If there's been a fly in the ointment of John Elway's tenure as the Denver Broncos General Manager, it's the offensive line. In his first season at the helm, the Broncos led the league in rushing, behind Tim Tebow's ground-and-pound attack.
But since that maiden season, Elway has struggled to put together a cohesive starting five. Ryan Clady anchored the unit for a time, earning some personal accolades. But he couldn't stay healthy.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p...Louis Vasquez was signed in 2013 as a free agent, and he went on that year to earn first-team All-Pro honors. Vasquez was really Denver's lone bright spot for several years, due to Clady's inability to stay healthy, before the Broncos jettisoned their 2008 first round pick in a trade with the New York Jets.
It's not like Elway has ignored the O-line. Under Elway's leadership, the Broncos have selected eight players in the NFL Draft. Orlando Franklin, one of Denver's two second round picks in 2011, was solid playing mostly at right tackle, but Elway didn't even try to keep Franklin when he hit unrestricted free agency.
Center Matt Paradis is the shining example for Elway when it comes to finding productive starters in the Draft. Paradis was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft out of Boise State, but was waived at the end of training camp as a rookie.
Denver kept the small, athletic center on the practice squad for a year and when Gary Kubiak came to town, Paradis was reborn and has started every game since for the Broncos. Paradis was a key component to Denver's 2015 World Championship.
Beyond Franklin and Paradis, Elway's track record of drafting O-line isn't good. In the 2016 Draft, the Broncos ended up selecting an interior player for the second-straight year.
In 2015, Denver took Max Garcia in the fourth and in 2016, they took Missouri's Connor McGovern in the fifth round. McGovern left the college ranks as a strong, powerful player who could fit almost anywhere along the O-line.
He was a top performer at the Combine, busting out 33 reps on the bench press (225 lbs). Coming out of college, most scouts viewed McGovern as scheme-versatile, which should serve him well heading into his second season.
McGovern stepped into Denver's zone blocking scheme and was promptly buried on the depth chart. Although he showed well in preseason action as a rookie, he was unable to unseat either Max Garcia or Michael Schofield as one of the starting guards.
However, McGovern made the 53-man roster as a rookie. But Kubiak kept him on the bench, even when the Broncos O-line struggled to create a running game and injuries struck.
McGovern did not dress for a single game as a rookie, similar to Schofield's rookie story in 2014, while the Broncos went out and signed Billy Turner mid-season to serve as the third guard. Darrion Weems also saw first-team snaps ahead of McGovern.
Weems saw 114 snaps on offense, while Turner received 40. McGovern? Zero.
Five Hot Threads On The MHH ForumsDallas Insider Says Elway Lied Broncos Free Agent Talk Where Broncos Sit In Draft Order Broncos Draft Talk Broncos Draft: Who Do You Want?
It was a true head-scratcher. On the surface, one could perhaps glean something about how Denver viewed McGovern through the actions of the coaching staff. If they went through two other guys beyond the starters instead of turning to their rookie, what does that say about McGovern?
It's questionable, no doubt. But there's also the Kubiak Factor to consider. I've heard buzz that during his two years as Denver's head coach, Kubiak — and his staff — didn't do enough to develop the young players in the eyes of the front office.
There is some empirical data that backs up that assertion. Look at the case of guys like Jeff Heuerman and Cody Latimer — two young players buried on the depth chart by Kubiak, but when they did receive some opportunities for extended playing time late in the season, they made an impact.
Kubiak preferred to take it slow with rookies, unless he had no choice. I believe that's what held McGovern back from seeing the field in 2016. Looking ahead, the Broncos are moving toward a predominantly power scheme, which should still fit McGovern's skill-set.
Known for his power and athleticism, McGovern could really challenge for a starting role, if genuinely given the opportunity by Vance Joseph's new staff. We know that Ronald Leary has one of the starting guard spots locked down.
Max Garcia might be the presumptive starter when OTAs kick off on Monday, but he's far from secure atop the depth chart. I liked the McGovern pick a year ago. And I believe Denver's coaching change could really improve McGovern's prospects, and that of the entire offensive line, heading into 2017.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.