The defensive line for the Colts in 2013 wasn't all bad. But it wasn't good, either.
It was clear that the Colts need upgrades along the line. Cory Redding should be firmly entrenched at his spot going into next season, but I don't think Ricky Jean Francois or Aubrayo Franklin (who will become a free agent on March 11 and whose future is uncertain with the Colts) should be guaranteed a starting spot next season. The defensive line's primary role is run defense, and they didn't do that.
Don't get all caught up in the stats - it's very hard to judge 3-4 defensive linemen that way. Look at their effectiveness and what they actually do. Still, however, RJF and Franklin were decent players but didn't help the run defense, which is their primary responsibility. If the Colts really want to start improving their defense, they should look at the defensive line. Redding is a very good player - but who else?
At nose tackle, I was actually impressed with Josh Chapman this year but he didn't play much. I think he could continue to improve and play there, but there are certainly needs elsewhere along the line.
The issue that then comes up is how much of a priority should it be for the Colts? I certainly think they have bigger needs, but I also don't want to downplay this one because I think that the defensive line wasn't very good in 2013. When it comes to the draft, I wouldn't reach to take a defensive lineman but if there is a good one available at as a good value pick, I'd absolutely take him. In free agency, they have to be very cautious not to grossly overpay for a player but they can't be too cheap that they end up with another stop gap player or temporary fix. It's a fine line that they need to walk, and it's one that I'm willing to give Ryan Grigson some leeway on in terms of which side of the line he thinks it is best to straddle on.
The main thing is adding a defensive lineman or two in an effort to improve the run defense. In a 3-4, the linemen's main responsiblity is to take up blockers to allow the linebackers to make the plays (thus the reason for the numbers not telling the whole story), and the Colts need to find players who can do that better than the ones they have now.
Heck, maybe they could even try using the "900-pound safe" that they already have on their roster more often?
Potential Defensive Line Options for teams this Offseason:
Free Agents (keep in mind some of these players will be re-signed by their current team)
- Antonio Smith, Houston Texans (DE)
- Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs (DE)
- Matt Shaughnessy, Arizona Cardinals (DE)
- Mike Neal, Green Bay Packers (DE)
- Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers (DE)
- Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens (DT)
- B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers (DT)
- Ropati Pitoita, Tennessee Titans (DT)
- Cedric Thornton, Philadelphia Eagles (DT)
- Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh Steelers (DT)
- Terence Cody, Baltimore Ravens (DT)
*positions may vary, depending on what opinions are of the player. The positions in parenthesis are those that I found most people to be suggesting for these players. I tried to stick primarily to 3-4 defensive linemen.
- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (DE)
- Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (DE)
- Dominique Easley, Florida (DE)
- Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota (DE/NT)
- DeAndre Coleman, California (NT/DE)
- Louis Nix, Notre Dame (NT)
- Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina (NT)
- DaQuan Jones, Penn State (NT)
- Daniel McCullers, Tennessee (NT)
- Beau Allen, Wisconsin (NT)