The Denver Broncos offensive line has been arguably the most controversial position group this year. It was a unit that the team heavily addressed in the offseason, bringing in OG Ben Powers and OT through free agency; signing them to combined $143 million dollar contracts. They have produced mixed results.
The three returning starters, Garett Bolles, Lloyd Cushenberry III, and Quinn Meinerz, have made a noticeable impact on the team this year. But they all have a different story to tell.
One of the most important aspects of the success of this offensive line is that the same five have started the first eight games for the first time since 2013. Consistency is key, in particular, for the offensive line. And this is made obvious by the fact that the line is improving as the weeks go on. Availability has made an impact on all of their grades.
Let’s get into things.
Garett Bolles: C
Coming off of a broken leg that ended his previous season’s campaign, Garett Bolles has been playing what is likely near what has been expected from him over the course of his career. He has been good, and at times, he has been great. But he is also one of the biggest handicaps the team has in the passing game.
Bolles is having the same issues now that he had at the beginning of his career. He is shaky in pass protection due to his footwork and football IQ. He can regularly get caught out of position, leading to the defender getting an easy hand up.
But to his credit, he has had two games this year where he didn’t give up a pressure. The first was against the Bears where he played 31 pass pro snaps without giving up a sack, quarterback hit, or a pressure. He also did this against the Packers on 31 pass pro snaps again.
His run game is a little better, but there is nothing noticeable in that realm.
Ben Powers: B
Powers is clearly one of the best free agents that the Broncos brought in this year. While he has been far from perfect, his pass blocking has been solid at most times and his run game is right near that level too.
He has shown that he has the tools to succeed and his the ability to think quickly and change blocking techniques based off of what the defender is giving him. He is strong against bull rushes and is a bruising down blocker on run plays.
He has had one game this year where he did not give up a sack, quarterback hit, or pressure and that was in the first matchup against the Chiefs over the course of 31 pass pro snaps.
His biggest down side may be picking up blitzes or stunts in pass protection. This is a situation where I have noticed his worst blocks. He either comes off late to the block and is forced to lunge, or there are times where he hasn’t picked up the block at all. Either way, he has been a member of one of the best offensive line interiors in the league.
Lloyd Cushenberry III: A-
Talk about this year’s most improved player on the entire roster so far. The third-year center has been playing by far the best football we’ve seen out of him. I had a feeling after the preseason that he would be taken massive steps forward this year and he has done nothing but prove me right so far.
What has changed the most is his pass protection. The first couple years he was a bit of a liability and would consistently get driven back and collapse the pocket from the inside. That has not been the case this year. He has gone the last three games without giving up a single sack, quarterback hit, or even a pressure in 92 pass pro snaps.
And he hasn’t been lights out in just the passing game, but his run protection has noticeably improved. His down blocking is solid and his ability to carry out double teams with either Powers or Meinerz has been improved.
And his leadership cannot go unstated. He was a core at LSU on arguably the greatest collegiate team of all time. And his teammates recognize him now as one of the core leaders in Denver as well. He is on his way to earning a serious contract extension.
Quinn Meinerz: A-
Quinn Meinerz is currently known as one of the best guards in the entire league. He has been one my favorite things to watch in football this year. The attitude that he brings to his game and the high level of physicality that all of his blocks carry almost brings tears to my eyes. He is exactly what any offensive line coach can hope for at an interior offensive line position.
He consistently gets movement on the front-line defenders. There is hardly a time where he gets stalemated at the line of scrimmage. He is a bully out on the field and it is an attitude that lasts the entire game. He is relentless in his blocks and always plays through the whistle. He is also a big threat to any linebacker that wants to get involved as he can cleanly come off of a double team and put that backer into the ground.
The only limit I have seen to his game is pass protection. Not that he is bad, it just seems like his worst plays come during pass plays. He can get caught up in assisting Cushenberry or McGlinchey and misses a blitzer or stunting lineman. This does not happen often though.
Mike McGlinchey: C-
McGlinchey has clearly been the weakest link, at least on the field, on the Broncos offensive line this year. And that disappointment compounds given the nature of his contract. I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised though because this is pretty much what he looked like when he was in San Francisco.
He has been decent in the run game and below average in the pass game. He has tendencies to turn his shoulders too much and to stop his feet when he initiates contact. He also has the tendency to stop his feet in pass protection while anticipating contact. This leads to him getting beat to the outside constantly. But to his credit, he doesn’t get beat to the inside too often.
McGlinchey is not the worst tackle that the Broncos have had over the last 10 years, but he is shaping up to be one of Paton’s worst free agent signings. The light in the dark is that he does have the tools to be able to turn this year around. Only time will tell though.
While the offensive line is not the strongest position group on the team, they are definitely one of the brighter spots from this season. It has been years since Denver had a consistently good unit up front, and I would say that they finally have that this year. Between being able to avoid injury so far, and being able to run the ball well and give Russell Wilson time to throw (Wilson holds the ball the longest out of any quarterback in the league), they have been very productive this year.
They have a top-3 best interior three lineman in the league and I think that trio will only get better as the season progresses. The weakest links are their tackles but even they aren’t horrible. This is a unit that the team will likely be able to depend upon and build off of.
As a unit, I would give them a “B” grade.
How would you grade the offensive line as a whole through eight games?
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