ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A.Q. Shipley made a declaration this week.
“This is a bad dude,” Shipley said. “He’s become my favorite football player on the offensive line in the NFL.”
“Who is it?” Pat McAfee asked on his show.
“Quinn Meinerz,” Shipley said. “Third-round pick, and now that he’s figured out technique, he’s a dawg.”
“He’s your favorite football player, right now?”
“He just plays the game like Aidan Hutchinson does on defense, or Maxx Crosby as an offensive lineman,” Shipley said. “Just no stop, always trying to put someone on the ground.”
Then Shipley, a 12-year center in the NFL, rolled the tape from Meinerz’s performance against the Bills on Monday Night Football last week.
In the first clip, Meinerz charges to the second level, put two hands into a linebacker’s shoulder pads and dumps him into the ground easily.
“I mean, how do you just lift a dude under his armpit and just throw him five yards?” Shipley said before reminding the panel that linebacker Terrel Bernard is a “stud.”
As Shipley rolled through clips of Meinerz from Monday night, the panel of the Pat McAfee Show—one of the 10 most-downloaded sports podcasts in the United States, which is now broadcast live on ESPN—couldn’t hold in their reactions.
“He’s just getting somebody on every single play.”
“Just throwing people.”
“What is happening?”
“This guy is awesome.”
“Almost blew that guy’s head off.”
“You’ve gotta run away from that guy. I’m trying to go around 77.”
“Watch him bounce off the ground here.”
“Look at this. This is insane.”
“This is all in one game? Jeez.”
“The internet thinks offensive linemen do this on every single play,” Shipley said. “If you get one of these in a six-week span, it is incredible. This dude is doing it five or six times a game.”
“Does he kill (Jordan) Poyer after he throws him?”
“This guy is awesome.”
McAfee wrapped up the five-minute segment on Meinerz simply.
“Thank you, Quinn.”
Meinerz’s breakout performance became a major storyline among former NFL linemen in media this week, who crowned him among the top linemen in the game. Former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday praised him. So did Brian Baldinger.
“Everyone was showing plays on their show,” Meinerz told DNVR. “It’s super cool… That’s the recognition that feels really cool, when it’s other linemen that recognize the work that you’re doing and bring it to light.”
Take a look at some of his performance for yourself:
But the spotlight hasn’t quite caught up to Meinerz in Denver. You won’t find his jersey in the team store, and you’ll only find a couple in the stands.
When he celebrated his 25th birthday by taking his wife to a Colorado Avalanche game on Wednesday—“I thoroughly enjoy hockey games”—the scoreboard operator never introduced Meinerz to the fans.
But if the first half of the 2023 season is any indication, the Broncos might have found their newest star.
Mike McGlinchey first heard about Meinerz in the lead-up to the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I knew about the look—The Belly—and the pre-draft stuff that he was doing up in the wilderness in Canada,” McGlinchey told DNVR.
The “look” is a combination of arguably the largest gut in the NFL, which Meinerz doesn’t like to pull his jersey over because it’s too tight, and some strawberry blond dreadlocks that hang out the back of his helmet.
The “pre-draft stuff” is a three-minute workout video Meinerz posted of himself knocking over trees with his bare hands, curling water jugs, lifting barbells in the forest and chopping wood, which he set to some 1980s British funk rock.
Shortly after the video debuted, the NFL took note of Meinerz’s domination at the Senior Bowl against some of the best prospects in the nation, and he became one of the top storylines of the spring among draft nerds.
He was a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard who could bench press 33 reps of 225 pounds and also dunk a basketball.
But there was a concern.
“I knew that he probably going to be pretty raw,” McGlinchey said.
Meinerz played his college ball at Division III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater. Division III programs aren’t allowed to give athletic scholarships and doesn’t provide a major stage, so Meinerz’s competition may have been closer to high-school players than NFL players. He never played in a two-point stance in college, which is the default for a guard in a shotgun offense in the NFL.
