If the best tackle in the draft is there at 9, do the Broncos grab him?
There is no doubt that Penei Sewell is the best offensive tackle in the 2021 draft. While I could spend time showing you this fact by dropping many of his evaluations, I prefer to spend most of this time telling you about two things:
The chances of Sewell being there at 9
The chances of the Broncos using a premium first-round pick on a position where we have two starters already “locked” in
The possibility that quarterbacks get taken with the first four picks is very real this year. That has never happened before. Currently here are the first eight picks by team and my thoughts on what they will most likely do with their picks:
- Jags – going to pick a QB, almost certainly Trevor Lawrence
- Jets – most likely going QB
- 49ers – definitely getting a QB after the trade up to 3
- Falcons – maybe a QB; Ryan is old now and he’s not a zombie like Brady
- Bengals – no, might get Sewell
Who should the Bengals draft at No. 5?
— PFF (@PFF) April 2, 2021
6. Dolphins – unlikely after getting Tua Tagovailoa in 2020
7. Lions – no, they have Jared Goff now
8. Panthers – maybe, if one they like falls to 8. They could trade Teddy Bridgewater, who still has value despite his contract.
Six of the teams ahead of Denver could be thinking quarterback, and it’s possible that five QBs could get taken in the top 8 picks – something that has never happened before.
If five QBs go in the first eight picks, what do Atlanta, Cincinnati and Detroit do? All three teams have other glaring holes besides left tackle, although the Bengals might have a hard time passing on the best LT in the draft to pair with their 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow. The Bengals did use the 11th overall pick in 2019 on the man who started at LT for them in 2020, Jonah Williams.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that they all pass on Sewell, and he is there for us at 9. That would be uncommon but not unprecedented. This century the first offensive tackle drafted has averaged being taken seventh with a high of first and a low of twenty-second. All-Pro LT Tyron Smith was taken with the ninth pick. Garett Bolles was taken with the 20th. So the consensus best tackle on the board could be there for us, but should we pick him?
Penei Sewell didn’t allow more than 2 QB pressures in any of his 21 games at Oregon pic.twitter.com/u6ORwvndO3
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 2, 2021
Why it makes sense?
Garett Bolles is signed to play left tackle for us through the 2024 season. His cap number is still very friendly in 2021. It balloons in 2022 to $21 million. Ja’Wuan James is signed to played right tackle for us through the 2023 season. There is no cap savings to jettisoning him for the 2021 season. That changes in 2022 when his dead money drops to $6 million and the cap savings for moving on from him hits $8 million. So at least for 2021, Sewell would have to beat out James for the RT spot. Sewell has exclusively played LT at Oregon, but he is probably athletic enough to make the switch to the other side (it’s not trivial, trust me on this).
There is little doubt that Sewell would be an upgrade over James. Sewell is a freakish athlete. He has the combination of agility, speed, size and strength that all of the elite left tackles in the NFL have. What Sewell currently lacks (experience and “meanness”) might actually help him “fall” to No. 9.
Here are the notes on Sewell from Charlie Campbell of Walter Football regarding strengths and weaknesses.
- Excellent skill set
- Ideal height, length, weight
- Superb athleticism
- Extremely talented
- Fast to mirror speed rushers
- Can play the typewriter to cut off the corner
- Quick to the second level, open field
- Good leverage overall
- Bends at the knee
- Fast out of his stance
- Quick hands to engage defenders
- Ability to sustain blocks
- Excellent agility
- Blocks with an attitude
- Punishes second level defenders
- Quick feet
- Gets depth in his drop to neutralize speed rushers
- Bends at the knee
- Doesn’t have to reach for rushers
- Fast to the second level
- Walls off and ties up defenders in the ground game
- Bulk to hold his ground against bull rushes
- Can anchor against bull rushes
- Athletic upside
- Fits man- or zone-blocking schemes
- Needs to improve his technique
- Could stand to add more functional strength
- Not overly physical
There’s a lot to like about the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Pacific Islander. Campbell compares him to Ronnie Stanley, who was taken as the first OT off the board in 2016 with the sixth pick by Baltimore. I would be elated if we drafted Sewell ninth. James could be traded, assuming an injury-prone RT with questions about his motivation has much value.
Another thing to remember is that Mike Munchak might have some say in this matter. Munchak has no problem taking offensive tackles in the first round. He pushed the Titans to take Taylor Lewan with the 11th overall pick in 2014 and Jack Conklin with the eighth overall pick in 2016.
Why it doesn’t make sense?
With James’ and Bolles’ contracts, the Broncos have $18 million in cap space tied up in offensive tackles. There are four offensive tackles who will have bigger cap numbers by themselves in 2021 – Trent Williams, David Bahktiari, Laremy Tunsil and Stanley.
You could make the argument that Broncos don’t want to have too much money tied up in the tackle position in 2020, but it’d be a losing argument. Even with the $3.8 million in cap from our ninth pick, the Broncos would still only have $22 million in cap space spent on offensive tackles and that assumes James stays on the roster. It’s almost like Broncos structured Bolles contract so that they would not have a big bite of cap taken by OTs in 2021.
The best argument against drafting Sewell at No. 9 is that we only have two spots for offensive tackles, and we wouldn’t want to use the ninth pick on a player who would not be immediately starting. Drafting Sewell would mean the Broncos would have to trade James.
There are plenty of other holes on this team that we could fill with that ninth overall pick.