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Denver Bronco offensive line performance review 2020

Did they improve relative to 2019 after another year of learning from Mike Munchak?

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NFL: DEC 19 Bills at Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Like everything I write, this will be driven by data. If you don’t want to look at data, stop reading now.

Unfortunately there is not that much data available (for free) about the performance of offensive linemen. There is the publicly available data from PFF (which gives the overall rating of the player on the 0-100 scale and their color grade) and there is penalty data freely available from nflpenalties.com and recently pro-football-reference.com. There is also unit data like rushing stats from nfl.com, and espn.com and pressure allowed data that is available from pro-football-reference.com along with pass block win rate data from ESPN analytics. Unfortunately football outsiders have put all of their useful OL stats behind a paywall (power situation running, stuffed runs) so I will have to build those from stathead.com. Let’s start with the whole line analysis and compare the 2019 Bronco OL with the 2020 Bronco OL.

Full line run blocking

In 2019 the Broncos averaged 4.06 yards per carry which was 21st. In 2020 that increased to 4.34 yards per carry which was good for 16th. In 2019 our offensive line was 3rd best at not getting stuffed (runs that gained 0 or fewer yards). Only 17.8 percent of our runs were stuffed in 2019. In 2020 the Broncos fell all the way to 30th in stuffed percentage with 22.4 percent of our runs getting stuffed. The Jags were the best in the league at 14.8 percent while the Steelers were league worst at 24.4 percent.

In 2019 were were 15th in conversion on runs where we needed one or two yards (power situations). We converted on 69 percent. We were 15th again in 2020, converting on 70 percent of our power run situations. Interestingly, Tampa Bay went from league worst in 2019 (52 percent) to league best in 2020 (91 percent). The 2020 Bucs converted on a crazy 41 of 45 short yardage runs.

Our OL appears to have regressed a little in run blocking based upon the drop in stuffed run ranking. So how did the unit do in group pass blocking?

According to ESPN analytics our team run block win rate, RBWR, was 22nd in 2020 - 70%. Best in the league was Green Bay - 74% and worst was the Chargers at 67%. RBWR and PBWR (pass block win rate) are both derived from Next Gen stats player positional tracking data.

Full Line Pass Blocking

In 2019 our OL allowed pressure on 24.6 percent of dropbacks. That was 24th. League worst in 2019 was the Jets at 30.5 percent. League best was the Saints at 16.1 percent. The 36 QBhits we allowed was 12th best. The Cardinals were the best allowing only 16 and the Dolphins were the worst allowing 81. In 2020 the Bronco OL allowed pressure on 27.4 percent of dropbacks. That was 28th. The 70 QBhits we allowed was 26th. The Cardinals again led the league at 25 and the 49ers were worst at 83.

According to PFF our OL was only to blame on nine of the thirty-two sacks we allowed in 2020 (28 percent). The percentage was much better than in 2019 when the OL allowed twenty of the forty-one sacks (49 percent) we gave up as a team. Of course Elijah Wilkinson was to blame on 9.0 of the 41 sacks in 2019 (that led the league in sacks allowed). In other words Elijah Wilkinson by himself allowed the same number of sacks in 2019 that the entire Bronco offensive line allowed in 2020 (at least according to PFF).

The 2019 OL was called for holding 25 times. The 2020 OL was only called for holding 10 times. Of course offensive holding was called much less frequently in 2020 relative to 2019.

According to ESPN our team was 21st in PBWR with a team rate of 54%. The best in the league was Green Bay at 74% (you’ll see more about this later) and the worst was the Giants at 46%.

According to PFF our OL as a whole was ranked 25th. The only division rival with a worse OL was the Chargers who were dead last, although the Raiders came in at 24th just ahead of the Broncos. The Chiefs were ranked 11th. PFF graded the Browns OL as the best in the league with Green Bay second.

Charts of individual OL performance

The 2019 Bronco OL did this:

The 2020 OL did this:

I have not done a sack-blame analysis for the 2020 Broncos. I may still do that during the off-season. The sack-blame data in the two tables above is from PFF.

