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Countdown to Colts: Defensive End Jabaal Sheard

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday! As you gear up for the weekend, here’s our Countdown to Colts profile with 93 days left in the season. Our second starter from the 2017 season and last year’s breakout player on the defensive side of the ball — defensive end Jabaal Sheard.

The Journey

Joining the Pittsburgh Panthers in 2010, Sheard consistently developed through his four seasons in college. After totaling just three tackles in seven games his freshman year, Sheard exploded for 45 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2011. His level of play continued to grow and he finished out his collegiate career with 142 tackles, 35.5 for a loss and 19.5 total sacks.

A second round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Sheard would become a member of the Cleveland Browns and spend his first four seasons in the AFC North. Sheard started in his first 45 games of his professional career and had 97 tackles, 21 sacks, seven forced fumbles and nine pass deflections. Sheard’s numbers, however, decreased in each season following his rookie year, which resulted in him starting in just five games in 2014. He would then sign in the following offseason with the New England Patriots on a two-year, $11 million contract.

In his two seasons in New England, Sheard started in nine of his 33 appearances — eight of which were in 2016 — and won his first and only Super Bowl Championship in the Patriots 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51. In the 2016 playoffs, Sheard had 0.5 sacks, two tackles and five assists on tackles. That following offseason Sheard signed a three-year, $25.5 million contract with the Colts starting all 16 games of the 2017 season — leading the team in sacks with 5.5 and totaling 37 tackles.

The Fit on the Roster

Sheard has been called an ‘ideal’ fit for the new 4-3 scheme implemented in Indianapolis, and has had previous experience in the defensive system dating back to the beginning of his career in Cleveland. A great athlete, Sheard can fit the “open-side” defensive end position on the line and improve on the success he built in Indianapolis last year.

Of the pure defensive ends on the roster — Sheard, Kemoko Turay, Chris McCain, John Simon, Tarell Basham and Anthony Johnson — Sheard is the oldest of the group and has the most experience in the NFL. That same experience and success in the defensive scheme can serve as helpful tools in mentoring/developing the younger defensive ends in the locker room.

Moving Forward

While Sheard was undoubtedly the most pleasant surprise in the front seven for Indianapolis last season, I believe he’s only scraped the surface of what he can achieve in the future. Some of his greatest seasons came in a 4-3 scheme back in Cleveland, something Colts’ fans should hope he replicates in the upcoming years.

In a transitional period for a defense, and more importantly a franchise, it’s great to strike gold on free agent signings that exceed expectations. On a relatively cheap deal, Sheard will provide a consistent presence in the running game and pass rush as Chris Ballard works to replenish the rest of the defensive unit.