DENVER (The Sports Xchange) – The Denver Broncos are bigger on their offensive line, but are they better?
With quarterback Tony Romo now unavailable except in the CBS broadcast booth, the Broncos are keenly focused elsewhere. The Broncos kept saying they were happy with their returning quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, of course. That’s the way this poker game is played. We will never know the truth.
Regardless, the attention is definitely on other positions now.
There is no set answer at left tackle. One of the two possibilities at left tackle among players on the current roster is former Raiders tackle Menelik Watson, who is penciled in at right tackle, but must first avoid the injuries and inconsistency that plagued his four years in Oakland. Meanwhile, center Matt Paradis is not expected back until training camp after undergoing two hip surgeries.
No matter who ends up the starter at quarterback, if the reshuffled offensive line cannot protect Siemian or Paxton — and can’t generate more push off the snap — the Broncos will have the same problems that dogged them last season.
Here is a closer look at where the Broncos are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, at No. 20 overall
2016 finish: 3rd AFC West (9-7-0)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 323.1 (27th)
RUSHING: 92.8 (27th)
PASSING: 230.3 (T21st)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 316.1 (4th)
RUSHING: 130.3 (28th)
–1. Left tackle: The Broncos don’t have a natural fit for the position on the roster. As of right now, either Donald Stephenson or free agent Menelik Watson would get the nod, but this is still a position the Broncos are likely to try and fortify with a veteran pickup or via the draft.
–2. Slot receiver: Broncos head coach Vance Joseph indicated that Demaryius Thomas could see some slot work, and Emmanuel Sanders is an option to move inside when the Broncos go three-wide. But the Broncos’ only natural slot receiver, Kalif Raymond, is a second-year player who saw most of his work on returns after joining the 53-man roster late last season.
–3. Tight end: The Broncos bring back Virgil Green, A.J. Derby and Jeff Heuerman, but the quality of tight ends in this year’s class means that the Broncos might be able to find a better, more versatile option for their offense even as late as the third or fourth round.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.
–DE Kasim Edebali: Not tendered as RFA by Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–DT Zach Kerr: Not tendered as RFA by Colts; $3.25M/2 yrs, $500K SB/$1.5M guaranteed.
–G Ronald Leary: UFA Cowboys; $36M/4 yrs, $3.5M SB/$18.65M guaranteed, $5.35M injury only at time of signing.
–DT Domata Peko: UFA Bengals; $7.5M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$3.8M guaranteed.
–DE Bobby Richardson: FA; terms unknown.
–T Menelik Watson: UFA Raiders; $18.37M/3 yrs, $4M SB/$11M guaranteed, $5.5M injury only at time of signing.
–T Russell Okung: UFA Chargers; $53M/4 yrs, $10M SB/$25M guaranteed.
–OLB DeMarcus Ware: UFA/retired.
–LB Dekoda Watson: UFA 49ers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
–CB Kayvon Webster: UFA Rams; $7.75M/2 yrs, $1M RB/$4.25M guaranteed.
–NT Sylvester Williams: UFA Titans; $16.5M/3 yrs, $2M SB/$8.5M guaranteed, $2.5M injury only at time of signing.
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 20 overall).
Rob Rang (April 3 mock draft):
–Garett Bolles, T, Utah. On paper, the signings of former Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson and Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary make up for the decision to let starting left tackle Russell Okung walk in free agency, but reality could prove different. Bolles is a work in progress after only starting one year at Utah and comes with some character red flags. He has the highest upside of any lineman in this class, however, boasting the light feet and competitive nature to project as a future standout left tackle.
Dane Brugler (April 3 mock draft):
–Ryan Ramczyk, T, Wisconsin. The Broncos have patched up leaks on the offensive line, but if Denver drafts Ramcyzk, it shouldn’t take long for the Wisconsin product to separate himself as the best blocker on that line.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, there are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate check out NFLDraftScout.com’s full mocks and ratings.
– Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.