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Broncos Player Profile: Dalton Risner #66 | Interior Offensive Line

Next up is Denver's incumbent left guard Dalton Risner.

The Denver Broncos could be making a switch at left guard. Dalton Risner is the incumbent and considered by many to be the projected starter at the position, but some chatter could point to a change. 

As things stand right now, with OTAs and mini-camp in the books, there isn't enough to be certain a change will happen at left guard. However, we know  Risner was in a similar scheme his rookie season and performed exceptionally well, so after two years of struggling since then, he could bounce back. 

The starting left guard job is Risner's for now, and will have ample opportunity to cement himself there over training camp and the preseason. Entering a contract year, what does the future hold for this former second-round pick? 

Let's dive into Risner's career to date. 

Biography

Risner will turn 27 years old on July 13. Although he was born in Missouri, he attended Wiggins High School in Wiggins, Colorado. 

College Career

Risner went to Kansas State for college, where he started 50 of 51 games playing over 3,000 snaps on offense. Most of his action came as the Wildcats' right tackle, but he played 900 snaps as the center during the 2015 season as the starter. 

During that 2015 season, Risner graded out well from Pro Football Focus as a run-blocker (87.9) and pass-blocker (84.7), allowing eight pressures with no sacks. It was the best grade he garnered for run-blocking during his collegiate career and his worst in pass protection. 

When Risner was moved to right tackle for the 2016 season, he allowed the only sack of his collegiate career, relinquishing just 10 total pressures on the season. Despite allowing more pressures, PFF graded him 85.9 in pass-blocking. He also got called for six penalties on the season, the most in a single season in his college career. 

Over Risner's final two seasons, he was graded with a 91.8 and 90.6 in pass blocking from PFF for 2017 and 2018, respectively. His run blocking was graded with an 84.6 and 85.4 in the same two seasons. He allowed 11 total pressures during those two seasons with four penalties. 

Risner faced some talented edge rushers during that time and held his own. Then, after the 2018 season, he was on to the NFL. 

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Draft

Risner was invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. At the Senior Bowl, he had an outstanding week of practice, which led to conversations about him being a first-round pick. 

Regarding the game, he played 45 snaps at right tackle, despite seeing some time during the week as a guard. He was projected to be a guard in the NFL. In the Senior Bowl game, he allowed three pressures and had the lowest pass-blocking efficiency for the North Team and third-lowest overall. 

Risner tested out decently at the Combine with good results in his broad jump, 20-yard shuttle, and 3-cone drill. The rest of the testing was solid, which led to a 7.64 relative athletic score. 

Despite the talk of Risner being a first-round pick, he fell to the second round where the Broncos drafted him with the No. 41 overall pick. 

Professional Career

Risner was drafted into an outside zone scheme that sprung off the Kyle Shanahan tree. He was a natural fit with good movement skills and technique. Risner was almost immediately plugged in as the starter at left guard and started every game as a rookie. 

In total, Risner played 975 snaps on offense allowing 22 total pressures and three sacks, which all came against the Buffalo Bills. Again, there was the expected inconsistency with his play, but he showed his ability to work in an outside zone scheme and the promise he has if he develops. 

Among his fellow rookies in the 2019 season, Risner finished top-five in pass-blocking grades and pass-blocking efficiency for those rookies with at least 100 snaps in pass protection, via PFF

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When looking at the running game and fellow 2019 rookies with at least 100 run-blocking snaps, Risner was top-10 graded overall and top-five when looking at zone concepts. It wasn't a perfect season, but he showed his potential and ability in the outside zone scheme. 

After the season, the Broncos made a change at offensive coordinator, transitioning to a more gap-centric run game. Unfortunately, that change hurt Risner, although it was rather convoluted and had no identity in the run game. 

Between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Risner played 1,831 snaps on offense, missing some time with an injury. He allowed 28 pressures and zero sacks in 2020 and 21 pressures with four sacks in 2021. 

Despite that, 2021 was Risners best-graded season overall in run-blocking and pass-protection. However, his issues were apparent, and the gap scheme wasn't much of a fit for him. 

Among all guards with 300 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, Risner ranked 36th out of 53 in pass-blocking. In zone concepts, he ranked 41st with a 62.2 grade and 24th in gap concepts with a 60.9 grade. He was one of the 34 guards who played more than 50% of their run blocking snaps in zone concepts. 

Most of the zone concepts the Broncos ran in 2020 and 2021 were inside zone, which does ask something different of interior offensive linemen than outside zone. That is an important context when evaluating Risner from the limited statistical information provided. 

The switch in the scheme and having an identity in the run game to something Risner is more comfortable with could help him out this season. 

2022 Outlook

Risner's starting job isn't safe, especially with rumors swirling around Denver purportedly trying to trade him during the draft. Adding to the pressure is the supposed rise of Netane Muti and how he has looked during OTAs. 

However, OTA practices should be taken with a grain of salt for offensive linemen because there's extremely limited contact, and yet, Muti still got praised multiple times by the coaching staff. 

Risner is a scheme fit for new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, but so is veteran Tom Compton, who can also play the guard position as well as tackle. In addition, the coaching staff has familiarity with Billy Turner and he can also play guard. As a result, while Compton and Turner are fighting for the right tackle position, they could both be in play at left guard. 

There is also the status of Graham Glasgow, who can play either guard spot, and Quinn Meinerz. Meinerz is projected to be the starting right guard, but there is a chance they will flip his side. However, it seems more likely Glasgow, Compton, or Turner would go to left guard before Meinerz. 

In the end, there is a lot of pressure on Risner to step up his play. However, just because he wasn't traded during the draft doesn't mean the Broncos won't revisit trade options during preseason or training camp. During that time, they will get a much better read on their best options, and going against Risner is the fact he is a free agent after this season. 

A team could end up desperately needing some offensive line help, which could lead Denver to move on. Risner isn't perfectly safe to make the roster, but the only way he doesn't would be through a trade. 

If he remains on the roster, Risner isn't guaranteed a starting job with multiple other options also pushing. The Broncos have plenty of options, which isn't great news for Risner.

May the best player win the job. 


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