For this study, I went back to 2006 because that is the first season Sean Payton was the head coach of the Saints.
The Saints had consistently good offensive lines when Payton was the head coach. You could argue their ability to pass block was aided by having a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, to block for, but they were also consistently good at run blocking if you use adjusted line yards.
ALY is a stat footballoutsiders.com created to measure the relative ability of offensive lines to block for runners independent of how good or bad that runner was at running the ball.
The image above shows that Payton and his coaching staff and front office in New Orleans were not only able to draft good OL guys, but they were also able to develop and effectively use them. New Broncos OL coach Zach Strief was part of that. He was drafted by the Saints in 2006 and played his entire 11-year career for them.
So let’s focus on what the Saints did in the draft in terms of offensive linemen 2006 to 2021 and what the Broncos have done during the same timespan since the table above shows that the Saints have been really good at run blocking while the Broncos, by and large, have not.
If we look at how much draft capital each NFL team has invested in offensive linemen during this time period, we can learn some interesting things.
This table below is made using approximate value (AV) by draft slot to assign a draft unit value to each slot. The first pick in the draft is worth 34.6 units while picks 224 and later are worth 0.1 unit. This is based on the historic value of all players drafted in that spot in the draft. I did not develop this system - I merely make use of it.
|Rank||Team||Count||Draft Units Invested||Units per OL Drafted|
What should immediately jump out to you from the table above is that the Patriots have invested the least amount of draft capital in the the OL and yet they still have had one of the best offensive lines in the league over this timespan. Part of this could be attributed to Tom Brady, as blocking for a future HoF QB is easier than pass blocking for replacement-level QBs, but much of the credit for the success of the Patriots’ OL has to go to the OL coach for much of this time, Dante Scarnecchia.
We find that the Saints are right in the middle (16th) in terms of draft unit per lineman while the Broncos are 23rd. But if we go deeper into this we find that the Broncos have gone heavy on day two picks with nine offensive linemen chosen in the second and third rounds of the draft 2006-2022. Our two first-round picks were Ryan Clady and Garett Bolles.
Compare what the Broncos have done in the draft to what the Saints have done (very even distribution by round) and what the Patriots have done (heavily weighted to Day 3 picks). In fact, the Pats lead the league in total OL drafted on Day 3 between 2006-2022 with 25. Only one other team, Green Bay, has more than 20 with 22. While there are two teams, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay (something about Florida?), who have only used five Day 3 picks on OL guys.
But drafting the guys is only part of the battle. You have to get the “right” guys in the draft and you have to develop the draftees that you pick. The Saints with Payton were good at both.
Leaving out 2022 (Payton was not Saints’ head coach for that draft), New Orleans has drafted 18 offensive linemen 2006-2021.
|2010||5||158||Matt Tennant||C||2010||2012||0||0||0||3||36||0||Boston Col.|
|2013||3||75||Terron Armstead||T||2013||2022||0||4||8||59||110||106||Ark-Pine Bluff|
|2014||6||202||Tavon Rooks||OL||0||0||0||Kansas St.|
|2018||4||127||Rick Leonard||T||2021||2021||0||0||0||0||2||0||Florida St.|
|2019||2||48||Erik McCoy||C||2019||2022||0||0||4||24||57||57||Texas A&M|
Of those 18, fully half were multiple-year starters and three made AP’s first-team All-Pro, including Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks and Ryan Ramczyk. Both Evans and Nicks were Day 3 picks. Five of them made the Pro Bowl (joke that it is now) - Evans, Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat. I find it funny that Ramczyk made the first-team All-Pro, but has never made the Pro Bowl.
Just based upon AV (or wAV, weighted approximate value) they have very few “misses” from their Day 1 or Day 2 OL drafts - Andy Alleman, Charles Brown and (maybe) Cesar Ruiz. While they have stuck gold multiple times with Day 3 offensive linemen.
