When Russell Wilson left Seattle, there was a lot of talk about what the team did/did-not-do to keep their star quarterback happy. Chiefly among these issues was the lack of consistent pass protection. Now, whether or not you believe that this is a result of coaching, drafting, the DangeRuss lifestyle, or some combination thereof, the fact remains that Wilson took a bunch of sacks and suffered a whole lot of hits during his stay in the Pacific Northwest. So needless to say he is hoping that his new team will be a better match for what he hopes to see in front of him on game days.
But the Denver Broncos offensive line situation has been similarly contentious recently, with Joe Mahoney of Mile High Report detailing last May how the organization has spent the third least draft capital on the position group over the last half-decade. You know who came in just ahead of them? The Seattle Seahawks.
Over the last 5 drafts the Broncos have spent the third least draft capital on OL picks. KC has spent the least. Not counting draft capital traded for offensive line guys. pic.twitter.com/v7CUc5rrZN— Joe Mahoney (@ndjomo76) May 2, 2022
So if Russell Wilson was hoping to head to a team that places a premium on drafting and signing premier pass blockers... he may be a little bit disappointed. Not only this, but the Broncos used nine different starting offensive line combinations in 2021, and 25 (!!!) over the last four seasons, according to Mahoney. I don’t think I need to expand on why this isn’t exactly a desirable situation. And this inconsistency can be seen in the on-field results. Here are some brief snippets said of Denver’s expected starters, as listed on their ESPN Depth Chart:
LT Garett Bolles
“Unfortunately, Bolles regressed closer to his previous self in 2021, allowing 22 pressures and his second-highest career sack totals in just 14 games. His erratic hand placement and jumbled footwork led to inconsistent outings in pass protection, especially against the better competition he faced in 2021... given his age and the fact that these issues crop up every year for him, Bolles might just be who he is at this stage of his career. While his cap number ties him to the team through 2022 and potentially 2023, his age and cap hit outweigh his film.” -AJ Schulte of Mile High Report
LG Dalton Risner
“Risner has never posted higher than 65.4 PFF grade this season which is extremely average and his overall grade through nine games is 53.7. That puts him at 45th place out of 58 guards that have taken at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps.” -JT Matthews of Mile High Sports
C Lloyd Cushenberry III
“Cushenberry has been one of the worst centers in the league over the last few years. His processing against stunts and blitzes has never been a strength of his game, and when combined with his poor quickness, it’s been an exploitable weakness for teams to work off of. Cushenberry allowed the seventh-highest pressures among all centers with 24, and posted the seventh-highest blown run block rate among all centers.” -AJ Schulte of Mile High Report
RG Quinn Meinerz
“Though he struggled in pass-protection, Meinerz earned solid marks for his run-blocking, routinely paving lanes for Denver’s 13th-ranked rushing attack. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 36 OG, 11 spots ahead of Glasgow.” -Zach Kelberman of Mile High Huddle
RT Billy Turner
“When you look at Turner compared to the rest of the NFL, he is in the middle of the pack, if not in the bottom half. That can make things challenging to protect Russell Wilson and gives merit to the questions about Denver’s lack of answers at the right tackle position.” -Erick Trickel of Mile High Huddle.
Not only this, but the Denver Broncos are having to prepare for the unique and challenging experience of blocking for Russell Wilson. Here is expected starting Right Guard, Quinn Meinerz, discussing how he is preparing for a pretty dramatically different situation at QB in 2022:
“In the offensive line room, it’s, ‘We have to block until the ball’s gone.’ There isn’t like, ‘Alright, we’re blocking for three seconds.’
...Especially with some of the special abilities that ‘Russ’ has to evade the pocket and move things, there’s no other option.”
This isn’t exactly great news for a team that features a group of players who are historically known more for run blocking than pass pro. And even considering this, the success of their run game in 2021 is likely more a factor of their running backs’ performance than that of their line; Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus had this to say of their 19th ranked position group following last season: “Despite the success of their running backs, the Broncos’ run blocking actually wasn’t as strong. They ranked 19th in yards before contact per carry as a team (1.2), and Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams broke a combined 108 tackles on the season.” Sure, you can interpret this as good news since both of those backs are expected to play on Monday. But the bigger implication that I read here is that the Broncos offensive line simply hasn’t been good.
Of course, it may seem a bit pointless to ponder the futures of an offensive line that has largely never played with a quarterback of Russell Wilson’s caliber; and maybe it is possible that his style of play masked a number of deficiencies in Seattle’s blocking schemes. But the fact remains that an ongoing issue during his time here was the declining returns on his decision to bail on the pocket to extend plays. While I think the demise of his legs has been greatly exaggerated, I also think that everybody can agree that an over-reliance on scrambling is not a historical recipe for success as age becomes a factor. So maybe he cleans this up in a new system. And maybe he really will succeed when he doesn’t “have to carry the team on his shoulders alone.” Or maybe, just maybe.... he is about to find out that the grass isn’t actually that much greener in Broncos Country, after all. So excuse me when I say: Darrell Taylor, Uchenn Nwosu, Alton Robinson, Boye Mafe, Jamal Adams, et al... Let’s Ride.