We all know the Broncos offensive line is a work in progress. Broncos fans certainly want the team to upgrade the tackle position on the line if they can – perhaps even with a first-round pick.
The Broncos may like their tackles more than the fans do. Garett Bolles at left tackle seemed to play better as the season went on, but the team will have to make a decision about picking up his fifth-year option in about a month (early May). Ja’Wuan James barely played last year at right tackle and he has a history of missing plenty of time (usually every other year) due to injury.
In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the offensive tackle position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The offensive tackle class is very top heavy in this draft class. In fact, there are some in the scouting community who speculate we could see four tackles go off the board in the top-12 picks.
Jedrick Wills Jr. (Alabama) is arguably the top tackle in this draft class. He’s explosive, athletic and nasty as a run-blocker. Wills wants to humiliate his man and can regularly do that with his top-of-the-line skill set. Wills played 760 snaps at right tackle, but was blocking for a left-handed quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa. Defenders are powerless against Wills when bull-rushing and he’s athletic enough to counter most moves from the edge. Wills could easily be the first tackle off the board.
Tristan Wirfs from Iowa deserves a shot to play at tackle in the NFL, although some – including myself – project him as a better guard prospect in the pros. Playing at Iowa, Wirfs has a leg up to other colleges because of the pro-blocking system he comes from. Wirfs may lack prototypical length, but he is incredibly strong and does a good job redirecting his hands against active pass-rushers. He’s known to be incredibly coachable and showed improvement during his time with the Hawkeyes. Some say he’s a guard, but I bet he can get some time as a tackle in the NFL too.
Mekhi Becton (Louisville) is fun to watch and he has been rising up draft boards since his outstanding performance at the Scouting Combine. He’s the largest tackle in this draft, measuring in at 6-foot-7 and 364 pounds, but Becton’s athleticism belies his size. He is a little bit raw at left tackle because he only spent one season there as a starter. Becton is a work-in-progress as a left tackle, but his size and athleticism are going to make him an enticing pick for teams in the first round.
Josh Jones (Houston) is a player I’ve been talking about since December, but even I’m not as high on him as others who are predicting he will be a top-10 pick. I believe he will be a first-round pick, but after his performance at the Senior Bowl, we could hear his name called really early on the first day of the draft. Jones grades out well in pass-protection and also as a run-blocker, where he uses strength and athleticism to keep his man away from the quarterback. He’s not technically sound yet, but with Mike Munchak coaching the offensive line we could see Jones turn into a star left tackle.
Usually, small-school prospects are projects when they make the leap to the NFL. That’s not the case with Cameron Clark from Charlotte. He played left tackle all four years for the 49ers and logged over 2,700 snaps at the position during that time. He has huge hands (11 inches) and does a good job of controlling his man at the point of attack. Clark played in a run-heavy offense, but when pass-blocking in 2019 he only allowed five pressures and no sacks.
I don’t think you can all Austin Jackson from USC a sleeper, but I wanted to include him in this conversation. First, he was highly touted going to USC and some in the media are putting him in the first-round conversation. However, most in the scouting community think he should be a second- or third-round pick. I have a second-round grade on Jackson, but all it takes is one team to fall in love with him and select him on the first day. Jackson has an intriguing athletic profile at 322 pounds and he is a smooth mover in pass-protection. He does need to play with more physicality and more consistency if he wants to be the best pro he can be.
The Broncos have a pretty good history when drafting Boise State offensive linemen (see Ryan Clady, Matt Paradis), so Ezra Cleveland should be on their radar in the third round. Cleveland draws some comparisons to Clady due to his size and athleticism, but he is not as powerful. Adding muscle and strength in an NFL weight program is a given, and Cleveland would likely excel under Munchak. He played 914 snaps at left tackle for the Broncos last year and only gave up two pressures in the last five games of the 2019 season. During his three years starting at Boise State, Cleveland was only called for seven penalties.
Andrew Thomas from Georgia is my favorite tackle in this draft. He’s not graded as high by others in the scouting community, but I give him a lot of credit for the way he plays the game with a calm mind. In addition to being patient as a blocker, Thomas is incredibly powerful and can knock a pass-rusher off his feet with one arm. He’s a good mover for a big man and does a good job with his punch, although I’d like to see him latch onto rushers better. Thomas is strong and athletic, but we’ve yet to see his best football. He played against some of the best in the SEC and would benefit from Munchak’s coaching to perhaps be the best tackle to work out in this draft class.
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