Plus, thanks to the pandemic, his team didn’t play a single game in the season leading up to the draft.
The Broncos took a chance on Meinerz in the third round because of his rare combination of size, strength and athleticism, and hoped that the rest of his game would come together.
Two-and-a-half years later, it’s safe to say the experiment worked.
“He’s turned into one of the best guards in football,” McGlinchey said. “He’s a special player, man, and obviously a very, very gifted athlete; so big, so strong, can move better than most people out there.”
McGlinchey knows good offensive line play. He began his career as a top-10 pick of the San Francisco 49ers and spent five years with the organization before signing a five-year, $87 million deal with the Broncos this spring. In San Francisco, he played with left tackle Trent Williams, a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and the best lineman in the NFL right now.
McGlinchey played his college ball at Notre Dame alongside Zack Martin, Quenton Nelson and Ronnie Stanley, all of whom were top-10 picks in the draft and became All-Pros in the NFL.
“He’s a highlight-reel offensive lineman, man,” McGlinchey said of Meinerz. “You only get a couple of those every once in a while. I played with a couple of them myself in college and obviously with Trent in San Francisco. I think he’s that kind of athlete. He’s got things that other offensive linemen are very envious of.”
But there’s more.
“The best part about it, you can talk about Quinn’s talent all you want, but the reason why he’s going to be so special is because he’s going to use it to the best of his ability,” McGlinchey said. “He’s going to work so hard because it’s so important to him and that’s been a huge, huge thing for me to watch and benefit from myself.”
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus ranks Meinerz as the No. 3 guard in the NFL so far this season.
Meinerz is a through-and-through Wisconsinite.
He comes from a Wisconsin dairy family that, a few generations ago, ran Meinerz Creamery. He grew up in Hartford, a blue-collar industrial town of about 15,000 residents. Meinerz is the first NFL player from Hartford Union High School, which is known for its machine shop, where Meinerz spent much of his time in high school.
Outside of having cheese in his bloodlines, the most Wisconsin aspect of Meinerz might be his love for bowling. No state has as many bowling alleys per capita as Wisconsin.
A year ago, when DNVR asked Meinerz what he’d do with the $50 million signing bonus Russell Wilson got, Meinerz answered that he’d always wanted a two-lane bowling alley in his dream house.
“I mean, with that kind of money I’m probably going to want four lanes,” Meinerz said.
About a month ago, Meinerz received a shipment of bowling balls from Sean Rash, 41, a nine-time Team USA member, two-time PBA major title winner, and one-time PBA Bowler of the Year. Meinerz kept one ball to himself—he has about a dozen of them now, all 15-pounders—and passed the others out to teammates like safeties PJ Locke, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons. Meinerz had a spare, and his locker neighbor at the time, Frank Clark, claimed that one.
“I’ve gotten in touch with a lot of people in the bowling community, actually,” Meinerz said.
Meinerz, who came within one strike of a perfect game a little over a year ago, is returning the favor from Rash with a favor of his own: Meinerz is providing tickets to the Broncos’ Sunday Night Football matchup against the Vikings to Rash and a handful of other professional bowlers.
Meinerz will have some more support, too. His family came to Denver for the game from Wisconsin. And, like the residents of small-town Hartford, located deep in Packer territory, they’ve undergone a major change in recent years.
“Everyone is now a Broncos fan,” Meinerz said.
Meinerz underwent a change of his own this offseason, after reflecting on his 2022 season.
“I was playing a little bit light and it was hard for me to stay at that lower weight,” Meinerz said. “I was trying to maintain a weight that maybe wasn’t realistic for me.”
He’d entered the 2022 campaign, his first as a full-time starter, with a long-term goal of refining his pass protection ability. Not playing out of a two-point stance in high school or college left him behind the eight-ball. So did a lack of reps against NFL talents. He knew he could run block but pass blocking would determine whether he was an NFL starter.
But injuries stood in the way.
