While he might not be able to say that he played 100% snaps at left guard as a rookie, Dalton Risner did start all 16 games for the Denver Broncos. Selected with the No. 41 overall pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Risner stepped onto the Broncos' roster and almost immediately became a staple.
Playing next to Garett Bolles, Risner's presence seemed to have a collateral steadying effect on the beleaguered left tackle. Although it was far from perfect, 2019 was easily Bolles' best year as a pro and it's no fluke that it coincided with Risner's arrival in Denver, along with O-Line Coach Mike Munchak's.
On Thursday, the venerated advanced analytics site Pro Football Focus revealed their All-Rookie Team for 2019. Risner was selected as the left guard. Here's what PFF's Ben Linsey said.
Risner’s college career at Kansas State was exquisite. He played four years of 600 or more snaps, and his lowest overall grade came as a freshman at 87.9. That production was primarily at tackle, though, with a season of play at center in 2015. It remained to be seen how he would play when kicked inside to guard. We haven’t seen the same elite-level play that we saw from him in college, but Risner's play at guard was solid as a rookie this season. His 63.5 overall grade at left guard ranked 19th among 39 qualifiers at the position.
Unquestionably, Risner is deserving of making every All-Rookie Team. The question in my mind is, why wasn't TE Noah Fant also named to it?
PFF instead chose Oakland Raiders' rookie TE Foster Moreau, citing his blocking acumen and production in the red zone as the mitigating factors (he had five receiving touchdowns). Meanwhile, Fant posted 40 receptions for 562 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 14.1 yards per catch. Fant was targeted 66 times by three different quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Moreau hauled in 21 receptions on 25 targets for 174 yards (8.1 yards per catch) and the aforementioned five touchdowns. The catch-to-target ratio is high and he did post those five scores, but Moreau wasn't even the best tight end on his own team.
Fant was significantly more prolific, breaking every Broncos' franchise record for a rookie tight end, with the exception of the touchdown mark, which is still held by Tony Scheffler with four. And let's not forget, the Broncos have boasted some great tight ends over the years, including Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe and two-time Pro Bowler Julius Thomas, which puts Fant's production in context.
I guess Fant's omission from PFF's All-Rookie Team is simply a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. But it doesn't help PFF's growing reputation for publishing arbitrary player grades.
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Stacking Draft Classes
Once again, the Broncos appear to have knocked it out of the park with another great draft class. Fant and Risner were the team's first two draft picks, respectively, followed by QB Drew Lock.
Although he didn't play until late in the season, Lock went 4-1 as a starter down the stretch, prompting GM John Elway to anoint him as the starter heading into 2020. It feels like the Broncos have solved the biggest problem that has plagued the team since Peyton Manning retired.
Beyond Lock, we also have to talk about DL Dre'Mont Jones, who was drafted by the Broncos in the third round. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 16 and finished his rookie campaign with 14 tackles (eight solo), 3.5 sacks, an interception and two tipped passes.
The future is bright for this class. Stacked on top of the 2018 draft class, the Broncos now have that crucial young core to build around.
Elway needs one more strong draft class, to go along with a few strategic acquisitions and extensions in free agency, to ostensibly get the Broncos over the hump and back to competing for the AFC West in 2020.