For the last few years Broncos country has consistently complained about the offensive line. But recently that area of the team has done a 180. A revolving cast of linemen is now starting to solidify into a strong core with young depth. So here is a look on how this offensive line was built and rebuilt, and finally give some appreciation to the most underrated group on the team.
The Super Bowl season. The offensive line wasn’t the most talented in the league, but it got the job done. The lineup from left to right was left tackle Ryan Harris, left guard Evan Mathis, center Matt Paradis, right guard Louis Vasquez and right tackle Michael Schofield. The tackles, Harris and Schofield, had okay seasons, but the interior of the line was where the Broncos thrived. Mathis, Paradis and Vasquez all had tremendous seasons and contributed to running back C.J. Anderson’s success.
In the 2015 offseason, the revolving door started to rotate. Harris was replaced by consistent Pro-Bowler Russel Okung and Max Garcia took over for Mathis. Schofield, who started at tackle the year prior, slid inside to play guard and new addition Donald Stephenson played right tackle. Paradis would still hold down the middle and was by far the best player on the line. This season would be where the problems began. The offensive line finished 24th in PFF rating. The line then began to crumble.
This was the year that the Broncos used their first round pick on Utah left tackle Garrett Bolles. The immediate payoff was shaky at best. Bolles played a lot of snaps, but struggled with penalties as he finished second in the league. Paradis and free agent addition Ron Leary had fantastic seasons but were held back by right tackle Menelik Watson and right guard Max Garcia. The line did improve in PFF grade but only by one spot as they ended in 23rd.
The 2018 season saw the regular addition of Connor McGovern at guard. The fifth round pick in 2016 played pretty well and earned his spot. Bolles did well to limit sacks but penalties were still a problem as he tied for third with 13. It was obvious that the line needed a rebuild, but it’s really hard to prioritize that when most of the team is terrible. Meanwhile, the front office was telling the public “we’re only one piece away from contention'” where in reality the team was far off. A lot of the blame was placed on the offensive line but its not like they were getting any help from the front office.
The rebuild of the offensive line would start to take shape in 2019 when the Broncos drafted Dalton Risner, a guard from Kansas State. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James was brought in from Miami with high hopes of having him as a long-term starter. That couldn’t be further than what happened, James only played three games as he was plagued by injury. The 2019 season did see the solidification of the left side of the line but there was still work to be done.
In 2020, the front office started to help the offensive line through the draft. Center Lloyd Cushenberry III was picked up in the third round and guard Netane Muti was added in the sixth. Cushenberry was the center for the LSU championship team and started right away for the Broncos. Muti played at Fresno State and benched 44 reps of 225 pounds which is the most in the NFL since 2012. The team also added guard Graham Glasgow who’s primed for a solid run with the Broncos. But the biggest surprise by far was tackle Garret Bolles. He went from nearly off the team to an All-Pro securing a massive contract.
The offseason brought some drama to the offense line when Ju’Wuan James tore his Achilles away from the facility. Because he was away from the facility the Broncos didn’t have to pay him, and after years of missing games and reported bad attitude they cut him and opened up a hole at right tackle. They replaced him with Bobby Massie formerly of the Bears. He won’t be a cornerstone of this line, but he’ll get the job done. Quinn Meinerz, a guard with very high potential, was also drafted in the third round from Wisconsin-Whitewater.
This offensive line’s future is very bright. Bolles is an All-Pro and locked up long term. Risner is a crowd favorite who’s on his way to becoming a Pro-Bowler. Cushenberry was decent but that’s really all it takes. Glasgow is playing his role pretty well and Bobbie Massie won’t be around for long but he shouldn’t be bad. This year will be good for this line but in the years to come after that it should only get better.