ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the lead-up to the 2020 NFL Draft, most of the national attention linked the Broncos to a wide receiver.
That was for good reason, and it also turned out to be prescient. The Broncos selected Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler with their first two picks in the draft.
The Broncos, though, had an equally large hole in the middle of their offensive line. Following Connor McGovern's departure in free agency, the Broncos were in need of a center.
Free-agent addition Graham Glasgow could've filled the need, but the Broncos made it clear they preferred for Glasgow to play guard. And thus, as Denver entered the third round of the draft, finding an interior offensive lineman was among their top priorities.
The Broncos found their answer at the position when they selected LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III with the 83rd-overall pick. And the 6-foot-3, 312-pound player should compete for a Day 1 starting job.
"Cushenberry is a guy that is very solid center," said President of Football Operations/GM John Elway during the draft. "He played in the SEC and had a great career down there, so we're excited about Lloyd."
He'll likely compete against veterans Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottmann for the starting job, but his experience at LSU should leave him well-prepared for the task.
Cushenberry started the final 28 games of his career for the Tigers, including all 15 games as LSU won a national championship last season. The 2019 unit was given the Joe Moore Award as the SEC's best offensive line, and Cushenberry was awarded first-team All-SEC honors and named a second-team All-American.
Though Cushenberry doesn't have the elite athletic upside of other centers in the league, he stands up nicely in pass protection. His first punch against rushers is powerful — and he showed that at the 2020 Senior Bowl as he held up in one-on-one drills against the eventual 14th-overall pick, Javon Kinlaw.
Cushenberry also faced off last season against Derrick Brown, the seventh-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
"We had to deal with a lot of different blitzes and had to pick them up on the fly most of the time," said Cushenberry of his experience dealing with five-man protections in college. "I know in the NFL it's not as much five-man pro, so I feel like just having that year in the NFL-style system with Coach [Joe] Brady has helped me a lot. I'm just looking forward to getting to Denver and get diving into that playbook to see what we can do."
Cushenberry said he views learning the playbook as the biggest challenge as he tries to be a Day 1 starter.
"At the same time, I also feel like that is one of my strengths," Cushenberry said. "I put in a lot of work, as far as doing things on my own and taking accountability to learn the playbook. I know it's going to be different from a college system, but I feel like I'm ready for that challenge and I'm looking forward to it."
He certainly earned his team's respect while at LSU. Cushenberry was a team captain, became the first offensive lineman to earn the No. 18 jersey and was named LSU's team MVP. He won that final honor despite first-overall pick Joe Burrow leading the offense.
Matt Mauck, a former Bronco and the player who started the No. 18 tradition at LSU, said the Broncos' selection of Cushenberry was "unbelievable."
"Honestly, I don't think in the third round they could've gotten a guy that's as good of a player as he is — but [he's] an even better person," Mauck said. "I think it's a home run."
Mauck said he also believes Cushenberry can be "an instant leader" in the locker room and will be prepared to start as a rookie.
"I think for Lloyd, he'll have gone against however many first- or second-rounders throughout the year," Mauck said. "I think the SEC players just adapt to the NFL level a little bit better, just because it's not all that much different than the SEC."
Asked how Cushenberry can adapt, Glasgow circled back to knowing the offense.
"Get in the playbook, learn the plays, and me and Dalton [Risner] will help you out as much as we can," Glasgow said in an interview with Broncos TV. "I think that that's going to be a pretty sizeable amount. A lot of stuff comes with experience, but we'll kind of be there to help him along the way."
Cushenberry, who some evaluators say doesn't dominate in the run game the same way he does in pass protection, could take steps forward quickly with the assistance of Glasgow and Risner on either side and the wisdom of Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak. The LSU product will certainly be motivated to put in the work and find a spot in the Week 1 starting lineup.
After being projected as an early second-round draft pick, Cushenberry fell to the middle of the third round.
"I was expecting to go a little bit higher, but I'm glad to be a part of this organization now," Cushenberry said. "It is what it is and I'm happy to be a part of such a great group of people. I can't wait to get to Denver and just go to work."