While the battle at center will garner the least attention out of those on offense, it could easily be the most important and impactful battle for the Broncos on the offensive side of the ball.
Following Matt Paradis’ injury last season Denver’s offense went from scoring 23.5 points pregame and averaging 385.6 yards, to just producing 17.6 points and 319.5 yards per game. A downgrade across the board.
How will the Broncos solve their greatest offensive need? Our writers Zach Segars and Rich Kurtzman have the answer:
With Matt Paradis’ departure to Carolina, there is a massive void left at center. That same void was left when Paradis suffered a fractured fibula against the Texans, when it was filled by Connor McGovern.
McGovern was a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft and didn’t start until last season where he made his debut at right guard. McGovern started the first eight games of the season at guard and earned grades of 66.1 overall, 59.2 in pass protection and 66.9 in run blocking from Pro Football Focus which categorized him as an above-average starter. Over McGovern’s eight games of the season at center, he earned grades of 52.9 overall, 41.5 in pass protection, and 57.1 in run blocking.
Enter second-round rookie Dalton Risner, who was primarily a right tackle and center at Kansas State. Risner was a solid center in college even though his more natural position is at tackle. It was this versatility that saw Risner shoot up big boards in the run up to the draft.
The loser of this battle will likely end up starting at right guard, which should make the decision easy for the Broncos, but it could still easily be bungled.
Do you want a right guard playing out of position at center and a center at right guard, or do you want to put them in their more natural positions?
As Zach eluded to, the Broncos are stuck between a rock and a hard place at one of the most important and valuable positions on the offensive line, center.
Besides the quarterback, the only player to touch the ball on every play is the center, and Paradis also made calls at the line of scrimmage to his teammates to ensure everyone was picking up their correct blocks. Losing Paradis cannot be overstated; the Broncos will struggle on the line — as they have in recent years with him — and likely even worse this season.
McGovern not only has left a lot to be desired as a fill-in at center, but as a right guard, too. But, hey, some of those John Elway offensive linemen have to pan out at one point, right?
Ironically, there’s only one center currently on the Broncos roster and it’s rookie Ryan Crozier out of Connecticut. But McGovern has to be the odds-on favorite to start at center because he’s the only one on the roster who has game experience there. That leaves the line looking like this, from left to right: Garett Bolles, Ronald Leary, McGovern, Dalton Risner and Ja’Wuan James, the strong right tackle acquisition from this offseason.
For Risner starting immediately at any position will be a challenge, but it’s likely to be expected out of a second round pick. If he can’t start there, at right guard, look for Elijah Wilkinson to play.
The Broncos were rated the 12th-best offensive line in the NFL recently, but the way it’s shaping up, they’re more likely to be in the bottom tier of the league than in the middle of the pack. If they’re as bad as they’ve been in recent years, the offense will continue to struggle mightily and Denver will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.