Evaluating The Broncos: Part V: Offensive Line
Last week, we evaluated the Denver Broncos' tight ends in part IV of our series. This week, we'll focus on the offensive line.
With left tackle, Ryan Clady, returning from injury and the departure of left guard, Zane Beadles, this is a unit in flux.
Let's take a look at how the big boys up front graded out and what the future holds.
Ryan Clady, left tackle
Clady was drafted by Mike Shanahan in the 1st round of the 2008 draft. As a rookie, he started right away. He's the only left tackle to ever start every game in his rookie season and not give up one sack. Very impressive.
As the protector of Peyton Manning's blindside, he is an integral piece to the Broncos' offensive puzzle. Possessing an elite LT is one of the cornerstones of building a Super Bowl-caliber team, along with an elite quarterback, edge-rusher, cornerback (to name a few).
And make no mistake; Ryan Clady is elite. He is the best left tackle in the NFL. At the very least, he's in the top five.
John Elway paid him accordingly last year, right before the season started. He was rewarded with a five-year, $52.5M contract extension that featured $33M guaranteed in the first 3 years.
So when he went down with a lisfranc injury, vs the Giants, in Week 2 of last season, it was a blow. But all reports on Clady's rehab and progress have been excellent. He'll be good to go for 2014.
In the game and a half he played in 2013, ProFootballFocus graded Clady at +1.8 overall. It was a small sample size. A better indicator is is 2012 All-Pro season, where he graded out at +26.9.
At 6'6, 319lbs, Clady possesses remarkable athleticism for a man of his size. He's very light on his feet, which makes a huge impact on his ability to kick slide in pass protection. His technique is flawless. His footwork and hand work are top notch.
Even though he only appeared in 2 games, Clady gets grandfathered this grade due to his track record. He's the quintessential technician and when you add to that foundation an elite-level athlete, you get an All-Pro left tackle.
Zane Beadles, left guard
The enigma that is Zane Beadles. He was drafted by Josh McDaniels in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft out of Utah. In college, he played about 50/50 left guard/left tackle.
The Broncos tried him out, early on, at right tackle, but his short arms were a liability. He was plugged in a left guard.
His 2012 campaign was excellent, earning him his only Pro Bowl nod. PFF graded him at +10.1 overall.
But without Clady next to him, he struggled mightily in 2013 and was in fact, the weak link on the Broncos' O-line. His PFF grade in 2013? -5.7 overall. Ouch.
Beadles is best when he's moving and in space. When he's pulling to lead block on a screen? A thing of beauty.
Beadles is gone though. The free agent market was very lively for his services this year. Other teams were willing to pay a lot more for the "Broncos" name recognition, than John Elway was. The Jacksonville Jaguars inked him to a 5 year, $30M contract.
Beadles was a fan favorite, but his skills are average and it shouldn't be too hard for the Broncos to not only replace, but improve on his production at left guard.
Manny Ramirez, center
Out of Texas Tech, Ramirez was a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2007 NFL draft. The Lions actually traded two fifth-round picks to the St. Louis Rams, in order to move up and take him. Despite these high expectations, he didn't crack their starting lineup until the 2010 season.
Following his rookie deal with the Lions, the Broncos signed him in 2011. He was primarily brought in for depth and to provide competition for Kris Kuper.
Because of a Kuper injury, Ramirez was thrust into the Broncos' starting lineup at right guard in 2012. And he struggled.
His 2012 PFF grade was +3.0 overall. He graded out at +8.5 in pass blocking, but a paltry -3.9 in run blocking. He was also the most penalized of the linemen with a -2.1 grade.
Going into training camp of 2013, the Broncos' 1st string center, J.D. Walton, was injured. They kept Dan Koppen around, a savvy veteran, to hold down the fort as Manning's center. Then Koppen went down and all hell broke lose in Broncos Country.
Who was gonna fill in at center? There was no one good left in the free agent market and Phillip Blake was well on his way to bust status. It was a time filled with anxiety.
Rather than take a chance in free agency, the Broncos plugged in Ramirez at center, despite the dubious opinions of the fans. John Fox, Dave Magazu and Alex Gibbs knew what they were doing because ManRam flourished.
Don't judge Ramirez on his Super Bowl snafu. He is an outstanding run blocker who can really plow down the field. His deficiency is in pass blocking but he improved dramatically in 2013 with a +19.0 grade at pass blocking and a +14.9 overall grade. He has truly refined his game and has the Broncos' center position locked down.
If he can duplicate his 2013 performance in 2014, he'll be in the Pro Bowl conversation.
Louis Vasquez, left guard
Vasquez was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. He came to the Broncos via free agency when he inked a 4 year, $23.5M contract about this time last year.
This guy is a stud. An absolute beast. A god among men. Okay, I'll quit gushing.
Vasquez was the only Broncos offensive lineman to not give up a sack in 2013. He graded out at a whopping +33.6. This performance led to his first ever All-Pro selection.
He's a bruiser and almost impossible to move. At 6'5, 325lbs, Vasquez is excellent at getting to the 2nd and 3rd level in the running game.
As a pass blocker, he's an anchor and rarely gets beat one on one.
The following sums up how I feel about Vasquez:
Thank you, John Elway.
Vasquez brings All-Pro talent to the right side of the Broncos' line. Look for a repeat performance in 2014.
Orlando Franklin, right tackle
The Denver Broncos selected Orlando Franklin in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, out of the University of Miami (FL). He was a starter at RT from week 1.
Franklin is a mauler. Like Vasquez, he excels at driving defenders out of the running lane, once he gets his hands on them.
And he's a very underrated tackle. His PFF grade for 2013 was a respectable +19.2.
In college, Franklin played a lot at LG, along with LT. With Beadles gone, and the rise of Chris Clark, it's highly possible that the Broncos will take a look at moving Franklin inside, where many believe he could thrive even more.
Or the Broncos could look to the draft to replace Beadles and keep Franklin where he's comfortable. The team did try him inside early as a rookie, with mixed results. They believe he's best suited outside, but need could drive them to shuffle him inside.
Franklin has trouble with explosive edge rushers at times, but overall, he's one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
Chris Clark, swing tackle
Clark was undrafted in 2008 out of the University of Southern Mississippi. The Minnesota Vikings picked him up and kept him for 2 seasons.
He came to the Broncos via waivers in 2010 and didn't see any real action, except for jumbo packages, until Ryan Clady went down in week 2 last season.
He was a treasure. It's easy to argue that with Peyton Manning at QB and his lighting quick release, that his blindside protectors get too much credit for keeping him upright.
That might be true, but only to a point. Clark filled in admirably for Clady, earning a +16.8 overall grade from PFF.
With Clark's coming out party in 2013, it affords the Broncos options in how they handle the departure of Zane Beadles.
For now, Clark is an excellent depth tackle. If needed, he can fill in at LT, or RT. We'll see what the future holds soon.
The Broncos boast one of the best, if not THE best, offensive lines in football. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the LG position.
At the very least, look for them to draft one somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft in May.
They also have Winston Justice and Vinston Painter as backups. Painter has huge upside, but is unrefined as of now. Justice is an adequate backup. Hopefully, that's where he stays.
Tell us how you'd grade these big fellas, Broncos Country!
Chad Jensen is Lead Broncos Journalist. Follow him on Twitter@CJ_BroncosPFS.
And be sure to follow @spot_broncos for all the latest in news, updates, and analysis.
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