Elway: Elijah Wilkinson to compete with Garett Bolles, Ja’Wuan James at tackle

Elijah Wilkinson. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Elijah Wilkinson. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

Through the first two days of the NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos have done well to address their most pressing needs.

They took Jerry Jeudy, the No. 1 receiver in the draft, and then followed him up with K.J. Hamler, a second wide receiver. Then, they selected a cornerback in Michael Ojemudia, and a should-be starting center in Lloyd Cushenberry.

But, what Broncos fans may have been wondering was: Where is the offensive tackle?

Yes, there’s Garett Bolles at left, in the final year of his rookie contract, and Ja’Wuan James on the right side, who was injured for a majority of 2019; but are either of them the answers at offensive tackle?

Three years into his professional career and Bolles looks more like a bust than a successful first-round selection. He’s had some ups, but a majority of his play has been marred by far too many penalties, specifically, holds. And it seems he starts seasons off roughly, but gets better over the course of the campaign.

Still, it hasn’t been consistent enough and now Bolles will have to compete with sixth lineman Elijah Wilkinson to earn his starting spot.

“Garett’s going to compete for a job like everybody else on the football team,” John Elway said at the end of Day 2 of the draft. “The bottom line is Eli Wilkinson will be back. They’re going to compete for jobs like everybody else.”

“Those who don’t want to compete—you know what—they can go somewhere else,” Elway continued. “We’re all about the competition and the best player is going to play.”

That makes it sound like Wilkinson will be competing with James, too, at right tackle. And it’s important to know Wilkinson earned his re-signing by filling in for James admirably and starting 12 games in 2019.

Also worth noting: James was signed to the biggest offensive line contract in history last offseason before he was overshadowed by a newer deal. However, he and Bolles nearly had the same grade according to Pro Football Focus in 2018: Bolles graded out at a 72.8, James was a 72.4. 100 is a perfect grade and anything over 90 is elite, while grades in the 70s mean they are average players.

Simply, even if James is healthy this year, he may not be much better than Bolles on the opposite side.

So, it makes complete sense that Wilkinson will compete. Head coach Vic Fangio also said late Friday night that new center, Lloyd Cushenberry (a steal at No. 83) will compete to play starting center with Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottmann.

“He is going to go in there and compete with Austin and Pat,” Fangio explained. “Again, he has the license to go in there and compete and win the job if he can.”

While the Broncos lost Connor McGovern in the offseason, Day 2 of the NFL Draft and selecting Cushenberry certainly improved Denver’s offensive line. Now, the competition all around will help determine the diamonds in the rough.

Now, we’re getting ready for Day 3 of the NFL Draft.

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