During General Manager George Paton’s tenure with the Denver Broncos, the franchise has elected to put a significant emphasis on drafting players with elite physical traits.
It’s one of the primary reasons why the Broncos moved up for Luke Wattenberg in the fifth-round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He graded out as the twenty-fourth most athletic center (RAS) over the past three decades. That’s pretty darn good all things considered.
The Broncos suffered a lot of injuries across their offensive line last season. Wattenberg eventually saw time on the team’s active roster for nearly half the season as a reserve player with just one start. Alas, he didn’t look like he was anywhere near ready to see playing time given his poor performance in limited reps.
Denver added several players through the draft and free agency this past off-season to bolster their offensive line. He will have a lot of competition for a back-end reserve spot on the roster. What will he need to do to make the cut? Let’s take a deeper look.
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 299 pounds | Age: 25 years old
40-yard dash: 5.2 seconds | Vertical Jump: 29.5 inches | Broad Jump: 9’ 5 inches
Arm Length: 34-1/8 inches | Hands: 9-3/8 inches | Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches
Short Shuttle: 4.57 seconds | 3-Cone Drill: 7.45 seconds | Bench Press: N/A reps
Wattenberg was active for 7 games of the 2022 season with one start. He had 90 offensive snaps and 18 on special teams.
How does offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg fit with the Denver Broncos?
In addition to his aforementioned athleticism, Wattenberg’s extensive experience and versatility played a big role in him getting drafted. Over his 54 game career with the Huskies, the sixth-year senior etched himself into Washington’s gridiron record books with 48 consecutive starts between three positions. Sixteen of them were at center, 27 of them were at left guard, and 5 of them were at left tackle.
His positional versatility is a card in his favor, but unfortunately there are also some major issues with his game. As evident in his short stint on offense last year, Wattenberg’s play strength is quite poor. Whether it was with the Huskies or during his rookie season in the Mile High City, he was vulnerable to brute force and strength-based power players on the defensive line.
His ability to anchor successfully was quite poor and he was often pushed back at the point of attack. This was a common critique by draft analysts across the league—and one that rendered him undraftable by many respected scouts and talent evaluators.
With all that in mind, Wattenberg might not be the best fit for Sean Payton’s offensive scheme which has far more gap and power principles than what we witnessed under Nathaniel Hackett’s zone and duo scheme last season. Experience and athleticism is good, but being an older player [on a rookie contact] lacking foundational strength is a huge issue when trying to make a back-end roster spot.
The Broncos drafted Alex Forsyth for competition alongside Wattenberg and fourth-year starter Lloyd Cushenberry at the center position. They also signed former Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Kyle Fuller who has interior positional flexibility as well.
A new regime means a fresh start for Wattenberg, but he is going to have to play much better than what we saw last year in order to make it as a reserve lineman on this year’s team. Luckily for him, strength can be added and better technique can be coached, but he has a tough task ahead of him to nab a backup position with all the above in mind.