The point of the Denver Broncos’ offseason was to fill all of their needs so as to free themselves to pick the best players available in the 2015 NFL draft.
For the most part, they've carried out their plan well. However, there is one key position that they haven't addressed: right tackle.
Denver began the offseason with three positions of need on the offensive line: left guard, center and right tackle. They signed guard Shelley Smith and traded for center Gino Gradkowski, but they didn’t do anything at right tackle.
Sure, they still could make a move. They’ve added three players in April and brought in tight end James Casey as recently as Saturday.
However, it still seems that the likeliest course of action is for the Broncos to use their first-round pick on a right tackle.
While the tackle class doesn’t have any standout players, it has a host of quality players who could be available to the Broncos. For instance, T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh), D.J. Humphries (Florida), Jake Fisher (Oregon) and La’el Collins (LSU) are all options.
All of these players could fit nicely in Denver’s zone-blocking scheme, which requires good technique and the athleticism to ward blockers away from a designated space. Fisher, in particular, fits well. He played in a zone-blocking scheme in college, which masked his lack of strength well.
The Broncos have a plethora of prospect options at tackle. But restricting their options to only right tackles might not be the best idea, especially if they plan to start their pick immediately.
According to Pro Football Focus, rookie tackles performed awfully last season. If the Broncos were looking for a long-term tackle, this wouldn’t be a problem. Quarterback Peyton Manning is likely playing in his final season, though, and the Broncos need to surround him with NFL-ready talent to make a last run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Could Michael Schofield be Denver's long-term right tackle?
Luckily for the Broncos, they already have an NFL-ready right tackle on their roster.
Michael Schofield, their 2014 third-round pick, is built for the zone-blocking scheme. He could break out in a big way in his sophomore season, especially after essentially redshirting his rookie year.
If Schofield doesn’t pan out, Denver could sign Ryan Harris, who was drafted during current offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s first stint in Denver. Harris is a proven zone-blocker who would be cheap and much more trustworthy than any rookie on a veteran contract.
Either way, the Broncos have trustworthy options at tackle. So, there’s not a huge need to draft one.
Who could the Broncos pick instead?
UCLA product Owamagbe Odighizuwa is an effective all-around player who could get after the quarterback as a 3-4 defensive end or outside linebacker. The Broncos have a lot of depth on the defensive line, but only Malik Jackson has proven to be a consistently effective player.
Also, four defensive linemen (Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Marvin Austin and Antonio Smith) are going to be free agents next year, so Odighizuwa could help in that regard as well.
He could also play outside linebacker to spell DeMarcus Ware, who didn’t record a sack in his last five games last season. The soon-to-be 33-year-old pass-rusher’s time in the NFL is running out, but he can still be effective if he doesn’t play every snap. Odighizuwa could lighten his burden.
If the Broncos feel set with their pass-rushers, they can turn to a different position on the offensive line that is in worse shape than right tackle: center.
Former Florida State Seminole Cameron Erving could solve that problem. He has only played on the offensive line for two years but has picked it up quickly. He thrived in the Rose Bowl and will continue to progress rapidly.
Should the Broncos draft a right tackle in the first round?
He could start immediately in Denver since his main competition would be Gradkowski, who was awful when he started 16 games for Baltimore in 2013, and 2014 sixth-round pick Matt Paradis.
Also, Gradkowski is only under contract for one year, so unlike Schofield, he is unlikely to be a long-term solution.
If Denver wants to add a developmental lineman with a solid chance of starting, it should not draft a tackle. It should draft Erving.
With Manning’s career fading over the horizon, starting trustworthy veterans rather than unproven rookies is the way to go. Denver has a host of other options in the first round, as it could also look for an inside linebacker or wide receiver.
If the clear best player available happens to be a tackle, the Broncos should take a tackle. However, they shouldn’t pass up on better talent by limiting themselves to just one position.
Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.