Garett Bolles, Broncos' Number-One Draft Pick: Biggest Risk Since Tim Tebow?

Garett Bolles and his young son celebrate at the NFL draft as Commissioner Roger Goodell looks on.
Garett Bolles and his young son celebrate at the NFL draft as Commissioner Roger Goodell looks on. ESPN via YouTube
The Denver Broncos' selection of Utah tackle Garett Bolles as the twentieth pick in last night's NFL draft is the squad's riskiest first-round choice since Tim Tebow in 2010. Like Tebow, Bolles is getting great reviews as a person. But the notices are much more scattered when it comes to his skills as a player, especially one who'll be able to contribute right away.

The latter reaction is hardly a surprise. There's no doubt the Broncos have a desperate need on the offensive line, which looked like an inadequately constructed earthen dam in an earthquake zone during 2016-2017. But for weeks,104.3 The Fan's Cecil Lammey, among others, has described the current OL draft class as ultra-weak. Neither has Lammey addressed many valentines to Bolles, who's widely seen as a project: a talented player, but someone who needs a lot of work to make it in the pros and shouldn't be counted on to contribute right away.

And then there was the Christian McCaffrey factor. The running-back son of Broncos great Ed McCaffrey, who recently left his gig broadcasting the team's games after contract negotiations collapsed, as well as a onetime standout for Valor Christian High School, Christian was touted early on as the cure for what's been ailing Denver's big-play-challenged offense. But thanks to his performance at the NFL Combine, he went from being a marginal first-rounder to someone likely to go in the top ten, long before the Broncos would have a chance to bring him aboard.

Unless a big move was made, that is. Just after noon yesterday, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole tweeted, "Among teams #Broncos have talked to about trading up are #Titans at No. 5. Might be too rich to go that high, but possible." Had such a swap happened, Christian would still have been on the board at five. Instead, Denver resisted temptation and stayed put — and Christian was invited to join the Carolina Panthers by way of the number-eight pick.

Lots of other promising players were still available when it came time for the Broncos to choose at twenty, including David Njoku, a standout tight end from Miami, and Reuben Foster, an Alabama linebacker that plenty of prognosticators project for stardom.

click to enlarge Garett Bolles at the NFL Combine. - ALL ACCESS FOOTBALL VIA YOUTUBE
Garett Bolles at the NFL Combine.
All Access Football via YouTube
Instead, Denver opted for predictability and tapped Bolles, who immediately charmed viewers by bringing his baby son with him to bask in the spotlight. Meanwhile, ESPN host Trey Wingo rhapsodized about Bolles's story: He was a troubled kid who was kicked out of five schools and his own home before getting his life together, albeit later than some scouts would like; he's already 25 years old.

On Twitter, as noted by Mile High Sports, responses were decidedly mixed. Some credible sources praised the pick, including onetime Broncos lineman turned ESPN mainstay Mark Schlereth. But Altitude 950 co-host Will Petersen tweeted, "This is a bigger disaster than the ball going over Peyton's head. A bigger disaster than going over Rahim's head. Worst night in a decade."

Less harsh, but notably unenthusiastic, was another ex-Bronco, 104.3 The Fan's Brandon Stokley. His Twitter assessment: "I don't want to rush to judgement hopefully it turns out to be a great pick but right now I'm frustrated." And the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla captured the contradictory feelings of many fans with this message: "God bless Garrett Bolles. All the best to him. My reaction: Ughhhh."

Bolles seems eager to take on the challenge of winning over Kiszla and other doubters. But as a first-rounder, there'll be tremendous pressure on the Broncos to put him in the startling lineup immediately, and if he struggles to protect whichever quarterback is given the keys to the offense — either Northwestern-bred underdog Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch, last year's number-one pick (who has looked pretty Tebow-like himself in his appearances to date) — he could fail to realize his potential for years to come, and perhaps forever.

Fortunately, the Broncos have a large number of additional picks still available as the draft rolls into its second and third days. In the meantime, we're hoping that we won't have to add Bolles to an updated version of a post we published at this time last year: "Denver Broncos' Ten Worst First-Round Draft Picks."

And yes, Tim Tebow is on it.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts