NFL Draft 2013: Denver Broncos Need Help on the Offensive Line

Jason MuckleySenior Analyst IIFebruary 22, 2013

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos speaks to Ryan Clady #78 during the game against the San Diego Chargers  at Qualcomm Stadium on October 15, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

A huge key to the Denver Broncos’ success in 2012 was their ability to keep their quarterback, the ageless wonder Peyton Manning, upright.

They did that with a group of offensive linemen who outperformed expectations under the tutelage of offensive line coach, Dave Magazu.

However, the prospects for 2013 look a bit dicey as the Broncos head into offseason workouts.

Zane Beadles, the Broncos’ left guard, is the lone starter scheduled to participate fully in the upcoming April offseason program. The rest of the line is either coming back from injuries, expected to hold out or free agents with an unknown status.

All four of the Broncos’ remaining starting offensive linemen from Week 1 of 2012 have either underwent surgery last season or since the season ended in January with a loss to the Super Bowl Champions Baltimore Ravens.

The laundry list of casualties include: Ryan Clady (rotator cuff surgery), Orlando Franklin (toe surgery) and Chris Kuper (ankle surgery).

During the season, J.D. Walton was forced onto the team’s injured reserve list with ankle surgery early in the 2012 campaign. Walton is still not fully recovered.

Outside of the running back position, no other player on the field faces the play-by-play abuse that an offensive lineman faces. The O-Line is constantly banging into their defensive counterparts opening holes in the running game and keeping their quarterback protected from an onslaught of rushing defenders trying to knock him out.

Not only is the offensive line a position with steady wear and tear throughout every game, but players at the position have continuously grown in size in recent years which is giving way to more apparent injuries as well.

Thankfully for the Broncos, the offensive line pool in this season’s NFL Draft is teeming with talent.

One highlight in the upcoming NFL combine is the University of Colorado’s offensive tackle David Bakhtiari.

He was one of Colorado’s bright spots in a four-win 2012 season. Bakhtiari has lined up at left tackle during his collegiate career, but could fit as a center as well. He was the lightest in the NFL Combine’s weigh-in, measuring at just 6'4" and 295 pounds.

Bakhtiari might be available later on the second or third day of the NFL draft. but his versatility makes him an interesting prospect.

Also, Bakhtiari could be a versatile fit for Denver if Ryan Clady’s contract situation goes sour. Mike Klis of The Denver Post reports that John Elway and the Broncos plan to use their franchise tag on the Pro Bowl star. There have been ongoing contract talks between management and Clady for months now and Denver may be reluctant to make a long-term offer since Clady has just underwent rotator cuff surgery.

Last season, the Broncos used their fourth round draft pick on a center: the Baylor product, Philip Blake.

And Blake spent most of 2012 on injured reserve after a minor thumb injury in Week 2.

So, the center position is still just as high a priority as last season.

The Broncos employed the 33-year old veteran Dan Koppen on a one-year contract. Blake was buried on the depth chart last year before his injury and could potentially be used as a backup at guard instead.

Another highlight of this year’s offensive line draft class is Barrett Jones, the three-time National Champion with three All-American honors at all three OL positions.

Jones stands a chance to be the top offensive line pick in the draft, despite a recent surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. Not only is Jones a football star, but he has also spent some of his collegiate experience on missionary trips to Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua.

He has a propensity to learn offensive systems because of his ability to play all three positions on the line. Jones is a stout 6'5", 306-pounder with all the tools to be a star in the NFL.

If the Broncos are to improve the OL in the draft, a later round find such as Justin Pugh at guard could be a gem.

Pugh is a 6'5", 301-pound lineman from Syracuse and would be a good fit in the Broncos’ zone blocking scheme as well as an asset in the run game. Additionally, Pugh could fill in for Chris Kuper who has struggled with injuries each of the last two seasons.

Whether the Broncos spend their top pick on a lineman or wait a few rounds, the Broncos must continue to add both depth and key contributors to ensure that they keep Peyton Manning healthy again in 2013.