more passive. There were times Cushenberry would be standing in the middle of the line, not blocking anyone, holding his position. Part of that is after the Auburn game, teams started rushing only 3-4 guys and dropping everyone into coverage under the misguided notion that giving Burrow more time to read a defense and his receivers to get open was a winning strategy. But it made the center’s job a bit easier, as he wasn’t always matched up against anyone. It’s admittedly hard to get a read on his pass blocking at times due to the fact that teams gave up on blitzing LSU. Then again, that’s partly a testament to the offensive line. Blitzing didn’t work in the first half of the year.

I do like that he showed he is mobile and he’s terrific at reading and reacting. Burrow freelanced a lot in the pocket, and Cushenberry was terrific at recognizing when the pocket had broken down and when it was time to pick up a new assignment due to Burrow’s improv. Cushenberry showed off great vision and decision making throughout the year.

3rd and 3

I was surprised he fell all the way to 83 and kept expecting a team to scoop him up. Are there any concerns Broncos fans should have with him? Any places you thought he really struggled last year?

Baker: This is where I admit that I’m not a scout. I don’t watch college football looking to see how players project to the next level, I care how they perform for LSU, so that’s a big caveat. That said, I’m not sure what else you could want in a lineman. He’s smart, strong, big, and is one of the leaders in an LSU locker room that had no shortage of huge personalities. Does that mean it will translate to the next level? To be honest, who knows? Some guys click in the NFL and some don’t. There are some LSU players I thought would be surefire NFL stars who bombed out of the league and then there’s guys like Danielle Hunter, who was a good not great college player who is now one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. It’s hard to tell how players will react once they are in the less structured environment of pro sports, but Cushenberry has all of the tools to succeed.

If I had to guess his career arc, it would be that of a long-time solid starter and if everything goes well, a team captain or at least a major locker room voice. On the low end, barring injury, he should at least be a strong rotational player. What can I say? He’s consistent. Don’t expect the Hall of Fame, but also don’t expect him to fail to live up to his rookie contract. Cushenberry is about as low risk of a prospect as there is, though he might not have that most elite top end.

4th and 1

If you had to boil Cushenberry’s Tiger career to one play that defines him, what would it be?

Baker: I can’t think of one great Cushenberry play, and I mean that as a compliment. He’s not a guy who made highlight reel pancake blocks, instead he stood up his man, opened up the hole for CEH to run for a first down, and then he did it again. Over and over. On the flip side of that, I don’t ever remember screaming at my TV because of some block he missed. Cushenberry was simply always there, always blocking his man, doing it with such regularity that we didn’t even think about it. He just was.

To give you an idea, here’s the highlights of the Alabama game, where you can see how Cushenberry performed in a high stress environment against the closest thing college has the an NFL team. You don’t have to watch the whole thing, but from about 4:30-7:30, there’s about 6 or 7 LSU offensive plays which gives you an idea of Cushenberry’s ability. There’s no OH MY GOD! play, but he’s always on his man, always making the block, and he springs a big run or two, and buys Burrow time. He did his effin job, and he did it with near ruthless efficiency. You got yourself a true professional football player not some toolsy prospect.

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