Editor's Note: In the weeks leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, Andrew Mason will evaluate each position group. He will take a look at the best time to draft prospects at each position and address how he believes the Broncos will approach the position groups. This week: offensive linemen
IDEAL DRAFT RANGE: 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.
A dozen left tackles have made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons. Nine of them -- including the Broncos' Ryan Clady -- were first-round picks; five were taken in the first five selections. If you don't have a top pick and you need a left tackle, you'll have to gamble on raw upside.
For right tackles and interior linemen, the value is typically best from the second to the fourth rounds. Three of the Broncos' four season-opening starters up front came from this range: right tackle Orlando Franklin (Round 2, 2011), center J.D. Walton (Round 3, 2010) and left guard Zane Beadles (Round 2, 2010).
RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: It's been 11 years since the Broncos went through a draft without taking an offensive lineman. Since 2003, the Broncos have selected 15 offensive linemen.
All four tackles they selected in that span were in the first three rounds, within the top 70 picks; all of them (George Foster, Ryan Harris, Clady and Franklin) became starters. They only selected one guard or center before the third round (Beadles); the collection of guards and centers picked includes one third-rounder (Walton), three fourth-rounders (Kory Lichtensteiger, Seth Olsen and Philip Blake), one fifth-rounder (Chris Kuper), four sixth-rounders (highlighted by 2005's Chris Myers) and a single seventh-rounder (Blake Schlueter, 2009).
Denver hasn't selected a pure offensive tackle after the third round since 1998, when Trey Teague was a seventh-round pick.
BRONCOS OUTLOOK: Contracts and long-term plans will play a major role. Right guard looks like it belongs to free-agent signee Louis Vasquez for the foreseeable future; the Broncos signed him to a four-year deal which should encompass the apex of his career.
But three of the other four projected first-teamers will have deals that expire after 2013: Beadles, Walton and Clady (when he signs his franchise tender). If keeping all three isn't in their plans -- and if questions linger about the development of 2012 fourth-rounder Philip Blake, who was mired on the third team during training camp last year -- then the line has to be a draft priority.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN THAT MIGHT FIT THE BRONCOS IN THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS:
OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Taking a left tackle at the end of the first round or in the second round is like selecting a quarterback at the same juncture: you might find an elite physical talent, but he's likely to require some polish in order to harness it. Armstead's 4.71-second 40-yard dash and impressive bench-press work caught eyes, but would have been meaningless if he hadn't enjoyed a solid Senior Bowl week, in which he arrived late as a roster addition and played well, showing quickness and physicality. Nevertheless, he's raw, and probably needs a year of polish -- and perhaps a little more muscle.
OT Menelik Watson, Florida State: Watson, a native of Manchester, England, is raw, but for different reasons than Armstead -- namely his late exposure to the game, which he fist picked up in junior college after playing basketball. Watson probably turned pro one year too soon, and his Combine workout was disappointing, which could depress his stock, given that athleticism was supposedly his strong suit. But on film, his quickness and footwork offer hints of what he could be in the NFL. A year as a backup before ascending to the first team would probably serve him best.
OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama: There's a long drop from Johnson to Fluker among draft tackles, and it appears as though he'd be a much better fit at right tackle than left tackle in the pros after he struggled against edge rushers at times last year. Because of that, he might be a slight reach in the first round.
G Jonathan Cooper: If teams make a run on pass rushers and defensive tackles in the first 20-plus picks, Cooper could drop; if he's available at No. 28, he'd be a bargain. He's of ideal size for a guard (6-foot-2 and 311 pounds), is technically sound and light on his feet, and has the talent to be an immediate starter.
G Larry Warford, Kentucky: He might not be the best fit for the Broncos' pass-intensive offense, as his pass-blocking is behind his work in the run game. But he matches up well against massive defensive tackles, and is strong enough to slide over, take on massive nose tackles and free up the center to handle the blitz.
G/T Kyle Long, Oregon: The younger brother of Rams defensive end Chris Long and son of Hall of Fame defensive tackle Howie Long is closer to pro-ready as a run blocker than a pass blocker, but his positional versatility should help his draft stock.
OT David Bahktiari, Colorado: Bakhtiari turned pro one year early, citing his maturity and his ability to handle the responsibilities and consequences to come. "Someone told me if you go to the next level, you're going to be taking a grown man's job, steady income from somebody, and I said, 'Yes, I understand and I was able to cope with it,'" he said at the Combine. He weighed in at 299 pounds at the Combine, and probably needs to add more to be ready to play -- particularly at left tackle, which is where he said he eventually expects to settle. He doesn't have the raw athleticism and overwhelming of some other tackles, but is less likely to be a bust and should be a solid starter, even if he doesn't end up on the left side.
OT Brennan Williams, North Carolina: A torn labrum suffered last year shouldn't affect Williams long-term, and his ability to flourish in multiple schemes should ensure that he doesn't stay on the board after the second day of the draft.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN OF NOTE FOR THE MID TO LATE ROUNDS:
OT Oday Aboushi, Virginia: He moved all over the line at the Senior Bowl and struggled at times, particularly against speed rushers off the edge -- which was surprising, given that he was a better pass blocker than run blocker for the Cavaliers. Aboushi's game film will be the reference point for the team that drafts him, because the last three months haven't helped his stock. This could make him a bargain if he slides enough down the draft board.
C Braxton Cave, Notre Dame: Like many on the Fighting Irish, he didn't distinguish himself under Alabama's siege in the national championship game last January, but his season-long film was also inconsistent at times. He also is exclusively a center in a league that values mid-round picks who can back up at multiple spots.
C/G Travis Frederick, Wisconsin: He played guard before moving to center last year, replacing Peter Konz, and might find himself back at guard in the pros. He also wasn't tested extensively in pass-blocking that often last year, as Wisconsin's revolving door at quarterback forced the Badgers to become more ground-centric than they were with Russell Wilson at the controls in 2011.
C Khaled Holmes, USC: Injuries have been a problem recently, and after a disappointing senior season, he was forced out of the Senior Bowl and didn't work out at the Combine. They shouldn't affect him over the long haul, but he struggled against some elite defensive tackles last year.
OL Barrett Jones, Alabama: Probably his best asset is his versatility; he can play any position on the offensive line and has the intelligence to learn them all. He likely projects as an NFL center, but his starting experience at left tackle and guard will serve him well wherever he lines up.
OT Xavier Nixon, Florida: He's battle-tested, having gone against some elite defensive ends, including South Carolina's Jadaveon Clowney, the odds-on favorite to be the No.
G/C Brian Schwenke, Cal: He moved to center after three years at guard at Cal, and is likely to stay in the middle in the NFL. He had a solid week at the Senior Bowl in January, showed his strength in the Combine bench press (31 repetitions) and recognizes blitzes and stunts well.
Others of note: G Alvin Bailey, Arkansas; OT Braden Brown, BYU; OT Chris Faulk, LSU; OT Reid Fragel, Ohio State; OT Roger Gaines, Tennessee State; G Garrett Gilkey, Chadron State; G/C Braden Hansen, BYU; OT Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas; OT Luke Marquardt, Azusa Pacific; G/T Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech; OT/G Justin Pugh, Syracuse; C/G David Quessenberry, San Jose State; OT Dallas Thomas, Tennessee; G Hugh Thornton, Illinois; G J.C. Tretter, Cornell; G Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech; OT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin; OT Jason Weaver, Southern Mississippi; G/T Brian Winters, Kent State.