Denver Broncos: Continuity key for Elijah Wilkinson in 2020

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio says continuity will help Elijah Wilkinson in 2020.

One of the most underrated player development factors in the NFL? Continuity.

Continuity is not given enough credit in a league that is known for having a ton of change every single year with not only head coaching changes, but also changes in coordinators and position coaches.

For the first time in their short NFL careers, young Denver Broncos offensive tackles Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson will have the same offensive line coach two years in a row, and that particular offensive line coach — Mike Munchak — is known as one of the best if not the best in the entire league.

Continuity doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to come together beautifully in year two with Bolles and Wilkinson being coached by Munchak, but it’s going to be a huge help. Not only that, but Wilkinson, in particular, is entering his second season as a full-time right tackle.

With the news that Ja’Wuan James will not be playing in 2020, Wilkinson will no longer be competing with Garett Bolles to be the team’s left tackle this season. He’s going to be the right tackle just like he was in 2019, only this time he won’t be wondering on a week-to-week basis if he’s going to be playing.

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio talked about Wilkinson having some continuity and how critical that can be for him in 2020.

“I thought Eli made a lot of progress last year throughout the season. He ended the last game and a half where he hurt his ankle. As it relates to Eli, it’s a good thing for him personally because now he gets to go back to the position that he spent 800-900 snaps at last year and all the practice that goes with that. From his perspective, it’s a good thing. Any time you lose a player that you think is a good player, your depth is going to be challenged. There’s no two ways about that.”

  • Vic Fangio (quotes via Broncos PR)

There’s no question that the Broncos took a huge hit when James decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. The Broncos paid big money for him, but they also invested in Wilkinson, who has started for the team at both right guard and right tackle in the past couple of seasons.

As a former undrafted free agent, there is no doubt that Wilkinson had a lot of growing to do as a player, but after recently being activated from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list following offseason surgery, Wilkinson should be ready to seize his first full-time starting role to open a training camp in his fourth NFL season.

Having started his NFL career as an unheralded undrafted free agent, ascending in just over a year into a starting role as a guard to replace another high-priced free agent in Ron Leary, then sliding into the right tackle position in 2019, it’s impressive how far Wilkinson has come and the fact that the Broncos have kept him around with three different offensive line coaches.

It may not seem likely, but Wilkinson’s presence at right tackle for a second consecutive season could actually end up being a good thing for the Broncos. Players develop. They get better. It is possible that both Wilkinson and Garett Bolles get better, even.

Does that seem likely based on what we’ve seen from both of them so far? Maybe not, but even if the Broncos are able to sign someone in free agency to compete at tackle, Wilkinson may be the preferable alternative with his experience around Mike Munchak and the time he has spent learning Pat Shurmur’s offense all offseason.

The Broncos have not had a starting right tackle end the previous season with the team and open as the starting right tackle the following year since former second-round pick Orlando Franklin ended the 2012 season as the starter at right tackle and opened as the starting right tackle in 2013.

Wilkinson may not be the biggest name the Broncos could have at the right tackle position or the highest paid, but he’s proven himself to be a versatile option through three NFL seasons and he’s shown flashes of potential as a starting right tackle option.

What happens if he balls out in 2020? How do the Broncos deal with having James coming back with a $13 million cap hit and $10 million in salary guarantees versus a player like Wilkinson, who may potentially prove himself to be a long-term option in a contract year?

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Those are bridges the Broncos will cross when the time comes, but it’s interesting to think about. Hopefully, Wilkinson has a great 2020 season paving the way for the Broncos’ running back duo and protecting Drew Lock and we get the opportunity to find out.