The Indianapolis Colts offensive line has shouldered its fair share of blame. Andrew Luck has taken far too many hits in his short NFL career and the inability of the line to keep Luck clean played a role in his body suffering multiple injuries over the last few seasons.
The question then, is just how much more does General Manager Chris Ballard need to do to get the right pieces in place? How far off is the current roster from fielding the players it needs to have a cohesive unit of solid starters who can keep the pocket clean and consistently open holes in the running game?
The answer might surprise you.
Throughout our series breaking down the current players on the Colts offensive line, we have certainly found our share of weaknesses:
- Anthony Castonzo too often allows defenders to get into his body, particularly speed rushers, making him susceptible to bull rushes.
- Joe Haeg lacks functional strength that will also result in susceptibility to bull rushers.
- Le’Raven Clark makes mental errors and can get his arms out of position to lose leverage against athletic defenders.
- Denzelle Good has difficulties with balance, lateral agility, and disengaging from his blocks too soon.
- Brian Schwenke lacks experience at guard.
- Ryan Kelly (breakdown coming) will allow defenders to get their longer arms into his shoulders and drive him back into the pack — and is also not a good blocker on the second level.
While it is important for the outlook of this unit that key players make important changes over the off-season, it is encouraging that there were some surprises already on the Colts roster.
- While Anthony Castonzo is nothing more than an average pass protector, he is tasked with facing each opponent’s most gifted pass rushers every game and it is more often hits from stunts and exotic blitzes that punish Luck the most.
- Joe Haeg is technically sound, agile, mobile, and capable of playing at four positions on the offensive line if necessary.
- Jack Mewhort had the look of a Pro Bowl caliber left guard who should continue to hold down his position.
- Le’Raven Clark looked very good in his first NFL experience and showed the athleticism as a pass and run blocker to start the season at right tackle.
- Denzelle Good was a mauler in the run game and has the anchor to completely negate both bull rushers and some of the biggest and strongest interior linemen in the NFL — our film saw him get the better of Dontari Poe and Vince Wilfork on most downs.
- Brian Schwenke was a complete surprise as a highly active, athletic, lineman who displayed enough functional strength to play the guard position, and the vision to help recognize stunts and other defensive tactics that gave the Colts fits in previous years.
- Ryan Kelly displays excellent balance in pass protection, communicates effectively, and can seal and get a push in the running game.
These players represent a large portion of what the Colts need in order to have an improved offensive line in 2017. I have zero question-marks or concerns about Mewhort or Kelly. I have some concerns about Castonzo’s effectiveness against the bull rush but not enough to immediately replace him with anyone on the Colts roster now, likely no one in the draft, and no options were readily available in free agency to upgrade his spot either.
At the other positions, much of the answers for the Colts will have to come from individual improvement from young players and from players getting more comfortable in their second season under a new offensive line coach and blocking scheme. Much of what we saw in the film indicates there are reasons to be positive about an improved offensive line with what is already on the Colts roster.
Current prediction for the starting line in the season opener:
LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, C Ryan Kelly, RG Brian Schwenke, RT Le’Raven Clark
Frankly, this makes the draft strategy relatively easy for me -- specifically with this class of offensive line prospects: if Ballard intends to upgrade the offensive line, he must make a pick early in the draft.
There are only three players I would even have on my draft board: Forrest Lamp, Ryan Ramczyk, and Dan Feeney. Those players will likely require a pick in the top 2 rounds.
Once it gets past those players, I feel like it will be difficult to bring enough value to support picking a depth offensive lineman over a player who could potentially upgrade a starting-level position or fill a primary team need at another position.
Our depth players based upon my projected starters would be Joe Haeg, Denzelle Good, and Austin Blythe — which should cover all positions on the line in case of injury. I give that group a B at minimum in terms of quality as depth.
What are your thoughts? If you’re not sure, take a look back at the stories in this series and see where the team is weakest.
Pre-Draft Look at Colts Offensive Line Series: