There’s a new level of excitement coming out of the Denver Broncos’ facility. It’s almost at tangible levels, and the team is feeling it.
Between a massive trade for QB Russell Wilson, the hiring of HC Nathaniel Hackett and his staff, and GM George Paton bringing in another talented class of rookies, the excitement is palpable and will only build as training camp continues.
There isn’t a more important position on this offense, and dare I say team, that will determine the success of the Broncos in 2022. The offensive line has to play well if the team wants to make the playoffs and go anywhere further in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it’s a work in progress that has more questions than answers at the moment.
Garett Bolles #72
Report: The Broncos’ first-round pick in 2017, Garett Bolles has had a roller-coaster career with the Broncos. After a poor first few seasons, Bolles had his best season in 2020 as an average fringe top-15 left tackle. Unfortunately, Bolles regressed closer to his previous self in 2021, allowing 22 pressures and his second-highest career sack totals in just 14 games. His erratic hand placement and jumbled footwork led to inconsistent outings in pass protection, especially against the better competition he faced in 2021. Bolles’s best strength has always been as a run blocker, and SIS charted him with the second-lowest blown run block percentage in the NFL last season. He’ll need to iron out his technical faults if he wants to hold up his promise of keeping Russell Wilson clean, but given his age and the fact that these issues crop up every year for him, Bolles might just be who he is at this stage of his career. While his cap number ties him to the team through 2022 and potentially 2023, his age and cap hit outweigh his film.
Calvin Anderson #76
Report: A former UDFA who worked his way up into a swing tackle role, Anderson saw action in five games in 2021 and started three. Anderson allowed six pressures in those three starts and had his fair share of struggles in pass protection with poor footwork, hand placement, and pad level. Anderson competes his tail off on every rep with active hands and fights to stay in front of rushers. Where his shortcomings show up most is in run blocking. His below-average power limits his ability to generate movement in the run game and his poor athleticism in space isn’t a fit for an outside zone offense. While many seem to think that Anderson could or should start at right tackle, it’s far more likely he sticks as the backup left tackle barring injury.
Quinn Bailey #75
Report: Much like Calvin Anderson, Quinn Bailey is a former UDFA who fought his way up into NFL action in 2021. Bailey only played in 40 snaps in relief vs the Los Angeles Chargers in week 12. His film was surprisingly solid for a third-stringer thrown into the fire. He only allowed two pressures and performed well as a run blocker-showing good play strength and hand placement. I’m not sure Quinn Bailey sticks on as a tackle, but he has playing experience at every position but center on the offensive line. That versatility could help him earn a backup role along the interior.
Billy Turner #57
Report: A former Bronco, Billy Turner returns to Denver to reunite with Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett. Turner’s film is remarkably average and shows a serviceable right tackle. He’s quick out of his stance enough to reach his targets in space and on the backside of plays. His athleticism and balance are evident in pass protection and give him a solid floor to build off of in pass protection, but his hand placement is still wild and his anchor and poor pad level give him little resistance to power. He has the athleticism to execute his responsibilities as a run blocker in an outside zone run game, but his power and pad level limit just how effective he is. Turner should be the expected starter at right tackle, but don’t expect him to be the long-term answer.
Tom Compton #69
Report: A journeyman lineman who has bounced around a few teams, Tom Compton is a versatile and serviceable offensive lineman with guard/tackle ability. Compton is an absolute road grader as a run blocker, flashing excellent play strength, explosiveness, and pad level out of his stance, dislodging defenders and generating plenty of movement at the point of attack. It’s no surprise Compton graded out as one of the best run blockers in the NFL last season regardless of the metric. Where Compton struggles is in pass protection. He lives and dies by his aggressiveness, often over-setting out of his jump sets to try and get in front of pass rushers early in their rush. When it works, it works well, but it didn’t work often enough for Compton to be called reliable in pass protection. It’ll be interesting to see how the right tackle battle between Turner and Compton will go. Turner has the edge in pass protection, but isn’t close to as good a run blocker as Compton is-a trait that is oftentimes viewed as more valuable for right tackles. With Russ at quarterback, however, whoever the right tackle is has to be able to pass protect. Compton also has experience in an outside zone offense at right guard, providing a potential avenue to get his run blocking on the field without exposing him on an island as often.
Sebastian Gutierrez is a fun project to take a swing on with his athleticism but is a long way away from being close to ready for NFL action. His future might be better served at center given his frame and athleticism.
Casey Tucker hasn’t shown an athletic ability capable of executing an outside zone offense and his tape last season wasn’t encouraging enough for me to feel comfortable he has a shot at making the team at all. A practice squad spot might be in the cards, but there will be plenty of competition for that spot.