Running this same draft analysis for the Broncos gets you the table below.
|2006||5||161||Chris Kuper||G||2006||2013||0||0||5||35||90||79||North Dakota|
|2007||3||70||Ryan Harris||T||2007||2016||0||0||5||33||114||70||Notre Dame|
|2008||1||12||Ryan Clady||T||2008||2016||2||4||7||65||107||106||Boise St.|
|2008||4||108||Kory Lichtensteiger||C||2008||2016||0||0||4||34||93||75||Bowling Green|
|2010||6||183||Eric Olsen||C||2010||2014||0||0||0||3||23||4||Notre Dame|
|2011||2||46||Orlando Franklin||T||2011||2017||0||0||6||42||90||89||Miami (FL)|
|2013||6||173||Vinston Painter||G||2014||2017||0||0||0||0||14||0||Virginia Tech|
|2014||6||207||Matt Paradis||OL||2015||2021||0||0||6||34||98||98||Boise St.|
|2015||2||59||Ty Sambrailo||T||2015||2021||0||0||0||14||71||19||Colorado St.|
|2018||6||183||Sam Jones||G||2018||2018||0||0||0||0||5||0||Arizona St.|
|2019||2||41||Dalton Risner||T||2019||2022||0||0||4||21||62||62||Kansas St.|
|2020||3||83||Lloyd Cushenberry III||C||2020||2022||0||0||2||15||40||40||LSU|
|2020||6||181||Netane Muti||G||2020||2022||0||0||0||3||20||4||Fresno St.|
The Broncos have drafted 24 offensive linemen 2006 to 2021. While many have become multi-year starters (14), only two have made the Pro Bowl (Clady and Zane Beadles) and only Clady has been named AP first-team All-Pro (Bolles got second-team All-Pro one year).
The Broncos have only used two fifth-round picks on the OL during this span and both turned out well (Chris Kuper and Connor McGovern), but our sixth and seventh-round picks have all been essentially wasted with the exception of Matt Paradis. Two of them never made an NFL roster and Netane Muti was so disgusted by the state of the team that he jumped ship for the Raiders when given the chance.
Our fourth-round picks have also been mostly terrible with Max Garcia as the best of the bunch if you look at what they contributed to the Broncos. Kory Lichtensteiger’s spent four years as a starter for Washington, not Denver. He never started a game for the Broncos. Phillip Blake never made an NFL roster and Seth Olsen rarely played in the three seasons that he did make an NFL roster (he started five games during his career - all for the 2011 or 2012 Colts).
The Broncos' draft record for Day 1 and Day 2 offensive linemen is better insofar as they have found starters, but in almost all cases the starters have not turned into above-average starters.
I would conclude three or four of the eleven Day 1 or Day 2 picks have become above-average starters: Clady, Bolles, Beadles, and possibly Orlando Franklin. Meinerz could still become an above-average starter, but so far there is no objective data that shows him as above average (admittedly there is still very limited data on the play of OL guys). While I’d love to be able to argue that Ryan Harris, who is an acquaintance of mine, was an above-average OT, he was not - and he is one of the first to admit that.
So what does any of this mean for the 2023 Broncos and the upcoming draft? The Broncos have limited draft resources for 2023. We have five picks: 67, 68, 108, 141, 195. We have plenty of holes on the roster. So I would advocate for trading one of those third-round picks to get two or three Day 3 picks. Sometime soon they will use a Day 3 pick on an offensive tackle. But I fully admit that I am a tackle bro. I even went to a “tackle bros anonymous meeting” this morning.
The Denver Broncos have not drafted an offensive tackle in the 4th round or later since 1996 when we took Leslie Ratliff in the 7th round. Admittedly we did draft Cooper Carlisle as a guard in 2000 and then played some tackle in the NFL (although most of his career he played guard). So you could say that we haven’t drafted a Day 3 tackle this century (since 2000 was technically last century).
I’m cautiously optimistic about not only the Broncos’ ability to draft and develop offensive linemen moving forward, but also the ability of the current coaching staff to develop the OL talent currently on the roster who hasn’t reached his full potential yet, such as Quinn Meinerz, Quinn Bailey, Luke Wattenberg and even Garett Bolles.
How will the Denver Bronco OL play in 2023 relative to 2022?
This poll is closed
about the same
much worse - (this choice only makes sense if you agree that they Broncos OL in 2023 was not terrible)