Last week, Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels announced that rookie tackle Zane Beadles had beaten out injury-prone Ryan Harris for the right tackle slot. This wasn’t a total shock, when considering both Harris’ lingering health problems and Beadles’ high draft selection. Denver had taken Beadles in the 2nd round of the 2010 Draft, 45th overall. CBSSports.com had the following to say about the big rookie out of Utah:
Regarded as one of the elite offensive tackles in college football, most professional talent evaluators view Beadles as the ideal guard at the next level. The four-year starter does have past experience at that position, moving from guard to tackle during his sophomore season. The consensus feels that he is the school’s best offensive lineman since the Jordan Gross era (1999-2002).
Guard? Sure, if he’s asked to. That’s how he started in his redshirt freshman year, before switching to left tackle the following year (he never moved again). But one of the ‘elite tackles in college football’ also happens to be the cure for a dilemma that Denver finds itself in. Ryan Harris has had a back surgery, turf toe and a dislocated toe (same toe, different injury) since coming to Denver as the 70th pick overall, in the third round of the 2007 Draft. Harris is still dealing with the problems of the toe injury from last season and has added some ankle issues. It’s sad in many ways - Harris was one of the best right tackles in the NFL in 2008 and was holding up his end - which was necessary with the problems in the middle - when he was hurt again, and then a third time. No matter how good the player is, that doesn’t matter a thing if he doesn’t make it onto the field. If Zane Beadles is going to take over RT, who is he? Where does he come from, and why has Denver chosen him over a player who was All-Pro in 2008?
Born Zane Dae Beadles on 11/19/86 in Casper, Wyoming, to his mother Jamie Legerski, who played basketball for the University of Wyoming and his father Brad Beadles, who played baseball at Hutchinson Junior College. Also in his family are stepfather Joe Legerski, who is the women’s basketball coach at Wyoming and a former Utah assistant, as well as stepmother, Jill, who started at point guard for Concordia Lutheran, which qualified for the NAIA Final Four in 1993-94. Sports were as normal as breathing around the Beadles home. Zane spent his high school years at Hillcrest High in Sandy, Utah, where he earned first-team All-State and All-Region honors as a two-way lineman. The team captain and three-year starter did not miss a game during his high school career. He was the recipient of his team’s “Top Lineman” Award as a senior after recording 93 tackles, six sacks and an interception for the defense and not allowing a sack as an offensive tackle. He was also known as a seriously tough young man.
This is an area in which Beadles has some credentials that are hard to top. Not only did he never miss a high school game, but he played 50 of 51 games in college. This included playing some with a concussion - which won’t happen again, due to the new rules on this - as well as playing with a knee sprain and a leg laceration, among other smaller, diverse injuries. Offensive linemen are supposed to be tough, and Beadles is at the head of that class. The Broncos need a guy who isn’t likely to become injured. That’s more of a genetic issue than one of toughness - Ryan Harris is a very tough man, and when he’s healthy enough to play there are few who are better at that position. There was an outcry even among pundits when Harris didn’t make the Pro Bowl, and it was only partly rectified when he was elected to the All-Pro squad, something he fully deserved. If he could stay healthy, Denver wouldn’t have an issue here. The problem is, it doesn’t currently seem like he can, and when much of the needed quality of your OL is in their experience and communication together, that becomes a constant issue. Denver needs to solve it for the long term if possible - one option is putting Beadles, all 6’5, 310 of him into the RT slot. That’s the direction the team has chosen to go, so far.
Speaking of the head of the class, Beadles was also a member of the National Honor Society in high school and graduated 37th out of 542 students with a 3.92 GPA. He graduated from Utah a year ago with a degree in mechanical engineering, not exactly your typical jock major. During his sophomore year, Beadles earned second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. At various times, he was on the Dean’s List and made the Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll 3 times during his career at Utah. The fact is, he accumulated so many team and personal honors that I’d suggest that anyone with an interest in him look at Zane’s Utah profile - and read through the entire list. It’s long, it’s worth reading, and it gives the impression that whatever else they work on, Josh McDaniels will not be unhappy with the intellect - or the toughness - of this player. He’s been a team captain on offense, but also a captain of the All-MWC second team baseball squad. He lettered in three sports.
With a basic understanding of Zane’s academic background and his innate toughness, there are two more things that you’ll probably find most interesting on this young man:
- Twice named Utah’s Most Valuable Offensive Lineman, and earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors in two seasons.