The only individual Bronco offensive lineman on the ESPN lists of top 10 at his position in terms of PBWR or RBWR was Garett Bolles who was 7th best tackle in 2020 for PBWR - 93%. There are some former Broncos on the top 10 ESPN lists. Billy Turner was the 3rd best OT for PBWR while Mike Remmers (former Bronco training camp invitee) was 10th in PBWR and 6th in RBWR. Ty Sambrailo was 7th among tackles in RBWR and Matt Paradis was 8th among centers at RBWR. ESPN only shows the top 10 and I’m uncertain of how to access the rest of the list to see where our current offensive lineman rank in PBWR and RBWR for 2020 (outside of Bolles).

Lloyd Cushenberry III

Our starting center stepped in as a rookie and literally played every snap on offense. That is impressive and should not be overlooked; he stepped in as a rookie with no preseason and played the most mentally demanding position on the OL. LC3 has the quickness to be used as a puller on running plays. Very few teams pull their center (of course many teams don’t use pulling lineman at all in their rushing attack).

The four sacks that he allowed were worst on the team. That is bad. There were many instances where his mental mistakes led to pressures and/or sacks. According to my data from the first month of the season, LC3 allowed three of those four sacks in the first four games, so he was improving as the year progressed, at least from a sacks allowed perspective.

His PFF rating was 40.5. That is the lowest rating for a starting center in 2020. For reference our center in 2018, Matt Paradis had a PFF rating of 81.4, which was one of the highest in the league for a center. Our 2019 center, Connor McGovern, had a PFF rating of 72.0. So according to PFF our 2020 center play was much much worse than the center play that we got in 2018 and 2019. This is a table of all of the starting centers in the league with their PFF grade for 2020. You’ll also notice former Bronco Ben Garland on this table.

Team 2020 Starting Center PFF Grade
Green Bay Packers Corey Linsley 89.9
Detroit Lions Frank Ragnow 80.3
Jacksonville Jaguars Brandon Linder 80.0
Tennessee Titans Ben Jones 78.6
Cleveland Browns J.C. Tretter 77.1
Washington Football Team Chase Roullier 76.8
Chicago Bears Cody Whitehair 76.3
Las Vegas Raiders Rodney Hudson 73.6
San Francisco 49ers Ben Garland 71.1
Kansas City Chiefs Austin Reiter 70.9
New Orleans Saints Erik McCoy 70.1
Philadelphia Eagles Jason Kelce 69.6
Los Angeles Rams Austin Blythe 69.3
Indianapolis Colts Ryan Kelly 69.0
New England Patriots David Andrews 67.7
Atlanta Falcons Alex Mack 65.9
Buffalo Bills Mitch Morse 65.8
Miami Dolphins Ted Karras 65.3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ryan Jensen 64.9
Cincinnati Bengals Trey Hopkins 63.8
Carolina Panthers Matt Paradis 63.4
Seattle Seahawks Ethan Pocic 62.4
New York Jets Connor McGovern 62.2
Minnesota Vikings Garrett Bradbury 61.3
Pittsburgh Steelers Maurkice Pouncey 60.5
New York Giants Nick Gates 59.7
Houston Texans Nick Martin 56.1
Arizona Cardinals Mason Cole 54.4
Dallas Cowboys Joe Looney 50.7
Baltimore Ravens Matt Skura 50.3
Los Angeles Chargers Dan Feeney 48.2
Denver Broncos Lloyd Cushenberry III 40.5

I’d be curious if LC3’s 40.8 rating was the worst ever for a full-time starting center, but I can’t see that data without a PFF subscription. From the table above LC3 was a step below every other center in the league and Corey Linsley was a step above every other center in the league.

I expect LC3 to get better next season; honestly he can’t get worse (from a PFF perspective). It’s actually not that rare for a rookie center to play every offensive snap. Erik McCoy and Garett Bradbury did it for the Saints and the Vikings in 2019. McCoy’s PFF grade was 76.1 in 2019 and 70.1 in 2020. Bradbury’s PFF grade was 68.1 as a rookie and 61.3 this year. Both regressed some year over year, but both also were rated much higher than LC3 as rookies.

If we want to find a recent rookie center who was rated poorly while playing every (or nearly every) offensive snap, we need to look to Mason Cole. Cole played every snap for the Cardinals in 2018 and graded at 53.6. He only started two games in 2019, but in 2020 he started fourteen games at center and graded out at 54.4.

