Broncos might decide Garett Bolles' future early in 2020 NFL draft

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Decision-makers for the Denver Broncos won't say much about the upcoming draft, but when it comes to left tackle Garett Bolles' future, their actions in two weeks could speak far more loudly than that lack of words.

This year's draft has a collection of tackle prospects at the top of the board, a group of players with first-round grades who could be rookie starters wherever they land. Players such as Alabama's Jedrick Wills, Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Georgia's Andrew Thomas and USC's Austin Jackson make up the first tier at offensive tackle.

When asked last week about the prospect of adding a wide receiver or an offensive lineman with the team's first pick, No. 15 overall, coach Vic Fangio played it straight, offering: "I think we all have desires and wishes about, hopefully, that the best player available matches our need at 15. We still have enough needs on both sides of the ball that I think the best player will still be the philosophy used for the most part ... you just hope that you have a player there that is at the top of the board or near the top that matches it. We'd like to add players in a lot of different areas to make us better."

Make no mistake: Bolles, who was the Broncos' first-round pick in 2017 (20th overall), could find his job in jeopardy when the 15th pick rolls around. He has been a polarizing player, both in the locker room and among the team's faithful in the seats. He has been booed, criticized and defended, and he has been a front-burner topic of drive-time conversation for much of the past two seasons. The Broncos are not expected to engage the fifth-year option on Bolles' deal, though president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said that he will continue to "look at that."

Whether they've all been deserved or fair, Bolles has simply had too many penalties to begin his career. In 48 games, Bolles has been flagged 46 times, including penalties that were declined. His footwork, hand placement and assorted other technical items are spotty at times, and that leads to grabs and pulls that bring flags. Bolles has led the league in holding penalties in each of his three seasons and has finished second, tied for fourth and tied for second in penalties overall.

Bolles led the Broncos in penalties in each of his first three seasons, and 34 of his career flags -- that's 73.9% -- have been for holding. That doesn't include the quarterback hits and sacks he surrendered along the way.

Some defensive coaches in the league say Bolles doesn't have the lower-body strength to hold up against the pass-rushers he faces.

It all boiled over when he was flagged four times for holding during a September loss to the Chicago Bears. On a weekly radio appearance following that game, Elway said, "Well, it's got to stop -- period. There are no more excuses for it. ... And that was my question: Does he know what holding is? Does he know what he can and can't do?"

For his part, Bolles has consistently practiced hard, has consistently been in the lineup -- he has not missed a start in his three seasons -- and has consistently said he is working on it. Multiple offensive line coaches, including Mike Munchak this past season, have said they believe he wants to fix the issues in his game.

Elway referenced Bolles' durability just after the season ended.

"One thing about Garett, he was available," Elway said. "He was there every play. I don't think he missed a play this year. We talked about availability -- he was there. He got off to a slow start, but I think that he continued to get better and better and better as the year went on. We did a better job helping him, too. ... The hard thing is that Garett is under the microscope. He's under the microscope, and any time they say '72,' it brings down the whole stadium. That happens. He got himself in that position, so we'll continue working at it."

During the 2019 NFL draft, the board didn't fall in such a way that the Broncos could have considered a tackle with their first-round pick. No tackle was selected until No. 22, when the Eagles chose Andre Dillard. By then, the Broncos had already traded out of the No. 10 spot and moved down to take tight end Noah Fant at No. 20.

Although the Broncos have used a first-round pick on a tackle just five times since 1967, this year's board is vastly different. The Broncos will almost certainly be looking at the possibility of one or two of those top tackles when the 15th pick arrives.

What they do with that pick -- or even their second-rounder (46th overall) -- will say a lot about what kind of future Bolles has with the team.