- In his final two seasons with the Utes, he allowed just 3.5 sacks and three quarterback pressures on 819 pass plays.
That’s to go with these: in 2008 alone, Beadles managed 109 knockdowns/key blocks while adding 13 touchdown blocks. he earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors and was named Utah’s Top Offensive Lineman that year, and also picked up first-team academic all-conference accolades. During that season, he was penalized just twice and allowed only two sacks in 414 pass plays. He added even more in 2009, earning first-team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association and College Football News. He was also named second-team All-America by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and Sports Illustrated. He received first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors for the second consecutive season by adding to his 2008 numbers with 89 knockdowns/key blocks to go along with 15 touchdown blocks, and was voted a finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy (athletics, academics and community) and was a Lowe’s Senior CLASS second-team All-American.
It wasn’t just that he only allowed 1.5 sacks as a senior. He only allowed just three quarterback pressures in 405 pass plays while finishing with the highest grade on the Utes’ offensive line (88 percent). Beadles won 675 of his 770 total plays, and he graded out at 90 percent or better in seven games. I’ve written a lot of Tales and Broncographies, but I have to admit - I can’t think of a single player who brought home so many accolades and awards that were football-, academic- and service-oriented by anyone that has come up for the series unless it was Ryan Clady. He may not be at the level of Clady - very few are - but he’s a heck of a player. This is a man with a lot of talent, intellect, and physical and mental toughness. Just finding time to accomplish that many things in the course of college is remarkable. The fact that the Broncos really need him at right tackle is unquestionable. It’s a synergistic perfection, and could not come at a better time.
Guard or Tackle?
A lot of folks in the industries of pro football and of writing about it had Beadles pegged as a guard at the NFL level. They cite his supposed difficulty in moving laterally, and his lack of experience at right tackle. FFToolbox.com, for instance, shows the importance of differing things in fantasy football, with this blurb on his supposed faults:
While he had sufficient strength to drive blockers on the side, he will have trouble using his strength against NFL linemen. Shows inconsistent technique. Does not show the explosiveness a player with his speed should have. Tends to play too upright. Lacks true staying power. Is not a top flight athlete. Despite speed, he is not agile and doesn’t move well laterally.
A better college player than pro prospect, Beadles projects as a possible NFL backup at best. He does not possess enough physical skills to merit anything more than a Day Two flier.
CBSsports.com had this to offer: “Beadles lined up at tackle at Utah but he’s going to have to move inside to guard to succeed at the NFL level. We saw at the Senior Bowl that he clearly doesn’t have the athletic ability to hold up outside, but he has the mean streak, power and enough agility to become an excellent starting guard.”
Considering that Denver took him with the 45th overall pick in April, there seems to be some division in the thinking here. I tend to go with people who get paid to be right about players - Beadles has made some rookie errors, without question, but he’s already played better than FFToolbox.com would have you believe.
This is a view from the other side, via ESPN and Scouts Inc. (subscription required):
HEIGHT 6’4⅜” WEIGHT 310 lbs ARM LENGTH 33.7” HAND SIZE 9.8”
Awareness - 2 - Good football intelligence. Knows opponents tendencies. Takes good angles and shows excellent awareness in blitz pickup. Strong grasp of protection schemes shows up on film and does a nice job of staying at home when defensive line stunts.
Toughness - 2 -Not the most intimidating lineman in this class but certainly has some feistiness to his game. He’s physical and aggressive. Also competes through the whistle.
Pass Protection - 3 - Shows adequate quickness in his set. Very good awareness in pass pro. Can mirror and slide in smaller spaces. Generally does a very good job with hand placement and works hard to sustain once locked on. However, he does have physical limitations in pass pro, which is the primary reason we believe he needs to play inside to be successful in the NFL. He has shorter arms and lacks ideal athleticism. Will struggle to get set versus upper-echelon speed rushers. Also plays a bit high at times and will get walked back into the QB by powerful bull rushers on those occasions.
Run Blocking - 2 - Takes good angles and consistently gets into position. Has a big frame, shows adequate upper body power and generally is able to get some push. He’s tough and works hard to sustain once locked on. However, he is not an overpowering run blocker at the point of attack. Also, while he has adequate quickness and takes good angles, he is limited athletically so the more space he’s in the less effective he becomes as a run blocker.
