The Colts added a few players along the defensive line last offseason. But the best lineman for the Colts in 2013 was someone added two years ago by Ryan Grigson. Cory Redding had a great year. The rest of the defensive line was a struggle.
Cory Redding had a tremendous season, recording 37 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections, and a recovered fumble. He was a leader of the defense and the 33-year old defensive end was one of the best pass rushers the Colts had this year, finishing with the third most sacks of any Colts player. He unquestionably brought a boost to the team both on the field and off of it, and he was easily the best defensive lineman this year for the Colts.
The Colts knew they needed help this year along the line, so they brought in nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois in free agency and defensive tackle Montori Hughes in the draft.
Aubrayo Franklin had a respectable season, notching 29 tackles (1 for loss) and 1 pass deflection. Montori Hughes made 6 tackles in limited playing time (and ended the season on injured reserve). Ricky Jean Francois made 19 tackles (2 for loss), notched 2.5 sacks, and batted down 2 passes. No matter what you want to say about those additions (and I'm mainly referring to Franklin and RJF here), they were brought in first and foremost to stop the run. And the Colts defense still had trouble stopping the run this season. They were completely gashed in the divisional round playoff game by the Patriots run game and weren't that good at stopping it in the regular season, either. So regardless of how they did individually, their primary role was to stop the run and they didn't do that. Redding's role on the line is more of a pass rush role and the other two spots are more of a run stop role. Redding did a respectable job at rushing the passer this year all things considered and I thought he played very well. He definitely should be back next year and his spot is the least concerning of the three defensive line positions, and it's not even close.
The rest of the defensive line, however, needs to be upgraded. Hughes played well in limited time but it wasn't enough to see if he's really capable of being the starter along the defensive line. I thought that nose tackle Josh Chapman played very well in limited time also, but again, how would he do as the full-time starter? I think he can do it, but we haven't really seen it. I also thought that Jeris Pendleton played well at defensive tackle late in the year, but he also did not see extended time. Ricardo Matthews and Fili Moala both were holdovers from the Bill Polian era and they played hard but showed limitations and are borderline to be back next year, depending on who the Colts bring in along the defensive line.
Aubrayo Franklin is a free agent this offseason. I'm not sure if the Colts will bring him back, but even if they do they need to keep looking for help elsewhere. The most important position on the defensive line in a 3-4 defensive scheme is the nose tackle, so settling for a guy like Franklin isn't smart. If they do bring him back, I'd like to see Josh Chapman get a lot more playing time.
Ricky Jean Francois is still under contract and was paid like a top-25 defensive end last year and is due to be paid like a top-15 defensive end for 2014 (keep in mind this is before free agency, where some guys will get bigger contracts). That includes 4-3 defensive ends who are paid a lot because of pass rush. RJF is not among the top-25 defensive ends in the league, that's for sure. The Colts should look to upgrade this spot, but I'm not sure they will because of Jean Francois.
The bottom line with the Colts defensive line in 2013 was that the Colts were 26th in the NFL in run defense. That starts up front, and the defensive line failed at their most basic role. If the Colts want to improve their run defense, they should start with the defensive line.
DEFENSIVE LINE GRADE: D +
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2013 season by position, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: