For Garett Bolles, it’s been a long, hard road in the NFL.

As a first-round pick back in 2017, the left tackle was supposed to be a key piece of that Denver Broncos offensive line for many years to come. He was supposed to be a cornerstone of the team’s offense, a leader on and off the field.

But For years, people labeled Bolles as a bust.

“I’ve always taken it upon myself to get better,” Bolles explained on Thursday. “I know you all rouse me over the years, and I appreciate that because it made me who I am today,” he said to the media.

Rewind to 2017 and Bolles struggled, allowing 8 sacks and being called for 15 penalties on the season. His sophomore year wasn’t much better. Well, he allowed only two sacks that year, which was good, but the 13 penalties were again far too many.

And Pro Football Focus echoed those numbers with their grades of 72.9 and 72.8, respectively.

2019 was a bit of a step up in terms of PFF grade, with a 76.1 overall. And, that’s when Bolles said the lightbulb finally went off and he realized he did belong in the NFL.

“In 2019 we played the Minnesota Vikings. I think we had a Bye Week before then,” Bolles began. “That whole Bye Week, I went home and power raked my entire parent’s lawn and just tried to figure out what’s best for me. I was just really angry and frustrated.

“I dissected my whole game,” he continued. “I remember going into that game [and] I hired somebody who was focused on mental [health] and becoming competitively mature and really just playing this game and not erratic. Just focus on being mature in that position. You talk about some of the greats—Joe Staley, Joe Thomas, Jonathan Ogden—you talk about all these great tackles. Trent Williams will be one of those guys. Those guys compete at a high level, but they’re mature, and they’re calm, and they’re [composed].  I had to learn that.”

What Bolles shows here is no matter your stature, you may be going through something difficult mentally.

Many fans would wish to put themselves in an NFL player’s shoes. They likely think it’s the easy life; playing a kids’ game and making millions of dollars a year. Sure, it’s physical as hell, but the fame, glory and paychecks make it worth it all.

But as Bolles explained on Thursday, emotionally, he had to question if he was right for the NFL or not.

But then, in a game against the Vikings, Bolles finally found his confidence.

“I remember going into that game and I was blocking Everson Griffen, who’s a phenomenal player, and we were going at it all game long,” Bolles said. “I think we were driving the ball with 1:30 left—I can’t remember. What quarterback did we have? Brandon Allen, I believe. We’ve had so many here [laughs].”

He’s not wrong. Brandon Allen was the quarterback and tried to lead the Broncos down the field for a comeback win against Minnesota, but they came up just short. And the team has had way too many QBs since Peyton Manning retired in 2016, but that longing and looking is over with Russell Wilson now in the Mile High City at QB.

“I think we were driving, and the crowd was getting loud, and I think that was a moment in my life where I realized that I belong in this league; I belong in that position. It was just a surreal moment,” the left tackle recalled. “I think from that game on—from all the way through 2020 to now—I think I made myself one of the best left tackles in football.”

In 2020, Bolles was undoubtedly one of the best tackles in the league. He allowed zero sacks, was called for only seven penalties and earned his career-high grade of 90.6 by Pro Football Focus. He was also named second-team All Pro by the AP. Last year, Bolles came back to earth a little bit, but at a 76.6 overall, he was the 24th tackle in the league per PFF. And he played well enough to earn a 4-year extension.

“I just pride myself on that. You talk about the best guys in football, I believe I’m one of them,” Bolles said. “I just thank all those guys have pushed me to be who I am today, and I appreciate all those guys. Some guys were harder on me than others, but I look back and I appreciate those guys because it makes me the player I am today.”

Over the last five years, he’s certainly come a long way. While there were multiple years in which many believed the Broncos would have to go elsewhere for a long-term tackle, Bolles grew into a solid anchor of the offensive line.

He knows he belongs and is ready to protect Russell Wilson at all costs. ”

I know you’re used to getting hit,” Bolles told Wilson. “You’re not going to get hit here.”