Most of this analysis is not overwhelmingly positive. There is a complaint about arm length - Since the research I read considered the optimum arm length of a tackle to be 35 inches, he’s 1.3 inches short of ideal in that department. That’s not that big of a deal to me. A wide chest could make up that difference, and his hands are sufficiently large and very heavy in his initial punch. He’s got great size. There are some concerns about his athleticism and lateral movement, the last one being the most important. He mirrors well, however, which doesn’t match with the idea of the lack of lateral movement. One also has to question how he gave up only 1.5 sacks over the course of 405 pass plays as a senior at Utah, a school that has since been discussed for the BCS (Yes, I know that it won’t make it, but it’s still a good school with decent competition, which is the point) if he has trouble with lateral movement or speed rushers - bullrushers, for that matter. 1.5 sacks in 405 pass plays is 405 pass plays and 1.5 sacks - I’m just not able to worry much. Scouts Inc. grants him top scores as a leader, in his production, and high grades in run blocking, toughness and football comprehension.
What are his weaknesses? Every player - well, nearly every player - has them. In Beadles’ case, he can play too high, get sloppy with his technique, can apparently have trouble moving laterally (he did at times in the Jets game, but no more than many rookie RTs) and seems to need time in the weight room, a problem that Denver will fix quickly in this upcoming offseason when Beadles gets up close and personally tutored by Rich Tuten and his assistants. Eddie Royal’s guns this year tend to remind me of how a year or two in Tuten’s care can solve a host of such problems. Frankly, given Beadles’ run blocking, which is excellent, it seems to be the ability to deal with the speed rushers on the edge that is the biggest problem, followed by getting his pad level up too much and being bullrushed and walked back into the QB. The common statement was that the more space he has to deal with, the more his weaknesses manifest, hence the theory that he should be at guard. There are two problems with this theory. Since the LG position (which I initially thought he would fill) is still up for grabs, I wondered if the common wisdom is sufficiently acceptable. The problem is, Stanley Daniels is clearly a guard, if he is a starter at anything. Russ Hochstein is a pretty bad right tackle, and that currently leaves Beadles. I don’t see Eric Olsen taking that job away from him (I’m still not sure that he’ll take one away from anyone, but he’s a backup LG and perhaps center, and pretty much everyone else is gone. I’m not sure that Olsen will make it over the next few years, and if not, Denver needs to stop drafting players named Olsen or scout them better. One or the other. None of the above issues puts Beadles in the left guard position - Denver needs him at RT.
Harris or Beadles?
As mentioned above, one of the issues that came up in the past week was the fact that Josh McDaniels has suggested that Beadles will be taking over the right tackles duties from Ryan Harris. Considering that Harris won a slot on the All-Pro team in 2008, that’s quite a thought. However, in addition to substantial skills at both pass and run blocking, Harris has a tendency to become injured. He had back surgery the year after being drafted by the Broncos in the 3rd round. More recently - in 2009 - Harris developed turf toe, and as it healed, he dislocated the same toe - a different injury, but one more problem to deal with. After off-season surgery, Harris sprained (or ‘shredded’, if that pundit wasn’t just exaggerating) his ankle in a 2010 preseason game versus Minnesota. Beadles has been the starting RT in most of the preseason and regular season. That’s one of the biggest keys in developing an offensive line - the longer players are together, the better their communication. The better the communication, the better the blocking. I don’t care if it’s called zone blocking, drive blocking, angle and/or gap/regular blocking - time together and communication is probably the single biggest issue in doing the job well. I think that it’s a great idea, if only because it’s the only idea that fits the Broncos’ roster at this point.
By the way, I wanted to share a video of Beadles’ work here It’s not hard, from everything that we have to put together, to tell that this is a top prospect, a young man who does well at athletics, football, academics and community service. He looks like a top right tackle - and at just the right time. Here’s to Ryan Harris and his healing up, so that if and when there is a tackle on the Broncos who goes down, we’ll have a former All-Pro who’s smart, hard working, has excellent technique and doesn’t take games off. Denver still needs that level of quality at left guard, but they are getting close to an OL that Denver can count on to help ride them to the playoffs. I look forward to seeing how McX will solve the LG issue, but it’s good to be 4-out-of-5 in getting quality players along the offensive line.