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Broncos ranked worst offensive line in the NFL

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You can disagree with their metrics, but Football Guys analysis put the Denver Broncos offensive line at 32nd in the NFL this season.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not uncommon for the analysts to rank the 2020 Denver Broncos offensive line as one of the worst. What is uncommon is for our line to rank dead last. The analysts at footballguys.com did just that - rank the 2020 Broncos OL dead last. They used a methodology that ranks the Broncos offensive line as 32nd in the league. We’ll delve into why shortly, but first let’s look at their methodology.

Methodology

These rankings update weekly and consider lineup changes. Trades, “benchings” and injuries change the lineups and they must be tracked for any offensive line ranking to be useful. Most ranking lists are not kept this up to date.

By re-ranking the teams every week with a realistic lineup, a cohesion score is tracked. Cohesion is another way of saying experience together. The players build trust when they work at the same positions with the same guys beside them every week Good offensive lines trust each other to such an extent they can know what the hot blocking calls are going to be, even if they can’t hear it, because they are playing on the road in Kansas City or Seattle and it sounds like a jet plane taking off.

For the purposes of the model:

Cohesion

  • Started last year for the same team at the same spot (4 games or more) - 5.0/5
  • Started last year for the same team at a different spot - 4.0/5
  • Started last year for the same team at the same spot (4 games or less) - 3.5/5
  • Played last year for the same team at the same spot - 3.0/5
  • Played last year for the same team but never at this spot - 2.5/5
  • Started with the same team in the past (for at least a season) at the same spot - 2.0/5
  • Played with the same team in the past (for at least a season) at the same spot - 1.5/5
  • Played with the same team in the past (for less than a season) at any spot - 1.0/5
  • Played with the same team in the past (for at least a season) but never at this spot - 1.0/5
  • Never played with this team before - 0.0/5

Each player’s cohesion goes up 1 point each week they start (to a max of 5) and up 0.5 each week they are active but don’t start (to a max of 4).

The team’s average cohesion for that week is the average of the five starters.

Team Grades

  • Tackle grades are weighted 2x. Center grades are weighted 1.5x.
  • Cohesion is counted as a 6th starter in the lineup, 1x weighting like a guard.
  • It takes a month (4 games) of regular-season playing time to build maximum 5 point cohesion.
  • Initial rookie grades max at “B” for 1st rd rookies, “C+” for other round rookies, due to lack of NFL film. Their grades are revisited year 2.

Here is their projected starters and analysis.

“Starters: Garrett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Patrick Morris, Graham Glasgow, JaWuan James

Backups: Elijah Wilkinson, Lloyd Cushenberry [R], Netane Muti [R], Jake Rodgers

Notes: This line will have two new starters compared to last season. Right guard Graham Glasgow was signed from Detroit to replace Ron Leary, and either Patrick Morris or Lloyd Cushenberry (fourth rd pick from LSU) will replace center Connor McGovern. The coaches hope to run outside zone and need a bounce-back season from right tackle JaWuan James for this to occur. James was only available for three games last season.

OL Coach: Mike Munchak. Ranking: Low-Tier.”

So we can see one reason why the Broncos overall offensive line score of 27.55 is dead last - two of our projected - at least by them - starters (Patrick Morris and Graham Glasgow) have never played with the team before. One of the projected starters has played less than a season with the team, Ja’Wuan James. Of course the overall line score will go up over the course of the season, but so much of the overall line score from their methodology comes from line cohesion and right now our line has very little of that. The removal of James as a starter and the addition of Elijah Wilkinson will actually help our score now. This analysis was done a few weeks back and has not been updated yet.

We can argue about the importance of it, but I’ll tell you from my experience, knowing the capabilities (both physical and mental) of those guys playing on your left and right makes a huge difference when you are playing in front of crowd and trying to figure which zone blitz defender is going to be your responsibility after the snap.

They also grade every starter on their run blocking and pass blocking on a 0-5 scale in 0.5 increments. According to them, our best offensive lineman at any skill is Glasgow who was graded at 3.5 in pass blocking. Here are their grades for our line (run, pass).

  • Bolles - 3.0, 3.0
  • Risner - 3.0, 3.0
  • Morris - 3.0, 2.5
  • Glasgow - 3.0, 3.5
  • James - 3.0, 3.0

I don’t know what they graded Wilkinson at for last season.

First let’s address the issue of Morris. I fully expect him to begin the season as the starting center, but I expect Cushenberry to quickly replace him. The reason that I don’t expect Cushenberry to begin the season as out starting center is that there will be no preseason games this year. I fully expect rookies to be eased into roles on offense and defense all around the league because of that.

That being said I don’t understand how they can grade Morris as ostensibly equivalent to Risner after Morris played 37 offensive snaps in 2019 or roughly half of a game.

So let’s compare our OL to the Raider’s offensive line, which they rank as the best in the league. Here are the grades they assign to the putative 2020 “Loss” Vegas OL.

  • Kolton Miller - 3.0, 3.5
  • Richie Icognito - 4.0, 3.5
  • Rodney Hudson - 4.0, 4.0
  • Gabe Jackson - 3.5, 3.0
  • Trent Brown - 4.0, 4.0

I should note that they did not grade any offensive lineman at 5.0 in anything. The best grade given to any offensive lineman in the league was given to Quenton Nelson (4.5, 4.5). So now the grades given to our putative starters don’t look too bad in comparison.

With very little variation in grades given to lineman, the team offensive line score rests heavily on the cohesion score, where the Broncos have (or at least had) the lowest in the league.

A flaw in their methodology is exposed when the insertion of Elijah Wilkinson as a starter at RT improves our offensive line’s overall score. Whatever you may think of James, when he is playing he is a better RT than Wilkinson, or at least he was in 2018 when he last played regularly in the NFL.

Poll

With no pre-season games, how important do you think the lack of experience playing together will be for our offensive line?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    very important - they are going to struggle mightily all year
    (254 votes)
  • 43%
    somewhat important - they should gel some time around mid-season
    (451 votes)
  • 23%
    meh - it will only be a problem in the first few games
    (248 votes)
  • 2%
    very little import - after the first game, this OL will be rocking
    (29 votes)
  • 5%
    not important at all - Mike Munchak will have this unit running like a well-oiled machine by the first snap of the regular season!
    (54 votes)
1036 votes total Vote Now