The Denver Broncos have made some important upgrades on the offensive line adding a new left guard and right tackle, but the group is still needing a true left tackle. While there could still be opportunities in the open market with trades or cuts, the only true way of finding a solution and not ending up needing a blindside protector again in 2018 is through the draft.
Sadly for Broncos fans, 2017 is not a great year for tackles. The group is far from void of talent, but it’s both lacking in depth—as far as starter level talent goes—and high-level standouts or “sure things.”
The ideal scenario for the Broncos, who have the 20th pick overall, would be for one of the top tackle prospects to drop all the way to pick 51 when the team selects again in the second round. That might seem obvious, but all four of the top prospects could slip for one reason or another and would be better values at 51 than 20.
After the top crop, there’s a second tier of players who might not be NFL ready but could be developed into quality starters on the left or right side. It’s not a phenomenal class by any means, but there are still some potential future starters who could help Denver down the road.
While there’s always potential for surprises and we’ve provided a more ample list here, this is the clear top seven.
Ryan Ramczyk, LT, Wisconsin
The former Badger is a unique story; turning down a scholarship to Pitt and then getting back into major college football after a stop in Division-III where he dominated. In his one season as a Badger, he was impressive, and his 2016 tape is arguably the best of the bunch. His technique and balance in pass protection really stand out.
His big issue from here up until draft day in April is that he’ll be unable to workout after having undergone hip surgery once the season was over. He should be ready for camp so that might not be such a big issue as long as he checks out for the Broncos medical staff.
Ramczyk’s talent makes him very intriguing and also one of the few potential left-side starters sooner rather than later if all goes well with his injury recovery.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Robinson is a special talent but hasn’t always played up to his potential. He dazzled as an 18-year-old freshman starting at left tackle for the Tide, but his sophomore season wasn’t nearly as polished and his junior year was inconsistent as well, particularly in big games. He’s a big, mauling type but his mechanics and balance have been major weaknesses. As time passes doubts on his ability to stay at tackle are rising, especially on the coveted left side.
His stock should also be hindered by an arrest in May 2016 for gun and marijuana possession. Still only 21, there’s plenty to like about Robinson, but he’s also a major project and would be a risky pick at 20th overall. If the Broncos believe in their coaching staff, they just might take a gamble on him.
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
Similarly to Ramczyk, Bolles has emerged in only his first year of power-five football, becoming a legitimate first round possibility. He’s supremely athletic and excellent in space, something he made abundantly clear in Indianapolis. But he’ll also turn 25 years old his rookie season and is lacking great strength in the run game—a major plus for Robinson.
Two-to-three years older than the other two top prospects in this class and still fairly raw the Broncos will have to decide if he’s worth investing time and money in.
He’s also ideally suited for a zone blocking scheme but might make less sense for a power based offensive line. A bit of a boom or bust selection who possesses the rare athletic gifts and upside to pass protect on the left side in the NFL—he also finishes blocks and plays with an edge a nice plus.
Forrest Lamp, OT, Western Kentucky
Is he a guard or a tackle? That’s the big question surrounding Lamp, and really the only thing holding him back is his size, despite being 6-foot-4 and 309-pounds, his 32 1/4-inch arms do put his future position in doubt. But his tape, and the athleticism he’s shown in testing this offseason, plus his sound technique all made him a high-level left tackle in college. He dominated his C-USA competition but also had phenomenal outings against the elite athletic pass rushers on LSU and Alabama. The big question will be how he handles longer NFL athletes on the edge.
Ultimately, he might fit best as a Zach Martin or Brandon Scherff type—other former collegiate left tackles who’ve ended up as high-level guards in the NFL. Which might not be terrible. But first and foremost he should be tried at tackle and allowed to fail before being stuck inside.
Lamp has risen up boards since the offseason began, he might not be the home-run pick that the top three could potentially be, but he’d be a solid double and also the mostNFL-ready of the group, even at left tackle.
Raw and intriguing second tier
Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
Garcia is slim and still extremely raw, but he has the mobility and grittiness that make him a potential future left tackle if groomed and developed the right way. In a draft without clear standouts or sure things, the next best option might be a raw phenomenally talented prospect that could become that in a few seasons, similar to the New Orleans Saints Terron Armstead.
Garcia is the rare prospect that fits that profile in this class. After a solid showing in the Senior Bowl, he tested decently at the Combine. As a day-two pick with developmental upside, he could be worth the investment.
Taylor Moton, RT, Western Michigan
Another Senior Bowl standout, Moton who started at right tackle for Western Michigan’s explosive offense has made a name for himself during the draft process. He’s strong and long with some impressive awareness. He has a calm approach and is learning to use his big frame.
As of now, Moton either gets beat off the first step, or he swallows up his competition leaving them no escape, and beating him off the snap isn’t exactly easy. He’s also a bulldozer of a run blocker and has some impressive mobility at 6-foot-5 and 330-pounds when he gets out in space.
Moton’s inexperience at left tackle would make an immediate transition tough, long term he might be simply a right tackle or even better suited at guard. But he is a road grader and a tone setter something the offense is in need of up front.
Dion Dawkins, OT, Temple
Though based on his tape Dawkins doesn’t seem to have as high a ceiling as the two others in this tier, his performance at the combine suggests otherwise. He’s started at left tackle and has all the requisite size and movement skills for the position.
By all accounts, he had a solid showing at the Senior Bowl, much like he has when faced against power five competition with the Owls and he was the only one in Bolles class during the athletic tests—mind you Ramczyk couldn’t test due to his injury.
A big guy with surprising movement skills Dawkins may ultimately be better suited as a right tackle or guard unless he becomes a bit more consistent, but he does have the talent to be an NFL starter, a rare quality in this class.
Summing it up
There’s still a chance for players in the draft to emerge—Lamp made a strong case for himself to stay at tackle in Indianapolis—and there are still roster cuts that could open up options in free agency for the Broncos. But for the most part, these are the team’s best options.
Bottom line, a lot of these guys might not even be best suited to play left tackle as the right side, or even guard could be where they’d shine the most. But don’t underestimate the right side, which is particularly important for the Broncos and other teams in the AFC West with all the talented pass rushers that line up on that strong side; from Khalil Mack to Justin Houston to the newly added Joey Bosa there’s no break for right tackles. Depth will be needed, and long-term solutions need to be found all around.
While there’s no perfect prospect, don’t underestimate this class, there’s always the chance to find a good starter in this group who could significantly strengthen the entire unit’s ability in pass protection and in creating holes in the run game. Eliminating weak spots is a key to improving offensive line play, getting things right in the 2017 draft will be essential for the Broncos offensive future.