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Mason's Mailbag: Thoughts on Menelik Watson

Posted Mar 12, 2017

The increased learning curve for O-linemen could help future free agents with similar resumes to Menelik Watson.

You can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase or use the submission form to your right (if you're viewing on a standard browser) or at the bottom of the page if you're on the mobile site.

Would it be financially feasible for the Broncos to pick up Dont'a Hightower as a free agent to help shore up the defense against the run, or would Dontari Poe be a better acquisition, big-money wise, to fill the gap against the run?

-- Thomas Hunt

While both seem certain to fetch hefty contracts -- at least on an average per-year basis -- these two aren't really either/or options, since they play different positions and possess drastically different frames and skill sets.

But for almost any team, Hightower seems to be a better bet in free agency than Poe, at least if you're talking about a multi-year contract. At 346 pounds, Poe has the type of build that usually sees a quick decline in the late 20s -- which may have started already in a disappointing 2016 season. Hightower is in his prime and coming off some of the best games of his career to date; he looks poised to remain at a Pro Bowl/All-Pro level.

It's all about health. It's not a question of whether Menelik Watson is good enough or possesses the physical tools, the intelligence and attitude to succeed at this level; he's strong in all three areas.

But since Watson only began playing American football in 2011, he needs repetitions, which means he needs to avoid the nagging injuries that dogged him in Oakland (and major injuries, like the ruptured Achilles in 2015 that cost him an entire season).

Another factor to consider could be the overall development of offensive linemen. Teams are struggling to find plug-and-play linemen in the draft now more than ever, because it's more difficult to discern pro potential from the college tape when there has never been a greater stylistic gap between college and pro tactics and strategies.

So is it possible that the development time for solid, good-but-not-elite linemen could now be three to four years, rather than one to two? And if that is the case, is the most efficient play under the constraints of the cap to find those linemen who come to the end of their first contract but still possess plenty of growth potential?

If the answers to both of those questions are, "yes," then players like Watson might find themselves in higher demand in future free-agency cycles -- and Watson himself could become a steal. Time -- and his health -- will reveal the success or failure of this addition.

With Christian McCaffrey being either a first- or early-second round selection, should the Broncos look for someone like Ryan Switzer, who is a lot like McCaffrey, in the 3rd round? That way they get their playmaker but can also attack offensive and defensive lineman with their first two picks.

-- David Rodish

If you're looking for a playmaker whose skills are relatively analagous to those of McCaffrey, look at Ohio State's Curtis Samuel. Switzer can contribute on returns and in the passing game, but he doesn't bring the element of being a viable ballcarrier out of the backfield, and can't be used in as many spots -- he likely projects only as a slot receiver. He's also 20 pounds lighter than McCaffrey, so he may not be able to withstand the same pounding. Switzer is an intriguing Round 4 or 5 option, but I think he's a reach in Round 3.

Bottom line -- if McCaffrey is the top player on the Broncos' board when their selection comes up, he ought to be the pick, even with the relative scarcity of quality offensive linemen in this year's class. Even the top linemen come with a passel of questions -- age and lack of high-level college starting experience for Garett Bolles, the hip injury for Ryan Ramczyk, uncertainty over whether guard or tackle is the best position for Forrest Lamp and Cam Robinson.

A player like Troy's Antonio Garcia -- who is more raw and still building strength, but might have the highest ceiling of any tackle in this draft class -- might be a better O-lineman option in Round 2. Defensive line may be a more viable spot in Round 1, but the Broncos no longer have a pressing, immediate need there.

With both Justin Forsett and Kapri Bipps becoming free agents, what are the chances of the Broncos taking a guy like Wyoming's Brian Hill the all time Wyoming leading rusher who had a nice combine overall in say like the 5th or 6th round to give Denver a powerful runner?

-- Joseph Saverine

Between free agency, the draft and the undrafted crop, the Broncos will add a running back at some point in the offseason, although from the draft it's impossible to pinpoint one specific back like Hill at this point in time.

Also, note that Bibbs is an exclusive-rights free agent, so basically he's back as soon as he signs the tender the Broncos offered, with no other options available to him. Given the spark he showed when he strung some strong carries together before being injured in Jacksonville, Bibbs is in the picture and will get a long look to show whether he can build off his 2016 spurts.

According to Mike Mayock, he says the Broncos could be looking at a WR with their first pick in the draft. If this holds true, could you see the Broncos possibly picking up John Ross, if still available, with the 20th pick? His draft stock was already a first-rounder and his record breaking 40 time could be that spark the offense and special teams could use.

-- Ethan Stanton

Ross' injury history is a red flag. In his favor is the film, which is first-round caliber. So that separates Ross from other speed demons like Baltimore's Breshad Perriman, who shot into the 2015 first round with a 40-yard dash of 4.29 seconds at the Combine, but has just 499 yards on 33 receptions in two seasons with one start to his name. But I don't know whether Ross can hold up. Just look at the fact that he had hamstring tightness during his Combine 40.

Further, I take a "caveat emptor" approach with 40-yard dash times. How often are you going 40 yards in a straight line in an actual game? The three-cone drill and short-shuttle are just as important, and that's why I look at McCaffrey, whose three-cone drill of 6.57 seconds was better than all but one wide receiver at the Combine (and was only matched by a single wideout, Western Kentucky's Taywan Taylor). Ross certainly made himself some money, but I just don't see the risk-reward ratio being right for him at No. 20.

In this year's draft, I am starting to like O.J. Howard the more I see him. If he is still on the board at the Broncos 20th pick I would like to see them draft him because of his size and athleticism. Who in the NFL is a good comparison for a player like Howard based off his size, hands, and athleticism?

-- Ethan Stanton

Jimmy Graham and Eric Ebron are probably the two best comparisons. Jordan Reed isn't as long or as big as Howard, and Howard doesn't compare in frame size to, say, Rob Gronkowski or Martellus Bennett.

The issue as to whether to pick Howard at No. 20 isn't whether he's good enough. He is, and I don't think it would be unreasonable to take him around the 10th pick. It's whether you pick a tight end there when the quality and depth is so copious that you might be able to get a player like Bucky Hodges -- who has a similar size/speed blend, but needs more blocking work -- in Round 2 or Gerald Everett, Adam Shaheen or Evan Engram in Round 3.

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The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

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