The Indianapolis Colts have a few difficult decisions to make in the upcoming off-season. With just under 100 million dollars in projected cap space, money shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Colts. The main decision that needs to be made is what direction to go with the team and a few veteran free agents after a season that ended in missing the playoffs. One of the tougher decisions to be made will be on veteran defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
Sheard has been a rock solid contributor in Indianapolis for three years now and was one of the first free agents Chris Ballard signed when he became General Manager. While Sheard is an excellent leader and a solid player on the field, there is a question of whether the team should retain him after this year due to the fact that he is having a down season and the team has two young players (Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu) waiting for their opportunity after the season.
In today’s film room, we will be looking at the positive aspects of Sheard’s game while also discussing why it is possible that he won’t be in a Colts’ uniform in 2020.
The biggest plus in Sheard’s game is his elite run defense. He is a stout edge defender against the run as he sets a hard edge on the outside while also understanding when he has to crash down and make a play. This is a perfect example of how quickly he diagnoses plays in the run game.
He starts unblocked on the outside as quarterback Deshaun Watson is reading him on the run design. Sheard freezes and forces Watson to hand the ball off to the interior. As soon as Sheard sees the ball handed off, he accelerates to the interior and makes the tackle for a loss on the play. Great instincts to force the play to the inside and still come up with the big tackle on the play.
At 30 years old, Sheard is past the point in his career where he is going to win with pure speed and athleticism. Rather, he wins primarily with his powerful hands and low center of gravity against tackles. With his powerful yet quick hands, he is very difficult to block in the run game.
Here is a designed stretch play to his side that he blows up immediately. He quickly disengages from the right tackle with a quick swipe of the hands and flattens down the line for the tackle for a loss. Excellent play on the outside that shows how developed he is in his hand usage in one-on-one situations.
The last area that he excels to be successful in run defense is balance and effort. He is rarely taken out of a play and is typically found working his way back to the ball.
Here he is matched up against a towering offensive tackle in Trent Brown. Brown attempts to chop low on Sheard but he does a great job of keeping his balance and staying on his feet. He then works his way back to the interior and is able to make the tackle for a loss. Sheard is not a flashy player by any means but he is a vital part to the Colts’ run defense due to his effort, strength, hand usage, and instincts.
Speaking of his instincts, Sheard has to be one of the best defensive ends in football when it comes to diagnosing plays. He always seems to be in the right position, even when the play is not designed to go to his side. Here against the Raiders, he makes a huge play late to keep the Colts in the game.
On a key third and long, the Raiders dial up a mid screen to their tight end. This completely fools the Colts defense as there is nobody within ten yards of making a play here. Sheard however reads the play from the backside and is able to work back across the field to make the huge tackle. It is plays like this that would make it insanely hard to let Sheard go this off-season.
Sheard’s instincts are yet again on display in a big situation against the Steelers. On a fourth and short in Colts’ territory, the Steelers decide to be risky and go for it. They elect to fake a roll out to the right side of the line before throwing the ball back to the interior for a quick pick up. Sheard however stuffs this play as he stays home, drives his way up field, and makes a sure tackle in the hole for a loss on the play.
Again, if he isn’t on this team next year, he will surely be missed on big plays like this. He seems to always have an impact on the most important downs in the game.
He can even drop into coverage! Despite being a pure defensive end and rarely without his hand in the dirt, Sheard actually shows some nice zone coverage ability here. He drops into his zone and gets his eyes quickly on the quarterback. As the ball is thrown, he breaks on the pass and times his jump perfectly to get the pass deflection on fourth down.
Despite his athletic limitations at this point in his career, Sheard continually makes plays due to his instincts and smarts on the football field.
Now we get to the “negative” portion of Sheard’s game. He has really taken a step back as a pass rusher in 2019. On the year, he has generated pressure on just 6.3% of his pass rushes. This is down from last season with here he had a pressure rate of 6.6% and the year before that where his pressure rate was up to 8.1%.
The frustrating part is that Sheard has the ability to be a good pass rusher, he has just seemingly regressed in this area over the past two seasons. He still gets his sack numbers up to a decent mark but those are mostly due to opportune moments and occasional quick wins. This is an example of one of his sacks this year where the Titans have a miscommunication up front, resulting in the sack.
Far too often the results of Sheard’s pass rushes have been empty. He has a powerful bull rush and good powerful hands but he lacks the athleticism to really threaten opposing offensive tackles. The result is tackles are hunkering down in their stance and bracing themselves for a bull rush against Sheard. If they can withstand that initial push, they have won the rep.
If Sheard attempts to push to the outside, he doesn’t have the bend or twitch to really threaten out there. The result again is too many empty pass rushes when the team desperately needs more consistency rushing the passer.
Verdict: Re-Sign.... At the right cost
The decision when it comes to Jabaal Sheard is going to be one of the toughest calls in Chris Ballard’s career as a GM in Indy. On one hand, Sheard is an outstanding locker room presence as he is a great mentor for the younger players and a role model on and off the field. He brings a lot to the run defense and his instincts and awareness almost always put him in the right place at the right time.
On the other hand, he has regressed a lot as a pass rusher. So much so that it is hard to keep him on the field in obvious passing situations. He just doesn’t threaten opposing offensive lineman like he used to. While Ballard may want to keep Sheard around, it will be tough to value him when he has three second round picks waiting behind Sheard in Kemoko Turay, Ben Banogu, and Tyquan Lewis.
Overall, it is going to come down to money and what Ballard thinks he can do in free agency. If he thinks he can land a big ticket free agent like Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, Shaquil Barrett, or Matthew Judon, then the decision to let Sheard walk becomes rather easy. If he does want to bring the veteran back though, price and length will be a big talking point. I do think ultimately that the Colts will get a deal done to keep Sheard in Indy for at least another year or two to help groom the young defensive ends behind him.