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Who will be the Broncos’ starting center this season?

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By: Ross Allen

Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

With Lloyd Cushenberry III being out of the picture, who should Denver turn to?

No one should be surprised that Lloyd Cushenberry III is no longer with the Denver Broncos. Even with the restructured contracts, there was little chance that Denver would be able to afford re-signing him to a long-term deal. He was projected to be the top-paid center on the market this year, and those projections were correct. The Titans signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract that makes him the 2nd highest paid center annually. And he now gets to work with offensive line guru Bill Callahan.

This now leaves the Broncos with a few options. They can go with either Alex Forsyth or Luke Wattenberg, sign a free agent, or look towards the draft. None of these choices are optimal, but which could be the best one?

Alex Forsyth or Luke Wattenberg

GM George Paton had some words to say back at the NFL Combine about the centers the Broncos had on the roster:

We feel really good about [Luke] Wattenberg. We feel really good about [Alex] Forsyth. We feel like there’s depth… We’d love to sign [Lloyd Cushenberry], but we do feel like that’s a position we do have the depth and one of those guys could be a starter eventually.

So, according to Paton, the Broncos feel great about the two guys they have left on the roster and think they have a solution to their hole at the center position. And I don’t think this is a bad thing.

I’d argue that Wattenberg has the edge over Forsyth when it comes to the competition of who will start next season and that mostly comes down to how much more experience he has. Wattenberg appeared in all but one game last year for a total of 39 snaps and served primarily as an extra blocker in the run game. He was more than serviceable as well.

I’d also argue that Alex Forsyth likely has a higher upside than Wattenberg. He didn’t see any regular season last year during his rookie stint but did play in all three preseason games, in which he showed good potential as a future starting center. His college career featured consecutive second-team All-Pac 12 titles in 2020 and 2021, and he would be named to the first-team All-Pac 12 in 2022, he also became the first Oregon offensive lineman to be named a FWAA All-American since 2019. He has a legit collegiate pedigree, and he also played with Bo Nix, for what that’s worth.

Free Agency

With it being more than a week removed from the beginning of free agency, the already slim center market is just about dried up. I wouldn’t say there is much of any starting talent left in the remaining pool, and now it’s mostly just depth players. And Denver doesn’t really need that.

There are two names I would consider though, and that would be Connor Williams or possibly Connor McGovern.

Williams was the center for the Dolphins and after Miami GM Chris Grier refused to give Williams a long-term deal, Williams went out and put together the best season of his career. The problem is that unfortunately, he went down with a “pretty significant” knee injury in the first quarter of their December game against the Titans.

The Dolphins have moved on from him and Williams won’t even look to sign with a team as he is focused primarily on rehab and attempting to avoid a career-ending injury.

And with Connor McGovern, all I have to say is that he was pretty good with Denver and has experience with some of the team. He doesn’t have any experience with the current coaching staff though. He could be a cost-effective option if needed.

The Draft

We will soon be diving into all of the draft prospects as a site, but there are a few players I want to mention right now.

The 2024 Draft has a good amount of talent at the center position, and the Broncos might be able to grab a quality player later in the draft. Due to their need at other positions, I would wager to not expect them to take an offensive lineman any higher than in the 5th round (unless it’s a tackle). So if they do wait that long, that would put them out of the running for the Jackson-Powers Johnson, Zach Frazier, or Sedrick Van Pran-type players.

But they might be able to make a move for someone like Michigan center Drake Nugent.

After a good collegiate career, Nugent transferred to Michigan as a fifth-year senior and saw action in 13 games, and played a total of 729 snaps. He would only give up seven hurries, one QB hit, and zero sacks last season during their championship run. The numbers match the film he put up as well. And while he wasn’t perfect, I like how he looked during last season. And with Denver likely going after J.J. McCarthy, it could be a good fit.

My Prediction

I think the most likely outcome from this is that the Broncos roll into camp this summer with a competition at center between Forsyth and Wattenberg. They’re mostly done in free agency and there are numerous positions that should be filled with the draft rather than the center position.

I am not completely safe with putting this out there, but my guess is that the Week 1 starter for the Broncos will be Alex Forsyth. I guess we’ll see.

Originally posted on Mile High Report