I guess it comes down to whether LC3 improves into the 50-range, the 60-range, or maybe even the 70-range in his second season. Mike Munchak likes him enough that he didn’t bench him once during his rookie season despite some notable errors. I expect dramatic improvement in second season, if only because of how lowly rated he was in 2020.

Dalton Risner

Risner’s grade of 64.4 as a rookie and 61.3 in 2020 were both yellow (average) according to PFF. Here is their color grading scale

Risner did not get called for a single penalty in 2020. Nor did he allow a sack. Both should be commended.

There is nothing wrong with having a group of average offensive lineman as long as you have at least one starter who is elite. The best offensive line in the league in 2020, Green Bay, had three average starting offensive lineman (Elgton Jenkins, Luca Patrick and Billy Turner) and two elite (David Bakhtiari and Corey Lindsley). It’s amazing to see how good Billy Turner has become since he was terrible when he was a Bronco.

We should also note that having an elite QB helps offensive lineman and conversely having one of the worst starting QBs in the league (if not the worst) makes the job of offensive lineman more difficult. Blocking for Peyton Manning made Billy Turner look competent. Turners improvement combined with blocking for Aaron Rodgers has made Turner look well above average.

Garett Bolles

I will take and eat my serving of crow now. I am one of those who never thought that Bolles could turn his career around and become the tackle that John Elway hoped he would become when we took him in the first round in 2017. PFF has liked Bolles much more than most football analytics sites. PFF graded Bolles at 72.6 in 2017, 72.8 in 2018, 76.1 in 2019 and 90.6 in 2020. His 90.6 grade was 3rd best in the league among offensive tackles. Only Trent Williams and David Bakhtiari were graded better overall.

Bolles technique improved dramatically in 2020, but his grade was also helped markedly by the lack of holding penalties called on him (and everyone else). Bolles had twelve penalties called on him in 2018 (nine holding) and seventeen penalties called on him in 2019 (thirteen holding). PFF docks your grade for penalties. It’s safe to say that Bolles would have most likely been graded in the 80s by PFF in his previous three years if he had not gotten called for so many penalties.

Because I can see more PFF data on Bolles (PFF shares more data on the top 3 at each position than they share on other in a position group), I see that Bolles had 622 pass block snaps in 2020. Oddly enough PFFs total offensive snaps for Bolles (1015) does not line up with other data sources (934). Either way not allowing a single sack in 622 pass block snaps is quite impressive. I don’t know where PFF gets their 622 number. The Broncos had 556 passing attempts and allowed 32 sacks - that’s only 588 dropbacks, but I’m guessing that PFF is counting “non-plays” that are negated by penalty.

Graham Glasgow

Glasgow was solid but not spectacular. His drop off in PFF grade year-over-year was probably just a result of his penalties. He has been rated in the 70s every season after his rookie year when his PFF grade was 53.6. I expect him to bounce back to his “normal” level of performance in 2021. Playing next to an improved LC3 and the same RT would also help him in 2021. Being comfortable and familiar with the guy next to you on the OL helps performance. It may seem like more, but we only had three players start a game for us at right tackle: Elijah Wilkinson, Demar Dotson and Calvin Anderson.

Demar Dotson

From my review of film so far, Dotson was really good at pass blocking and really terrible at run blocking. His PFF grade for the season was 70.8 which is the same exact grade that he had in 2019 for the Bucs. His PFF grade has been in the mid-to-low 70s since 2013 when he graded at 80.3 for the year. At least by PFF, 2013 was his career year.

Dotson will be 36 next season. He is currently the oldest free agent right tackle on the market - according to overthecap.com. The fact that he is a liability in the run game, makes me doubt that he will be brought back for next season, but right now the only player who took snaps at RT for us in 2020 who is currently a Bronco is Calvin Anderson.

Elijah Wilkinson

I wrote a whole article on Wilkinson which you can read here if you want to know about the chances of Denver bringing the unrestricted free agent back.

I would not be surprised in the least if the starting RT for the Broncos in 2020 is Calvin Anderson. Mike Munchak likes his “project” players and has a history of developing undrafted an/or day three offensive lineman into quality NFL starters.