Dalton Risner #66
Report: One of just two players from the 2019 draft class still on the Broncos’ roster, Dalton Risner’s career has been on a promising climb before an uncharacteristically poor 2021 season. Risner has never been an elite pass protector, but he had his worst year protecting the interior and his normally stout play strength seemingly fell apart. As a result, his film run blocking was a sharp decline from what it had been over the previous three seasons. In a new scheme that won’t feature his strengths as a puller and will test his athleticism during a contract year, Risner’s future on the team will be a tough decision. The Broncos don’t really have a solution at the left guard spot without sacrificing a player elsewhere, and Risner can still work in the offense-provided the Broncos don’t get the 2021 version of Risner. I could see a scenario where Risner is traded before the season starts. It just depends on how comfortable the Broncos feel with his play and the other options at left guard.
Netane Muti #52
Report: After Netane Muti was selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Broncos fans have been heralding him as a potential sleeper primed for a breakout. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened yet, and it might not happen in a Broncos uniform. Muti’s film in the snaps he has seen hasn’t been inspiring. A combination of poor pad level, mediocre quickness and athleticism, short arms, and poor technique led to him allowing 14 pressures in just six games and posting the second-highest blown run block rate on the team. The new outside zone scheme requires athleticism and he just hasn’t shown the necessary tools there to fit. His saving grace may be that the team just doesn’t have the depth on the offensive line to move on without further moves. He earned some praise during OTAs, but those limited practices don’t wash off the years of film.
Graham Glasgow #61
Report: A stout anchor in the interior of the offensive line, Graham Glasgow has been a steadfast starter at both guard and center in his years in the NFL. Glasgow enjoyed a good, productive season in 2020 with the Broncos and was on his way to another in 2021 before injuries struck. He’s one of the most savvy linemen out there, and his footwork and play strength make him a highly effective pass protector. Glasgow isn’t a fit for an outside zone offense either with below-average movement skills in space. The team restructured his contract to stay through at least this season. He’s not a great fit for the scheme, but if he’s not playing, that’s a $6.1M cap hit just sitting on the bench. Regardless of if or where Glasgow plays, his leadership and technical skills will be a boon for the entire offensive line room.
Quinn Meinerz #77
Report: One of George Paton’s two third-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Quinn Meinerz was originall drafted as a center to compete with Lloyd Cushenberry III. Injuries to Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow forced him to bounce between the two guard spots, but Meinerz handled the changes well. Meinerz settled in well at right guard as the season went on and proved himself to be the best pass protector on the team, showing off that awareness, play strength, hand placement, and attitude that made him such a coveted prospect. The coaching staff said he would be at right guard, but given his talent, scheme fit, and versatility, they’d be remiss to not take advantage of his ability to play multiple spots to find their best offensive line combination.
I like Michael Niese enough to feel comfortable saying he’ll stick around on the practice squad, and might even make the roster as a backup depending on the moves the team makes before the season starts.
Zack Johnson has already been waived once this summer and was only brought back after they waived a tryout player. Ben Braden hasn’t shown enough on film for me to feel comfortable saying who he is as a player, but there’s a greater than zero chance he winds up on the practice squad.
Lloyd Cushenberry III #79
Report: Part of the unstoppable force that was the 2019 LSU offense, Lloyd Cushenberry parlayed his success into a third-round selection in 2020. Cushenberry has started virtually every game for the Broncos since he was drafted, but I’m unsure just how long that will last. Cushenberry has been one of the worst centers in the league over the last few years. His processing against stunts and blitzes has never been a strength of his game, and when combined with his poor quickness, it’s been an exploitable weakness for teams to work off of. Cushenberry allowed the seventh-highest pressures among all centers with 24, and posted the seventh-highest blown run block rate among all centers.
Moving forward, the outside zone scheme requires quickness, range to work in space, and awareness-traits that Cushenberry hasn’t shown he has. Both Quinn Meinerz, who the team drafted to compete with Cushenberry at center, and rookie Luke Wattenberg are better fits schematically. It will be interesting to see how his situation plays out.
Luke Wattenberg #60
Report: Personally, Luke Wattenberg has been a brand player for me for a couple of seasons now. He’s been a rock-solid and key cog for the Washington Huskies, playing all over the offensive line. Wattenberg fits the Broncos’ new outside zone scheme to a T. He’s a comfortable mover in space, quick out of his stance, smart, and reliable technically. I’m not sure Wattenberg is ready to start, as he needed time to develop NFL-caliber play strength coming out of college, but he might be their long-term solution at center.
There’s so much room for potential movement along the offensive line that nothing in this room feels certain. The only lock to start at the same position he started at last season is Garret Bolles at left tackle. I feel comfortable saying Billy Turner will be the right tackle, but that’s about a 60% confidence level. Dalton Risner, Netane Muti, and Lloyd Cushenberry III could all be moved before the season starts. Quinn Meinerz, Graham Glasgow, and Tom Compton could all be moved around to try and create the best combination up front, and there are plenty of moves the team could make as roster cuts trickle in to further add to this room.