As the NFL Draft approaches, the debate in Broncos Country has become should the Broncos draft an offensive lineman or wide receiver with the 15th overall pick in the first round. With Drew Lock firmly set to be the Broncos quarterback, the team has to decide whether to get their young QB protection or a weapon.
If the Broncos take a look in their history, this question was answered in 2008.
That year, Jay Cutler was the young franchise quarterback for the Broncos. Cutler had proven he could start in the NFL and the time had come to build around him. In the first two rounds of that draft, the Broncos were able to protect Cutler and find him a weapon.
With the 12th pick in the first round, the Broncos drafted offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Clady was an immediate starter for the team. He would not miss a start in his first five seasons and be selected to four Pro Bowls during his time in Denver.
In the second round of the 2008 draft, the Broncos selected Eddie Royal with the 42nd pick. Royal had an outstanding rookie season with 91 catches, 980 yards and five touchdowns.
The Broncos hit on both players. Clady and Royal were part of a young core that should have been the future of the Broncos (until Josh McDaniels came in and ruined everything).
Most important, however, is the fact that the Broncos got the order correct. They protected their quarterback first.
Clady became the most-important player on the Broncos offense for years to come. At left tackle, he was the constant that took the Broncos from Cutler to Kyle Orton, Orton to Tim Tebow and finally Tebow to Peyton Manning.
Royal was gone from Denver before Manning arrived in 2012.
In the 12 years that have passed since drafting Clady, the Broncos have not come close to drafting or signing another offensive lineman of his caliber. Orlando Franklin and Matt Paradis both were very solid, but neither was awarded a second contract by the Broncos. In free agency, the Broncos have flat out missed on everybody they’ve signed.
Yes, Royal had a monster rookie season. In Royal’s debut game, he dominated the Raiders on “Monday Night Football.” Royal’s talent was effective, but it was not unique. Since Royal was drafted, the Broncos have signed or drafted Brandon Lloyd, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and, most recently, Courtland Sutton.
The Broncos have had so much talent at wide receiver come through the organization since 2008, Royal has become a forgotten man.
Everybody remembers Ryan Clady. Most agree he is destined for the Ring of Fame.
The Broncos offensive struggles in recent years has not been talent at wide receiver. The issue has been talent at quarterback and talent on the offensive line. They solved the quarterback problem with Lock, now it’s time to solve the left tackle issue in this draft.
Garett Bolles is not going to magically get better. The 2020 NFL Draft features offensive tackles Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas, Mekhi Becton and Tristin Wirfs. Those are four potential top-10 picks. If the Broncos need to trade up from 15 to 10 to draft one of these players, they should do it. This is the draft to cement the left tackle position and have that player on a rookie deal for five years.
The upcoming 2020 draft is known for being a very deep wide receiver draft. That means the Broncos can get Lock another weapon in the second round. Denver’s sole focus should be getting that franchise tackle.
The Broncos need to set it up like the did in 2008. From 2007-08, the Broncos made the jump from the 11th-best offense in the NFL to No. 2. A very large part of that was both Clady and Royal being immediate contributors.
If the Broncos aim to repeat in 2020 what they did 2008, the offense can make a jump this season. On the flip side, if the Broncos draft a wide receiver in the first round, they are likely in for another season of Bolles and the big mystery that is Ja’Wuan James.
By drafting a tackle then a wide receiver, the Broncos increase their chances of having two impact players on the offense week one of 2020.
The odds are much better that the Broncos will find a starting-caliber wide receiver in the second round than finding a starting left tackle in the second round. The team got very lucky last year that the other 32 teams were dumb enough to let Dalton Risner slip out of the first round. They won’t be that lucky again.
This is the year to find the next Ryan Clady, The Broncos can’t ruin the opportunity.