Needing help along the offensive line, the Denver Broncos selected tackle Ty Sambrailo in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Coming off a senior season at Colorado State in which he was a first-team All-Mountain West conference selection, Sambrailo seemed to possess the necessary athleticism to be a quality left tackle in a zone-blocking scheme, which was the system employed under former head coach Gary Kubiak.
In the same vein as former Bronco Matt Lepsis, Sambrailo was initially pegged as a tight end for the early part of his collegiate career. Making the transition to tackle, the former CSU Ram played 42 out of 48 possible games during his tenure in Fort Collins. Along with being rated as one of the best lineman during his time in the college ranks, Sambrailo showed enough fluidity to play all five line positions.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1759739-bolles-the-broncos-a-matc... At the NFL Scouting Combine, Sambrailo impressed with his 4.58-second 20-yard shuttle, and 7.54-second 3-cone drill. While this was mitigated a bit by a poor showing in the bench press portion of the event, it cemented what many scouts felt about Sambrailo heading into the Draft — good athleticism and foot speed but not the strongest specimen either.
With Ryan Clady going down with a season-ending injury in training camp, Sambrailo was elevated quickly to the lineup at left tackle as a rookie and started the first three games of the 2015 season. Considering the circumstances, Sambrailo played well enough before suffering his own season-ending shoulder injury.
In the case of forcing a square peg into a round hole, Denver went out and signed two tackles in free-agency last year, with the hope that Sambrailo’s versatility would allow him to work in at either the right tackle or right guard spot. The experiment never got off the ground, culminating in an embarrassing start against the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he provided little resistance to Justin Houston’s three-sack performance.
With Denver working to re-tool the offensive line for the second year in a row, Sambrailo has quickly fallen out of favor with the Bronco faithful. Seemingly not being considered for a return to his natural left tackle spot and a bad fit along the rest of the line, Sambrailo is in a precarious position going into his third year.
I asked our offensive line expert, Doc Bear, to give his own assessment on Sambrailo, answering some of my questions regarding his fit with the team. One of my concerns are the injuries Sambrailo has sustained early in his career to his shoulder and elbow that could be hampering his ability to get stronger in the offseason.
“I don’t think it’s an immense impediment. He had much of the same issues in college, especially with functional strength, so I’m not seeing them as the problem."
My other questions regarding Sambrailo involved his seeming inability to play another spot on the Broncos O-line, when he was asked to do this in college and excelled. Why can’t a player who had some success somewhere besides his best position not be able to pick up another one?
Doc said that with any position that could make use of his footwork, like left guard, Sambrailo doesn’t have the physical strength to do the job well enough. The same goes for right guard and right tackle, where his lack of good footwork and lack of functional strength resulted in easy quarterback pressures to just about anyone lining up opposite of him.
So, the question becomes what to do with the former second round pick? With little hope that Sambrailo is going to be able to put on the necessary physical strength needed in order to be an adequate NFL lineman, what can the team do with him?
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Doc made mention of another former Bronco who was an adequate, athletic left tackle in Chris Clark. For those who remember, Clark was a backup during the 2013 season who was able to step in for Ryan Clady and do an admirable job of holding down the left side of the line for the AFC Champions that year.
However, when Clark was moved back to the right side the following year, it proved to be a bad fit, ending with him being jettisoned to Houston in a trade.
For Sambrailo’s sake, a backup role looks to be his best projection. If he were able to add some muscle this offseason and come into 2017 without having to rehab from an injury, it could go a long way toward helping him find a niche with the Broncos.
From there, Sambrailo could fit in as a swing tackle or be the primary backup at the left tackle position. It’s not ideal to have such a high draft pick in danger of losing his spot on the roster but with his inability to play other spots on the line, combined with zero talk so far from the front office of him competing for a starting job this year, it isn’t a glowing endorsement. Especially on an historically poor offensive line.
One of the biggest reasons the Broncos are heaed into free agency looking to spend money to upgrade the O-line is due to the Sambrailo failure. Even though injuries have played a hand in stunting his development, Sambrailo is entering a critical junction in his career.
With improvements by Sambrailo looking less likely, who knows how much patience he will be afforded by a new coaching regime or a Super Bowl-or-Bust front office?
• Big thanks to Doc Bear for contributing insight to this article. Follow Doc on Twitter @DocBearOMD.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.