The Indianapolis Colts had an impressive draft. They added a sure-fire starter to their offensive line, two other great value linemen, a guy who will compete to be their backup center, a talented safety who could be a potential starter down the road, a nice pass-rushing defensive lineman, a physical inside linebacker, and, in the seventh round, an edge rusher.
While the team had a good draft, it's that edge rusher position that still prompts concern. Entering the offseason, the pass rush was arguably the biggest concern. Now, after free agency and the draft, the pass rush is easily the biggest concern. It was an area that the Colts didn't address in the draft (besides, of course, the seventh round selection of Trevor Bates), but it was simply because they didn't want to force the pick. They knew it was a need but added players they liked better.
"I think it's something where we knew kind of coming into this draft we weren't going to frustrate ourselves by pretending that we were going to be able to solve every need for the rest of this decade just with this draft," owner Jim Irsay said on Saturday afternoon. "We feel that with the changes that we've made on the coaching staff that we're a much better football team offensive line wise, offensively and defensively. Chuck and the new defensive coordinator (Ted Monachino) I know are going to be trying to come up with packages to generate pressure. Obviously Robert Mathis is feeling really great after playing on the Achilles and it holding up so well. Obviously he's battling age there, but he's in great shape. There's no question we're going with some veterans on the edge there. We think we can generate some pass rush. We know that's a need, but we also know that we weren't going to be able to solve every need."
That's a fair statement by Irsay to make: the Colts weren't going to be able to adequately address every need, and so instead they let their board dictate the draft and came away with a nice haul, particularly on the offensive line. I suppose they deserve credit for not forcing a pick simply because there was a great need at pass rush - but at the same time, that doesn't erase the need the Colts have in trying to generate pressure. The Colts were aware of the need, but the value wasn't there when they picked.
"There were some players that we looked at, but we felt as a group that those players came off early," general manager Ryan Grigson said. "We weren't just going to take a guy to take a guy if we didn't feel like they could come in and actually contribute in some way. If they weren't going to be able to rush the passer or set an edge or both or even contribute on special teams, then we really had no need for them. There are no utopias. You can't address every single need in the draft. We got more picks to try to help address more, but again, you saw that we took more than some people would think we needed o-line. I think the line on both sides of the ball, you can never have enough of those guys, so we tried to stock the shelves and we're going to create some competition."
To be fair, they did add a pass-rushing defensive lineman in Hassan Ridgeway in the fourth round, and the Colts will be counting on more pressure up the middle from their defensive line. "No doubt about it," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "Hassan is a big, strong guy that can give you push inside. We've got guys currently like I talked about, on the roster, that can do that and have done that. They may not have the same sack totals as some of the edge rushers, but they'll effect the quarterback and they'll push the pocket inside and they'll create sacks for those other guys on the outside."
The bottom line? The Colts are ok with the fact that they didn't add much pass rush help because they let their board dictate the draft and didn't force themselves into addressing every single need. Now, however, they're facing the danger of having very little to work with, but Pagano thinks they'll be able to get it done with what they have.
"Obviously we still have some guys on the roster currently that have a lot of sack production," he said. "We still feel good about those guys. With Ted (Monachino) coming in, he'll do a great job. Our defensive staff will do a great job. We'll find ways to generate pressure. It's got to be a combination. The back end gets an interception because of pressure on the quarterback. The defensive line gets sacks because of tight coverage. It all goes hand in hand and works together. We'll find ways to generate pass rush. I know the emphasis was on the offensive line and pass rush and so forth. Like Ryan said, there were guys there. Everybody's coveting the same guys. Then they go off the board and then you're not going to go reach to reach to try to manufacture something that isn't there. I feel great about the guys that we have. I feel great about the guys that we have currently on our roster on our defensive side of the football. I feel great about our staff and our ability to put together schemes to be able to get after the quarterback. We've got to play great defense on first and second down and get people in third-down-and-long situations to be able to do that and get after the quarterback. We'll be fine."
I don't have a problem with the Colts draft, and I think they actually did a good job overall. But the reality is that they still have a major glaring hole on their roster, and time will tell whether the Colts are actually equipped to handle the lack of pass rush options. Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Erik Walden are all at least 30 years old and all entering the final year of their contract. The Colts had a nice draft class, but unfortunately there's still not a ton of reason for optimism surrounding their pass rush.