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GIF Horse: Dalton Risner

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How good can the second year guard become?

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills
Can the Broncos’ second year guard improve on a strong rookie season?
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

There’s no doubt Dalton Risner was the Broncos’ best offensive lineman over the course of the 2019 season. Not only was the 24-year old a reliable pass protector and bulldozer at the point of attack, but Mike Munchak weaponized his mobility to attack the edges of opposing defenses. It speaks to what Broncos’ Country already thinks of the second year guard that the biggest question about him this past offseason was capable of a switch to tackle.

The biggest question facing Risner as he enters his second season is “where is his ceiling?”

Risner was an immediate impact player on the line last year.
Risner was an immediate impact player on the line last year.

What does Risner do well?

At 6’4 and 312 lbs, Risner hangs right around the 50th percentile for what NFL scouts consider baseline measurables for an NFL guard. He shows good balance and solid explosiveness, quickness, and agility for a man his size and combines it with 34” arms. Very good strength is evident in every aspect of his game. Risner’s rookie season revealed a player with good mental processing who is quick to adjust on the fly to late twists and blitzes. He offers very good competitive toughness in tense situations and is the kind of player a coach can count on on 4th and one with the game on the line.

The first area where Risner really impressed me as a rookie is his use of hands. He’s got reliably good placement and has the kind of grip strength to lock on and steer his opponents against their will, such as the snap below against Kenny Clark of the Green Bay Packers.

Risner is tough to beat with power.
Risner’s hands are vice grips.

One thing that caught my eye with Risner is how he’s able to quickly reset his hands if they’re swatted or thrown off their mark. Even against opponents such as Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs, Risner’s hands stood out.

Risner's play against Jones last year is very encouraging.
Risner’s play against Jones last year is very encouraging.

Under Mike Munchak the Broncos’ rushing attack utilized a mix of both gap and zone blocking, and Risner proved he was adept at both. He’s very good on double team blocks and does nice work keeping his head up as he chips to keep an eye on opponents to climb to at the second level. Once there he does a good job anticipating defenders in order to impede their pursuit angles.

A strong lead blocker who’s athletic enough to make the edge and savvy enough to take out the right defender, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Broncos’ best running plays featured Risner as a lead blocker. I’m anxious to see how Pat Shurmur adds onto the Broncos’ use of pulling guards. The addition of Graham Glasgow hints that there’s a desire to lead to either side, something that should only make the offense harder to defend.

Munchak made Risner instrumental to the Broncos' blocking scheme.
Munchak made Risner instrumental to the Broncos’ blocking scheme.

Many of the Broncos’ play action concepts a year ago also leaned on the threat Risner presented on the move. Linebackers are tasked with stopping the run first and foremost and react strongly to pulling blockers, so Risner leading the way was an unsung reason for success on plays like Noah Fant’s long touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.

The Broncos’ were able to draw in second level defenders with run action in part because of the threat Risner presents as a lead blocker.

When he isn’t leading the way, Risner is still a good pass protector who does a very good job picking up and reacting to stunts. He keeps his head on a swivel and constantly looks for incoming threats as his quarterback drops back and reacts in time to prevent issues. In this way he’s an unsung factor in Garett Bolles’ individual improvement as 2019 progressed. As a rookie he also showed off a good anchor against opponents like the Bears’ 320 lb Eddie Goldman.

It’s hard to fool Risner with line games.

What weaknesses does Risner have?

While some in Broncos’ Country point to the Kansas State alums’ experience at right tackle as proof he can kick outside in the NFL, I have concerns about how it’d expose him to speed in space. Life inside means there is less area to protect which helps to mitigate Risner’s footwork and lateral mobility, both of which could become problematic against edge rushers. While I came away satisfied with Risner’s tape as a whole, there are a few snaps against players like Z’Darius Smith or Chris Jones which hint that better athletes can beat him with quickness. In the games I watched I saw a handful of plays where he got caught oversetting outside and unable to recover. Against most defensive tackles this isn’t a death knell, but better athletes cause issues.

Risner will also get caught overextending with his upper body every so often. Against most opponents I do not believe this is a big issue, but players like Smith, Jones, and Buffalo’s Ed Oliver took advantage.

Risner occasionally set out over his skis last year and good pass rushers abused it.
Risner occasionally set out over his skis last year and good pass rushers abused it.

Summary

Dalton Risner is a second year guard who started every game for the Broncos a year ago. He is versatile enough to thrive at the point of attack, quick enough to reach his opponents on outside zone, and fast enough to lead the way for Phillip Lindsay around the edge. He’s a rock wall in pass protection who will look even better if he can refine his footwork.

Most offensive lineman improve from year one and there’s every reason to believe Risner will do so. While his advanced age for a second year player does leave me curious about how much stronger and quicker he can become, better technique and more experience against the variety of rush moves he faces every week should only help him.

Final Thoughts

In the name of transparency, I feel it necessary to mention that I was hesitant to study and write about Dalton Risner. He was a fan favorite for many in Broncos’ Country long before he wore orange and blue for the first time, and after a successful rookie season there’s already Canton hype in some corners. I’m not ready to enshrine him just yet, but I’m happier with his play than I anticipated.

Dalton Risner is a good football player and exciting sophomore. The fact that he is entering his second year under the best offensive line coach in football should have every member of Broncos’ Country excited.