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The Colts don't have to take a right tackle in the first round

Here's a helpful tip to mock drafters: the Colts don't have to take a right tackle in the first round.

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No quarterback in football has been hit more than the Colts' Andrew Luck in the past four seasons.  Luck missed nine games due to injury in 2015, while Matt Hasselbeck after him was considerably beat up as well.  The Colts haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2007.  It all adds up to send a clear message: the Colts need offensive line help.

That statement starts with the right idea in mind, that the Colts need to protect their franchise quarterback and keep him healthy in order to win games and make the postseason.  It would just be an added bonus to help improve the run game by giving the backs a solid line to run behind, too.  Without a doubt, the Colts do need help up front.

Over the past few months, however, a curious development has taken place.  As more and more analysts conduct mock drafts, the overwhelming majority of them have the Colts taking an offensive lineman, almost as if the team's other needs are ignored or not even comparable.  In reality, however, there's a strong case to be made (and I would make it) that the team's pass rush is actually a bigger need than the offensive line.  The Colts could also stand to improve and shore up various other parts of their defense, too.  My point is that, in the first round of the upcoming draft, the Colts don't have to take an offensive lineman - something that may come as a shock to you considering some of the recent mock drafts.  The Colts' biggest need is at pass rush, while they could opt to take another defensive player as well.  There's no rule that says the Colts must draft an offensive lineman in the first round, yet that's how most analysts seem to be operating in regards to mock drafts.

SB Nation's Adam Stites has been keeping up with a number of mock drafts from all over, and his most recent data includes 90 different mock drafts.  For the Indianapolis Colts, the two most popular picks and four of the top five are offensive linemen, while just those four linemen alone account for 67.9% of the mock drafts surveyed.  The top two, accounting for over half of all of the mock drafts surveyed (54.5%), are offensive tackles - Taylor Decker and Jack Conklin.  Here's the data in pie chart form:

If mock drafters had their way, the Colts would be taking a tackle to play on the right side of their line in the first round.  And when looking at the Colts' roster, it's easy to conclude that they do have a need at right tackle.  Joe Reitz is viewed as a journeyman who can step in and play capably but probably isn't best-suited for the full-time starting role, while Denzelle Good was a seventh round draft pick last year and a big unknown.  The Colts are set at left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) and left guard (Jack Mewhort), but that's it.  At center, there's a need.  At right guard, there's Hugh Thornton, but there's still a need.  And at right tackle, despite Reitz and Good, there's still a need.  So from that standpoint, the Colts technically could stand to address their right tackle position, just like they could have stood to address their wide receiver position in 2015 - but that was a pick hated by most and viewed as a luxury pick.  It goes without saying, then, that there is a hierarchy of needs, and that not every need will be able to be addressed in one offseason (especially when you're a team like the Colts and have several of them).

It may be helpful to consult the opinions of the Colts' decision-makers on this matter.  Owner Jim Irsay told the Indianapolis Star earlier this year that he likes Denzelle Good at right tackle, while more recently he told reporters that his team is looking to add a center when talking about the offensive line.  General manager Ryan Grigson told 1070 the Fan's Dan Dakich earlier this year that he thinks Good has a future in the NFL and compared him favorably to the tackle prospects in this year's draft.  Head coach Chuck Pagano at the NFL Combine said that Good has a "bright future" and mentioned that the Colts' focus this offseason is on the interior of the offensive line.  The three most important decision-makers for the Colts - Jim Irsay, Ryan Grigson, and Chuck Pagano - have all spoken very highly about Denzelle Good this offseason and have made it clear that the Colts' focus this offseason will be on the interior of their line, particularly at the center position.

Again, that doesn't mean that the right tackle position isn't a need, but it does further highlight the fact that it's not one of the bigger ones.  Rather, the Colts appear to be comfortable letting Denzelle Good handle the right tackle duties in 2016 (with perhaps competition from Joe Reitz) and see what he can do, while spending the offseason adding a center and/or guard.  Then, if the Denzelle Good experiment fails, the team could still have improved the interior of their line and turn their focus toward adding a tackle next offseason.

None of this means that the Colts won't or can't take a tackle in the upcoming NFL Draft.  We've seen just how unpredictable the draft (and Ryan Grigson) can be, so it'd be silly to make any sort of definitive statements like that at this point.  But it's also important to note the reality of the situation, something that doesn't often come across in the national media or in mock drafts.

Just yesterday, an article about AFC South draft needs included this:

At February's NFL Scouting Combine, Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson pointed to the offensive line and the defense as the priorities this offseason.  Absent of notable free-agent acquisitions, Grigson will have to address right tackle and the pass rush early in the draft.

The problem with that paragraph is that the writer is picking and choosing which of Pagano's comments to pay attention to.  Yes, Chuck Pagano did mention at the NFL Combine how the offensive line is a priority.  But do you want to know his exact comments?  Here they are (emphasis mine):

"Obviously we feel great about AC (Anthony Castonzo) and where he's at.  He'd be the first one to tell you that he can clean up some things and he'll do that.  But we feel great about the blind side and him protecting the back side of Andrew (Luck).  Joe Reitz came in and did a great job at right tackle till we moved him inside and he got hurt.  Denzelle Good has got a bright future, but we want to shore up the middle there and we feel really good about Jack Mewhort, where he's at.  I think obviously his ceiling is still high and he's got a lot of room to grow but he's going to do nothing but get better.  Again, the interior of that offensive line, the center and two guard spots is the focal point."

So yes, Chuck Pagano did mention the priority of improving the offensive line, but he mentioned the interior of the line - yet the writer concluded that the Colts need to address the right tackle position early in the draft.  This sort of thinking is what has led so many to include right tackles in their Colts mock drafts, or, perhaps more honestly like Mel Kiper Jr. wrote yesterday, the tackle was simply the highest-rated lineman left on his board.

This article isn't primarily intended to criticize anyone or to suggest that the Colts absolutely won't take a right tackle in the upcoming draft.  Rather, it is intended to suggest that they don't have to take a right tackle in the first round, and in fact the comments from the team's decision-makers would seem to indicate that they won't.  The Colts have other needs besides the offensive line, so their first round pick doesn't have to be up front.  The Colts have bigger needs up front, so it doesn't have to be a right tackle.  It could wind up being one, but it doesn't have to be, unlike what many mock drafts currently seem to think.