Ryan Grigson doesn’t receive credit for much these days around Indianapolis.
The former Colts GM who was fired earlier this offseason oversaw five years of suspect roster construction, and most people realized that it was time for the franchise to make a change this offseason. So people aren’t really quick to praise Grigson’s moves with the Colts, and especially not when it comes to the offensive line, a unit that received the spotlight during Grigson’s tenure for it’s failures.
But I think Grigson deserves more credit for the current state of the line than he gets, as I’ve written before. The reason? Because in a strong offensive line draft class last year Grigson added four linemen, which was huge for the Colts this year in a sub-par offensive line draft class. New GM Chris Ballard agrees.
“I’ll give Ryan Grigson a lot of credit for this,” Ballard told the MMQB’s Albert Breer a few weeks ago. “He drafted [Ryan] Kelly, [Joe] Haeg and Le’Raven Clark all in one year. Thank God he did, because [the 2017 draft] was a down year for offensive line. We gotta let those guys develop. So it’s the combination of Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Kelly, Haeg, Le’Raven Clark, Denzelle Good, we signed Brian Schwenke from Tennesse, we drafted [Zach] Banner... Are we perfect yet? No. But do we have a good group to work with? I do believe that. There’s definitely hope there. Now we gotta let those guys develop.”
Ballard is absolutely correct in his assessment, and it’s something that more people should pay attention to. Basically, what you have is a situation where Grigson was almost certainly looking ahead to 2017 and understanding the draft classes. He knew that 2016 was a very strong offensive line class and that 2017 was a very weak one, so he emphasized the unit in 2016. He used four of his eight picks in 2016 on offensive linemen, including his first rounder (Ryan Kelly).
It wasn’t just the volume, however: Grigson also added good talent. Kelly started all 16 games as a rookie and was very good right away, so he’s locked in to that position and should be a very capable starter for years to come. Le’Raven Clark, a third round pick, was more of a project player with high upside, and by the end of the year he looked to be a capable starter at right tackle. He’s projected to be the starting right tackle for the Colts in 2017. Joe Haeg, a fifth round pick, started 14 games as he showed off his versatility in playing both guard and tackle, and he’s probably the frontrunner for the starting right guard spot entering this season. And then Austin Blythe was drafted in the seventh round and was a backup last year, though the Colts recently cut him.
The Colts’ offensive line is far from fixed, but they do have some young talent with upside. With Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, and Ryan Kelly at center the team seems to have three of the five spots locked down, and then hopefully Le’Raven Clark keeps improving and becomes a good right tackle as he has the potential to. Then at right guard, Joe Haeg and others (like Brian Schwenke) will compete, and odds are one of them will be a capable starter at least. So the Colts’ line doesn’t look too bad, though a lot of it is contingent upon further development from some of the younger guys.
Either way, Chris Ballard is right - Ryan Grigson does deserve credit for the way he added offensive line talent in 2016, and that could hopefully pay dividends for the Colts in 2017. And in a way, it already did, as it took the pressure off of Ballard having to emphasize the line in a bad draft class for the position.