Calvin Anderson’s development a key for Broncos in 2021

Denver Broncos offensive lineman Calvin Anderson. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos offensive lineman Calvin Anderson. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Denver Broncos hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak in the 2019 offseason, they hired a guy who has a reputation for consistently bringing the best out of his players.

It’s safe to say the hiring of Munchak has paid pretty immediate dividends for the Denver Broncos.

Down the final stretch of games in the 2019 season, it seemed that former first-round pick Garett Bolles had turned a corner. In 2020, he earned a big-money contract and played like arguably the best left tackle in football.

Although they have also struggled at times, young players like Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry look like they will be long-term staples for Denver on the interior offensive line.

Not long after Munchak was hired in 2019, the Broncos signed right tackle Ja’Wuan James to what was, at the time, a record-setting deal for a right tackle in the NFL. Two years into his time in Denver and James’ future with the organization looks clouded at best.

In some ways, the absence of James over the last two years has been a blessing in disguise for the Broncos because it has forced them to look into alternate options at the tackle position, leaving no stone unturned for possible solutions.

In 2019, the Broncos signed undrafted free agent rookie Calvin Anderson off of the New York Jets’ practice squad, and stashed him on their active roster for the remainder of the season.

They let him come in and compete in 2020 during training camp, and he wound up making the roster again but was behind a number of players on the depth chart.

As the season progressed, Anderson got a chance to start his first NFL game in Las Vegas against the Raiders. It was a forgettable game for the Broncos and their fans, but an unforgettable one for Anderson.

The Broncos had Calvin Anderson start at right tackle for that game against the Raiders, and although he predictably had some struggles in his first NFL action, he showed some good things, too. He ended up getting another start at left tackle against the Carolina Panthers when Garett Bolles was forced to miss the first game of his NFL career due to illness.

Anderson’s second start for the Broncos — this one at left tackle — had much better results for both the player and the team. The Broncos took it to the Panthers in Carolina and Anderson put some highlight-reel type stuff on tape.

Again, it wasn’t a shutout, but in two starts, Anderson didn’t have a penalty and he showed that the Broncos’ belief in his upside is not unwarranted.

He recently made an appearance on the Locked On Broncos podcast with good friend Cody Roark to talk about his experiences with the team in 2020, and he has some awesome insight not only into his own hard work and preparation but how players like Garett Bolles have helped him develop.

Anderson definitely has the athletic talent to play at a high level in the NFL. Playing on the offensive line is exceptionally difficult but the Broncos have the right teacher of the craft in Mike Munchak to put faith behind guys like Anderson to come out and play well.

Every year, people look at the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades as ways for teams to make the most substantial improvements to their rosters, but not many think about the year-to-year development of in-house guys the team has been developing.

Banking on the development of a player like Anderson is not going to get the headlines over the course of the offseason, but the Broncos have to trust their pro scouting and coaching staff to put these guys in positions to succeed.

If they stick with Ja’Wuan James this season and bring Anderson back into the fold (he’s an exclusive rights free agent, so he will almost assuredly be back), could Anderson actually take James’ job from him?

It’s not impossible, and as hard as Calvin Anderson says he’s working to get himself ready, he might enter the 2021 offseason as the 6th man on the offensive line but he could leave the 2021 season as a long-term piece to build with.