Every year, tough decisions have to be made to get NFL rosters down to the 53-man regular season limit. Preseason superstars are frequently jettisoned during final cuts and it is stunning how many of those preseason warriors fail to make an impact in the NFL for the rest of their careers.
Do you keep the short-term possible flash in the pan or do you keep the player you’ve invested far more time, draft capital or contract dollars into?
This season, one player who finds himself at risk of getting cut is defensive end Ryan Delaire. Twenty days ago Delaire made his way back into an NFL training camp after missing all of the 2017 season. It took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit committed by Shermarko Thomas and a stupid special teams penalty to earn Delaire the chance.
Since he joined the team so late, he did not have the benefit of learning the nuances of the Colts new defensive system during spring training activities and the first days of camp. He was forced to pick things up on the fly, on a new team, with new teammates, for an entirely new set of coaches, after not having played the game for a year.
With none of the benefits of his teammates, Delaire immediately became one of the most disruptive defensive ends on the Colts roster. It is entirely fair to say that he was more disruptive, albeit against lower levels of competition, than any player at the position other than maybe John Simon.
In three preseason games, spanning the eternity of 11 days, Delaire gathered 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 4 QB hits, 1 pass defensed, a forced fumble from a strip sack, and a fumble recovery. He showed a more well developed set of pass rushing moves than any other player on the roster. He was effective utilizing a spin move, bull rush, speed rush, and bending the edge to get after the quarterback and create pressure.
Sheard and Simon are clear starting level players at defensive end. Kemoko Turay was just drafted in the second round and will certainly keep a roster spot so he can continue to develop. Tarell Basham was drafted to become a pass rusher just one season ago and is finally getting a chance to play in his natural position — although he wasn’t particularly effective or flashy in training camp or preseason games. The Colts appear settled on retaining Margus Hunt to play end on early downs.
When you consider what you have on the inside, with Denico Autry, Al Woods, Grover Stewart, second round pick Tyquan Lewis, along with a highly competitive final spot for Hassan Ridgeway and Rakeem Nunez-Roches — you start to have a numbers crunch on the defensive line.
It is hard to imagine keeping more than 10 defensive linemen for very long during the regular season. If you keep the young pass rushers, the massive early down edge defender, and your two starting caliber ends, do you have room for another?
Do you keep only four defensive tackles in a defensive front that will keep two tackles on the field for much of the game?
The answer to these questions is difficult and will require quite a bit of thought from the front office. If preseason play is any indication, Delaire is at worst third on my depth chart heading into the year.
Somehow, in the NFL he might not even make the cut.