Meinerz pulled his hamstring early in Week 1 against the Seahawks. He felt the injury on Jerry Jeudy’s 67-yard touchdown, but thought he could play through it. When he tried to push off toward his block on the ensuing extra point, he realized something was wrong.
Meinerz didn’t return until Week 6. He started the rest of the season but played through a bunch of other injuries including the lingering effects of the hamstring, a torn plantar fascia, and some shoulder and hand issues.
He also got poked in the eye, and he still sees a black dot on the right side of his vision. It almost looks like a bug that’s flying to his right at all times. He says it doesn’t affect him during games, but it’s annoying when he’s trying to watch TV, for example.
The battles to stay healthy slowed down his development process. He could ask veterans, especially Graham Glasgow, for advice, and he could watch film to see the best linemen in the game pass protect, but each player has his own style and Meinerz had to find his on the field.
He believes he found his footing in the final month of the season and that putting on more weight would help him stay healthy in 2023.
New Broncos head coach Sean Payton was skeptical.
“I’m always hesitant, initially, on if we need to add,” Payton told reporters this week. “I’m hesitant, especially when we’re talking about receivers and running backs. I like, a lot of times, their college weight. I understand the difference between adding lean muscle. I’ve seen a lot of mistakes made where receivers, running backs, [defensive backs]—guys get too heavy. That being said, what’s the chassis or the frame on offensive lineman or defensive lineman? There’s an important window of weight before injuries tick up. I think a lot of it has to do with their height, weight, chassis and how they’re built.”
Meinerz and the Broncos staff decided there was room on his frame to safely add more weight. The Belly grew noticeably. Meinerz currently hovers around 340 pounds.
“To his credit, he works his tail off in the offseason,” Payton said. “He’s extremely powerful, and you can see that on film.”
So far this season, Meinerz has been injury-free outside of normal wear and tear, and he thinks the added weight is helping.
He has a couple of nicks, though. During the Monday Night Football matchup in Buffalo, the Broncos ran a QB sneak on third and short. The sneak was to Meinerz’s side, as it often is. Meinerz got below the defensive tackle and drove him backward, as he had all game. The Broncos converted and the defensive tackle’s frustrations boiled over.
Meinerz held onto his typical strategies at the bottom of the pile: keep your arms in tight to your chest so they don’t get stepped on, try to catch as many breaths as you can with 300-pounders stacked on top of you, and hope the pile gets pulled apart quickly.
But the defender ripped off Meinerz’s helmet by the facemask and bowled it 10 yards downfield.
“It was a dirty play by him. He was mad that I had a good block,” Meinerz said. “It is what it is.”
That wasn’t the first time a defender’s frustration boiled over, either.
“I think it’s wild that I’ve had multiple games this year that my helmet gets off and there’s no penalty or anything,” Meinerz said. “It is what it is.”
The chinstrap caught Meinerz’s lip and busted it open but, in football, that doesn’t register on the pain scale. It’s a play that will be forgotten.
What won’t be forgotten is Meinerz’s Monday Night Football performance. Pro Football Focus graded it as the best performance by any NFL lineman in Week 10.
Meinerz had at least four pancakes. Those are the plays that show up on talk shows and Twitter.
But his consistency also stood out, especially in pass protection. He didn’t allow a sack. He is yet to allow a sack this season, despite just wrapping up a four-game stretch where he faced off against Chris Jones, Kenny Clark, Chris Jones again, and then Ed Oliver.
Meinerz earned his first-ever game ball for his second effort against Jones’ Chiefs… unless you count the game ball interim head coach Jerry Rosburg gave to the entire team after their win over the Chargers last season. And his game against the Bills was even better.
With the pass protection shored up, Meinerz’s place among the Broncos’ stars is confirmed.
Pat Surtain II is one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the NFL.
Justin Simmons is one of the top two or three safeties in the NFL.
Quinn Meinerz is one of the two or three best guards in the NFL.
And if the Broncos’ bowling ball in the trenches isn’t your favorite player yet, it might be time to listen to A.Q. Shipley and reevaluate.