There is no position on the Colts’ roster that has such a wide discrepancy in the views of the national media and the local media and fans than the offensive line.
So far in the draft process, we’ve seen that quite clearly. Local media and fans see the offensive line as a secondary need, not to be placed above other more pressing needs such as pass rusher, cornerback, inside linebacker, and running back. National media seem to think that the Colts desperately need offensive line help.
Is there some middle ground? Perhaps - but first, let’s take a look at the Colts’ offensive line.
At left tackle they have Anthony Castonzo, who has held that starting spot since he was drafted in the first round in 2011. Over the last two seasons there has been some cause for concern with Castonzo as he has been more inconsistent than you would like, especially for your highest-paid lineman. So let’s be clear that there is some legitimate room to discuss the left tackle position, but that always seems to end at this question: “well who would you replace him with?” And right there is the crux of the issue: Castonzo is an average to above-average left tackle in the NFL, so while he has his struggles at times, he’s penciled in for the left tackle position for the foreseeable future.
At left guard is Jack Mewhort, who is coming back from injury but who has been a very good guard when healthy. The only question about the left guard position is Mewhort’s long-term future, as he’s entering a contract year. He’s a really good player when he’s healthy, though, so the Colts are set at left guard for 2017 at least.
Then at center is the most solidified spot of them all, as Ryan Kelly was their first round pick last year and played well, so not only will he be in the running for their best offensive lineman but he’s also got a few more years on his rookie contract. Kelly should be a fixture up front for years to come in Indianapolis.
So far, we’ve looked at the left side of the line, and it looks pretty solid. Anthony Castonzo is a solid left tackle, Jack Mewhort is a good left guard, and Ryan Kelly is a good center. But the right side of the line is often what prompts questions.
Right now, it would appear that Joe Haeg is the frontrunner to start at right guard and that Le’Raven Clark is the frontrunner at right tackle. That’s the way that the Colts finished last season too. But the Colts also added Brian Schwenke to come in and compete, while we can’t forget about Denzelle Good either. So the Colts actually do have several players who will be competing for spots there, and they’ve got some developmental guys that they’ll be working on with Joe Philbin leading the charge. The best example of that might simply be Clark last season: he was drafted as a project player, looked bad in the preseason, was inactive for a handful of games early on, and wound up starting the final three games at right tackle and holding his own. That development over his first year gives reason for optimism about more development moving forward.
I think that’s where a lot of the discrepancy in opinions come in, because local people realize that the Colts have pieces to work with but that aren’t be top-level starters. So national media, simply seeing Andrew Luck still under pressure a ton last year and simply glancing at the roster, assume it’s a huge need. So entering the draft, could the offensive line be considered a need? Yeah, of course - the Colts could absolutely use a top-tier starter, while Chris Ballard also would like to add more competition up front. But is the offensive line among the team’s bigger needs? No, certainly not - the Colts have some young guys they’re working with that give reason for optimism.
So entering the draft, I’d expect the Colts to come away with an offensive lineman, but I wouldn’t neccessarily expect it to be with an early pick. Rather, it could just be a move to add another guy to come in and compete with that group that was already mentioned.