There seems to be a wide difference in opinions sometimes between people who cover the NFL nationally versus people who cover a team individually. That is quite obvious this offseason with the Indianapolis Colts and their offensive line.
This offseason we’ve seen people nationally inflate the need the Colts have up front. We’ve seen plenty of mock drafts that have the Colts taking an offensive lineman, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean that it’s their biggest need. Then there was a recent article from Rotoworld’s Evan Silva (who’s normally very accurate in his analysis) listing the offensive line as the Colts’ biggest need. Seriously.
The right side of Indy’s offensive line remains a glaring weakness after last year’s Colts played musical chairs at right guard and right tackle. Andrew Luck holds the ball longer than most quarterbacks, adding stress to his protection. The left side does look settled with Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort back healthy at left guard and Ryan Kelly entrenched at center. 2016 draft picks Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark would be the Colts’ right guard and right tackle, respectively, if the season began today.
We’ve talked about the idea of the Colts taking an offensive lineman in the first round, and if you want to argue for that you can. But to suggest that it’s the team’s biggest need is ridiculous.
Here’s the situation with the Colts. They have Anthony Castonzo at left tackle (and with that are some concerns, but the Colts likely won’t be replacing Castonzo this offseason), Jack Mewhort at left guard, and Ryan Kelly at center. They drafted four offensive linemen in last year’s draft, and three of them were starters by the end of the year. Kelly certainly looked the part at center, while Joe Haeg at right guard and Le’Raven Clark at right tackle showed some potential to keep working with. Meanwhile, in 2016 the Colts had the worst defense, in terms of yards per game allowed, in the Indianapolis era. The second worst? 2015. In free agency, the Colts added several pieces but none of whom are game-changing playmakers - something Silva realizes with his second team need, linebackers, writing, “Neither [John] Simon nor [Jabaal] Sheard should be counted on as an every-snap defender, however, and another 3-4 inside linebacker is needed alongside [Sean] Spence.” Adding to all of that, this is not a particularly strong offensive line draft class, whereas it is a strong class defensively.
Some might point to the Colts’ struggles up front last season (especially early on) as reason why it’s the biggest need, but that leaves out any room for potential development. The Colts made a big push to hire offensive line coach Joe Philbin last offseason, and we saw some of the results of that: Le’Raven Clark looked much better at the end of the season than he did in training camp, and all along he was viewed as a project player who wasn’t expected to contribute much in year one. Should the Colts just give up on his development? And Joe Haeg wasn’t great in his first season, but he did wind up starting a lot of games and is another guy they can keep working with. Another reason some may point to the offensive line being the Colts’ biggest need is the recent shoulder surgery of Andrew Luck, but again that’s misguided. Luck’s surgery was for an injury that occurred in 2015 and that he played with in 2016. So it happened in 2015, and after that Ryan Grigson used four of his eight picks on offensive linemen.
But maybe you think that the Colts should just give up on Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark and that the Colts still need a starting right guard and right tackle. Ok, but does that automatically make it the biggest need? On the other side of the ball is a defense that has been horrendous recently, with last year’s unit being the worst I’ve seen the Colts have. That doesn’t get fixed magically but rather requires legitimate players with playmaking ability. They still have a desperate need at pass rusher despite their offseason moves, they have a glaring need at cornerback, they still need inside linebacker help, and they could use help and depth at safety and along the defensive line too (not to mention better coaching, but that’s for another time).
There seems to be quite a bit of a disconnect between the national perception of the Colts and the local perception of the Colts. While some fans still clamor for offensive line help, the people who cover the team locally rightly see that there are much bigger needs elsewhere. Nationally, however, the perception is that the Colts still have a desperate need up front that trumps all other needs. Perhaps that’s because of an admirable interest in keeping the franchise quarterback protected. Or perhaps it’s because of an idea that the Colts’ line still isn’t great yet, so since it’s been such a big need in the past it must still be just as much so. Whatever the reason, the people who cover the team locally realize that there are bigger needs. Could the line use work? Absolutely. Should that be emphasized above everything else? No.
Again, you can argue all you want for the Colts to take an offensive lineman in the first or second round, and we can debate the merits of that. Chris Ballard would have to be totally convinced about the player, but it wouldn’t necessarily make it a terrible pick. But suggesting that the Colts should take a lineman in the first round - a suggestion a lot of Colts fans already resent - is much different than suggesting it’s the team’s biggest need. The first can be argued, but the second one isn’t up for debate.