According to Pro Football Focus, the Indianapolis Colts are among the NFL teams that have a Top 5 most improved pass rushing unit this offseason:
5. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Key Additions: DI DeForest Buckner, DI Robert Windsor, DI Sheldon Day
Key Losses: EDGE Jabaal Sheard, DI Margus Hunt
Indianapolis made one of the bigger splashes of the offseason when it traded the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for Buckner, one of the better young interior defenders in the NFL. The Colts already added one high-level pass rusher in Justin Houston (81.9 pass-rushing grade in 2019) last season, and now they have two along the defensive line.
Buckner has recorded 50 or more quarterback pressures while picking up pass-rushing grades of 73.0 or higher in each of the past three seasons. His 81 combined sacks and hits since entering the league in 2016 are tied for second at the position behind only Aaron Donald. He’s going to give them an interior pass rush that they simply didn’t have in 2019, and that should help open things up for the other players along the defensive line.
The Windsor selection could result in some additional interior pressure if nothing else. He’s slight for the interior, which might mean he’ll struggle on early downs against the run, but there’s a real chance that he could turn into a rotational pass rusher on the inside given his pass-rushing tools. Windsor is coming off an 80.5 pass-rushing grade with Penn State last season.
The Colts still don’t have an option they know they can rely on at the edge spot across from Houston — with the door open to a potential veteran signing like Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen — but they’ve improved considerably as they look to compete in an open AFC South in 2020.
The Colts finished with 41.0 sacks last season (tied for 15th best in the league), which is right around a league average unit.
There’s no question that the Colts adding San Francisco 49ers All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was one of their biggest additions of the offseason. He had 62 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 55 total QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries in all 16 starts for the NFC Champions’ stingy defense this past season.
Buckner is just one year removed from a 12.0 sack season with the 49ers in 2018 too.
The 26 year old is one of the best defensive tackles in all of football—arguably only trailing Los Angeles Rams 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald in that regard—who might be the best player in football period.
With his long arms, athleticism, and quickness, the 6’7”, 295 pound new Colts star defensive tackle should provide a much needed interior pass rush to the Indianapolis defense. Colts general manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly stated that “the three technique really drives his defense,” and Buckner (as a former 7th overall pick) is an athletic freak at the position.
However, the biggest surprise in this article from PFF is that there was absolutely no mention of Colts’ 3rd-year edge Kemoko Turay, who was emerging as a high impact pass rusher before he missed 12 games because of a season-ending ankle injury—which seems like a huge oversight here.
The blossoming pass rusher only had 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 4 games before his season was cut short in 2019, but that doesn’t paint the entire picture of his overall effectiveness.
In fact, it’s PFF who ranked Turay as tied for their best edge in 2019 (along with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt) with a +91.3 overall grade—including a +91.0 pass rushing grade (good for 3rd best at his entire position).
Along with Buckner, having Turay back healthy for a full season could simply be a HUGE boom for the Colts pass rush—and is clearly an offseason ‘addition’ in that sense.
However, PFF did make mention of returning veteran Justin Houston, who led the team with 11.0 sacks and seems poised for another highly productive season.
It would’ve been nice to see last year’s returning second round pick, Ben Banogu, also get thrown a bone here as a potentially developing young rotational pass rusher.
Regardless, PFF’s overall conclusion seems to be right about the Colts this offseason, as Indianapolis should have one of the league’s most improved pass rushing units—even if it wasn’t exactly reached for the right reasons (as Turay’s omission is a big one and becomes borderline inexcusable).
Buckner’s big addition clearly helps the Colts’ pass rush as a bonafide All-Pro interior pass rushing force just entering his prime, but it’s Turay hopefully returning healthy for a full season that shouldn’t have also been overlooked by PFF—as the young pass rusher has flashed the ability to be a future star off the edge for Indianapolis.