Coming into the season, I was fairly bullish on Dalton Risner. He’s never been an elite guard in my mind, but there weren’t many left guards in the league I would have named over him.
However, his 2021 tape has not been impressive so far. It’s bordering on the polar opposite to the point where it harmed the offense’s performance in both games so far. Should we be concerned about what he’s put out on the field so far?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
In Week 1, the game tape could be more or less excused. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence II are fantastic defensive linemen and are playing at an elite level Risner’s not at. That, combined with it being Week 1, made the performance easier to swallow.
Week 2 however? That’s not the case. Jacksonville has some talent on the defensive line but it’s really not close to the talent the Giants have at their disposal. Former 1st-round pick Malcom Brown played the most snaps with 46, while Roy Robertson-Harris, Davon Hamilton, Jihad Ward, Dawaune Smoot, and Adam Gotsis all played over 30.
I would have favored Risner over each and every one of those players coming into the week, given what he has put out on the field over the last few seasons.
The reverse held true this past Sunday. There were...several more reps where Risner was outmuscled or just flat out beat than I thought there would be. He struggled generating a ton of push in the run game and had his fair share of trouble with the power of Roy Robertson-Harris and Malcom Brown.
K’Lavon Chaisson, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2020 first-round pick, hasn’t ever been known for his run defense. Didn’t stop him from stopping Risner cold in his tracks and clogging the rushing lane.
Chaisson straight up stopping Risner cold is not something I would have had on my bingo card but pic.twitter.com/dBNpsg08U7— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) September 21, 2021
Some silver lining
There’s a lot of good with Risner’s tape on the mental side. Jacksonville threw stunts and blitzes at Denver pretty regularly, and Risner dealt with them like a seasoned pro. He was correctly identifying, passing off, and picking up work like we would expect him to do.
He didn’t win a ton of one on one reps in pass protection, but he put out a few solid reps throughout.
Everything “upstairs” with Risner has looked pretty good in the first two games. He’s assignment-sound, constantly looking for work, and hitting his targets when on the move. That’s important to note moving forward, as it shows that whatever is impacting his play is something physically.
So what’s going on?
Early on, it looks like something has been impacting his play strength. Power rushes and lack of movement in the run game against linemen he should normally be dominating is a concern.
Jacksonville blitz just completely catches OL off guard, pocket collapses in a hurry in the middle. pic.twitter.com/HnjwEbwUn9— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) September 22, 2021
In that aforementioned rep, Risner does get tripped up by Lloyd Cushenberry III, but the power at the POA from Robertson-Harris sending him back to that extent was jarring-and it happened a few times throughout the game.
He was getting shed rather easily against Jacksonville and he struggled to redirect and open up lanes. It’s a bizarre twist from a player who has been a pretty stout blocker throughout his career.
There are a few reps where his initial punch lands too high or his pad level isn’t quite right, and that’s normal. There’s going to be those reps on film. It’s a little more alarming when he isn’t sustaining blocks and his recovery just isn’t there. Him being driven back repeatedly and shed like paper in the run game and the inability to generate any movement is enough of a concern for me to consider the idea that Meinerz or Muti should take his spot if this persists.
Why the sudden drop?
As for what caused that sudden regression, I can’t really say. He did have a knee “tweak” in practice in August but he was cleared quickly on that. There’s been nothing publicly said about any regression.
The tape from the interior of the offensive line has been poor across the board. While Risner has struggled early, he’s not the only one. Truth be told, I’ve not been particularly impressed by a single offensive lineman’s performance so far this season. Teddy Bridgewater has been pressured on 34.2% of dropbacks. That is, quite frankly, an embarrassingly high number. For reference, Drew Lock finished 2020 at a 24.4% mark and Teddy finished at 19.8%. Given the talent the Denver Broncos have on the offensive line, it should be questioned why they are all struggling to start the season.
That’s a particularly big question mark, given how the offense is structured and the talented defensive lines that Denver will play as the schedule goes on.
What should have been a good tune-up game for the Broncos opened up a can of worms that gives me a fair amount of pause until I see it corrected and sustained throughout the next several games. It’s tougher sledding from here. It could just be that it is rust to start the season. We’re seeing several talented offensive lines struggle so far this season. Maybe Jacksonville’s defensive line will go on to prove they are one of the best in the league.
If it persists however, there’s a problem.