IDEAL DRAFT RANGE: Typically, you want to find your left tackles early, since it ranks as a "premium position" along with quarterback and pass-rushing outside linebacker/defensive end (depending on the scheme).
If you want a left tackle, you're best served by taking one early. As a premium position that ranks just behind quarterback on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage, left tackles will fly off the draft board in the early picks. This year could see three left tackles taken in the first 10 selections: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.
Of the 15 left tackles to have made the Pro Bowl the last three seasons, 12 of them were first-round selections, including Denver's Ryan Clady. Five of the 12 went off the board in the first five selections of their respective drafts. For elite teams picking at the bottom of the first round who want to find a long-term answer at left tackle, this often means projection.
An example is New Orleans' second-round selection of Terron Armstead from Arkansas-Pine Bluff last year. Armstead is freakishly athletic, but raw, so he fell to the third round, and struggled immediately upon being forced into the starting lineup. But by the divisional round, Armstead was flourishing. A larger sample size is needed on Armstead before he can be proclaimed a success, but the postseason offered an indication that this gamble might pay off.
At one time, the sweet spot for projected right tackles was on what is now the second day (second to third round) through early in the third day. But teams have been more willing to select these tackles early in the draft, and it would come as no surprise to see at least two projected right tackles go in the first round.
It's much different for guards and centers. One, maybe two players at these positions could sneak into the late first round, but the value remains better in the middle rounds.
RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: A dozen years have passed since the Broncos went through a draft without taking an offensive lineman. Last year, Virginia Tech offensive tackle Vinston Painter became the 16th offensive lineman selected in that span.
Painter, a sixth-round choice, was the fifth tackle selected since 2003 -- and the only one of that group not taken in the first three rounds and within the top 70 picks. The others -- George Foster (2003), Ryan Harris (2007), Ryan Clady (2008) and Franklin -- all became starters. Foster, a first-rounder, worked at right tackle; the Broncos had hoped he would become an eventual starter on the left side, but that did not come to pass.
Since 2003, the Broncos have selected just one guard or center before the third round, when they made Zane Beadles a second-round pick in 2010. J.D. Walton, who was cut late last season, was selected one round later in that draft. The rest came from what is now the third day of the draft: a trio of fourth-round picks (Kory Lichtensteiger, Seth Olsen and Philip Blake), a single fifth-round choice (the recently retired) Chris Kuper), four sixth-round additions and one seventh-round pick.
BRONCOS OUTLOOK: Once again, the Broncos have a home-grown starter going into a contract year; it's Franklin, the 2011 pick, whose deal expires after the coming season this time. In-season extensions to Chris Clark and Manny Ramirez have them under contract through the end of the 2015 season, with the deals of Louis Vasquez and Clady expiring after the 2016 and 2017 seasons, respectively.
With Franklin's contract expiring next year and other deals for Pro Bowlers like Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Von Miller looming, the Broncos need to make long-term contingency plans. Clark being under contract until 2015 can help, but the development of Painter could be crucial. Painter slipped to the sixth round because his game was raw, but he tested well at the Combine last year and has above-average athleticism. He could be in line to eventually start if he can develop.
The Broncos appear set at center for the short term; with Ramirez and the recently-signed Will Montgomery, they have options. Ramirez and Franklin offer positional flexibility, and last month, Head Coach John Fox talked up converted defensive lineman Ben Garland as a potential option at left guard.