The Denver Broncos offensive line getting pushed around in the Super Bowl is a
significant reason why they got creamed. The Broncos played well all season with an
offensive line that featured two career backups and a starting left guard that had a down
year. That wasn’t good enough on the big stage as they were exposed by a good defense.
In 2014, the Broncos will have Ryan Clady back from injury and will feature one of the
best sets of bookends in the NFL with Clady and Orlando Franklin. Their right guard is
All-Pro Louis Vasquez and they will have two centers fighting it out for the starting job
in Manny Ramirez and Will Montgomery. The loser in the battle will provide solid depth
on the inside of the line.
The big problem is that the starting left guard spot is vacant. Zane Beadles left via free
agency and the only current replacements are practice squad players or journeymen better
suited as depth. There is talk about moving Franklin to that spot, but that would not be
prudent. Read the reasons why here. The Broncos should not go into the season with
such a large question mark at guard.
The Broncos do have other needs. They need a middle linebacker, cornerback and wide
receiver. The latter two are more for depth and future starting potential. Nate Irving
or Steven Johnson can man the middle if necessary. They may not be the long-term
answer, but the middle linebacker position is just not as needed in the NFL now as in the
The Broncos can utilize coverage packages emphasizing safeties in obvious passing
situations if either of those two cannot prove their mettle in coverage. There are schemes
available to make up for lack of coverage skills from the middle linebacker especially
since the Broncos have depth at the safety position.
All other positions have solid players and decent depth. The only major and immediate
need on the team is left guard. Games are still won in the trenches. The Broncos do not
want to make it back to the Super Bowl only to have their promoted practice squad guard
be beaten by defensive linemen. There are solid guard prospects that can step in and be
effective. Also, by season’s end they will learn, improve and be ready for the playoffs.
First round prospects:
Zack Martin (Notre Dame) – A very good college tackle who doesn’t have prototypical
size or arm length for the pros, leading to a possible switch to guard. He has great
technique and good strength. Martin is very good in pass protection and showed at the
Senior Bowl that he can play guard at a very high level. He will likely be gone by the
31st pick, but if he slides down the draft he would be a great pick up by the Broncos.
Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA) – He is very athletic, strong and has nimble feet.
Su’a-Filo possesses great initial quickness and can reach the second level
easily. He is smart and it appears that the game comes naturally to him.
He showed his versatility by starting 20 games at tackle. He doesn’t have
the mean streak I would like to see at guard and he will come into the
league older than most prospects. Su’a-Filo will need to learn to keep
his pad level lower, but he can be a day one starter with upside. He may
be there at the 31st spot.
Second round prospects:
Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State) – I have the Broncos selecting Jackson in my latest
mock draft. He possesses a terrific combination of size, length and athleticism. He is
good in pass protection and a solid drive blocker who moves well enough to the second
level. Jackson can be a day one starter if he can put together the mental aspect of the game.
Joel Bitonio (Nevada) – Another college tackle that is projected at guard due to his height
and arm length. Bitonio has been flying up draft boards and some have him mocked in
the first round. I think that is a bit of a risk for a player that has no experience at guard in
college. He should be a second round selection. He is tough, with quickness to handle
pass rushers. He is a solid run blocker who drives defenders back. The Broncos could
take a chance on Bitonio due to the quality line coaches they have on staff to help in his shift
David Yankey (Stanford) – I am not as high on Yankey as others. Stanford has been
producing NFL o-line prospects lately and he has been a solid guard for that program.
He is smart, has good power and understands the game. He doesn’t have the athleticism
to excel in pass protection and his upside is limited. Yankey could step in from day one, but
he may never be exceptional at the position.
Third round prospects:
Billy Turner (North Dakota State) – A small school tackle that looks like a good fit
inside at guard. He brings the nastiness that the Broncos could use on their o-line. He is
athletic and has a huge upside. Turner needs technique work and played against lower level
competition, but with the right coaching he could develop into an outstanding guard and
maybe even a left tackle in the future. He has the right attitude to fight for a starting job at
left guard from day one.
Dakota Dozier (Furman) – Another small school prospect, Dozier will be available in the
third round. He is athletic, with powerful legs and a strong hand punch. He is a good run
blocker, but needs development in pass protection. This selection may not work out for
the Broncos in 2014, as he may need a year of development. Dozier did impress at the Shrine
game and could surprise as an early starter at the next level.
The Broncos must address this need early in the draft. There are other prospects who
will be available later, but they would have to be huge surprises to step in and start from
day one. If the Broncos wait until later rounds to get a left guard, they will start the
season with a large question mark at the position.