DENVER -- In 2021, assuming the season plays in some fashion, Dalton Risner wants better. He made the All-Rookie team. He aims to turn that into an afterthought.
"I am not proud of that honor. People bring it up, and I try not to be rude. That's not what I am after. I want to just dominate. I thought I had a good year, but (bleep) Troy, I wasn't All-Pro. I wasn't in the Pro Bowl. That's not cool with me," Risner said in an exclusive interview with Denver7. "By no means did I dominate every single game. That's what I want to do -- put guys in the ground. I want to be an All-Pro for the Broncos. I don't want to play for anyone else. I want to be an All-Pro 10-plus years here. Some might say that's too lofty, but that's what I am after. I am not going to be satisfied until I am there."
Risner enjoyed popularity and production last season. A product of Wiggins, Colo., a forever source of pride, the former Kansas State star started 16 games, battled through ankle pain and helped steady the offensive line. He has evolved into a core young player along with Pro Bowlers Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay, outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, tight end Noah Fant and quarterback Drew Lock.
Risner and Lock became fast friends last spring, rooming together, while attempting to microwave their development. When Lock received his chance in the season's final month, he caffeinated the offense and provided hope for the future.
"Drew is a young guy who gets a chance to play in the NFL for five games, and wins four of the five," Risner said. "He does it with swagger, and he gets a team behind him, and I think that’s so huge."
For Lock, this offseason presents a new, unimaginable challenge. The team will have virtual workouts and playbook sessions. But it's not the real thing. Can Lock continue his growth in this environment? Risner has no doubt.
"I think he has taken his offseason seriously. I know that Drew works hard, and I know he is passionate about his craft," Risner said. "I think he’s the right guy to lead this organization and I am willing to stand by that whether I am right or wrong. I am sold that I am going to be right by that."
For Risner to realize his goals, it's about consistency. Former Broncos Pro Bowl guard Mark Schlereth, never afraid to be critical of linemen, believes in Risner's future.
"The only way you improve as a player in the NFL is to get beat. Ultimately, it doesn't happen to you in practice. It happens in games. And Dalton Risner is one of those kids who learned from his mistakes," Schlereth said. "He plays with great aggressiveness. And sometimes that aggressiveness can get you into trouble. You have to pick your spots. But I loved his game. I loved what he did as a rookie. He has all the potential in the world to be a multiple-time Pro Bowler and become an all-decade performer at guard for the Broncos. I think he has a lot of upside."
For the the first time in years, the same can be said about the Broncos. Their optimism is no longer greeted by rolled eyes. They went 7-5 over their last 12 games, posted a winning record at home, and made significant moves this offseason. They added eight Pro Bowl berths with defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, cornerback A.J. Bouye and running back Melvin Gordon and bolstered the line with the signing of new right guard Graham Glasgow.
"I think we have made some major moves this offseason to be a more a successful team, and we haven't even had the draft yet. I told you all year, Troy, you saw me through the ups and downs. We want to be great. We know we can be great. You saw the way we finished the year. That wasn’t a surprise for us. We knew we were good. We just didn't put it together early (in the season)," Risner said. "We can get the job done with the guys we added joining the guys we already had. I am most excited about Glasgow. He can help us along the offensive line. Every guy we got is going to help us. It's up to us to get back into the playoffs and put a Super Bowl run together. That's what we are all after."
Listening to Risner talk now, it remains hard to believe he wasn't on the team a year ago. The butterflies of anxiety turned into pterodactyls on the second day of the draft. Risner, 24, was disappointed he wasn't taken in the first round. He believed he would go to the Broncos in the second after saying publicly that general manager John Elway would regret not taking him. Then, the Broncos were on the clock. And crickets.
"It got to the pick, and I wasn't on the phone with the Broncos. I said to my agents, 'Shouldn't I already be on with them?' And they said, 'Probably.' So I walked out of the room, and put my hands on my head. I was frustrated as heck, thinking, thinking, 'Wow, the Broncos passed on me with their second-round pick,'" Risner recalled. "Two seconds later, my agents came running out with a 303 phone call from John Elway. God has a plan. It's crazy how it all worked out."
Risner landed with a team he cheered for growing up. Making it to the NFL was his dream even as so many insisted it would never happen. As Risner continues working out, lives have been upended in unimaginable ways. He remains grateful for time with his family, and prays for the safety of others as the coronavirus keeps the sports world on pause.
"Stay close to your loved ones, and let them know you love them," Risner said. "If this virus has taught us anything, it's that we should enjoy the little things."