Following Ja'Wuan James’ decision to opt out of the 2020 season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Denver's offensive line will have to make a significant shift.
Though the Broncos had obviously hoped to see James on the field after injuries derailed his first season in Denver, they will have to move forward with a plan to fill his shoes the best they can.
The most likely solution is to extract Elijah Wilkinson from the expected competition at left tackle and put him back in the mix at right tackle, where he started 12 games a year ago. As the starter for most of the season, Wilkinson played more than 800 snaps.
Pro Football Focus' numbers weren't gleaming for the fourth-year player, as they pegged him with 10 sacks allowed. However, they said he only allowed one in the six weeks after the Broncos made a quarterback change in Week 9 (Wilkinson missed Week 17 with an ankle injury). And outside of that one sack allowed during the Week 14 game against Houston, Wilkinson allowed just two other quarterback hits.
Aside from Wilkinson, Jake Rodgers is the only player with NFL experience at right tackle on the Broncos' roster. Rodgers replaced Wilkinson in the lineup in Week 16 of 2019 when Wilkinson suffered an ankle injury, and Rodgers started in his stead for the Broncos' season finale against Oakland. PFF's stats show he allowed one sack over 66 pass-blocking snaps.
Denver also has second-year veteran Calvin Anderson and first-year tackle Quinn Bailey, but their only game experience at right tackle was in college.
The other main option that could realistically come into play would be to sign a free agent. It seems reasonable that the Broncos could either try to find someone to take the reins at right tackle to keep Wilkinson in competition at left tackle, which was the team's plan throughout the offseason, or they could sign a player to bolster swing tackle depth behind Wilkinson and Garett Bolles.
Below the Fold
Super Bowl 50 champion and all-around good guy DeMarcus Ware has begun a new stage in his post-NFL career — he's opened a gym. The challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic are of course difficult, but Ware's never been one to back down from something just because it wasn't easy. "I'll never say I'm not going to make it because you've already lost with that mentality," Ware told ESPN's Todd Archer. "I just say, 'I accept the challenge.' When I played, I accepted the challenge of a new opponent and knew what I needed to do to make sure that I'd win. It's the same in business. I'm going to research what I need to improve on, what I needed to get better at. It's like preparing for a game every day."
Need a fantasy primer before beginning your season? Pro Football Focus has three stats to know for each team. Did you know Phillip Lindsay scored the second-most fantasy points as a rookie among all undrafted free agents?