According to NFL.com’s Marc Sessler, three young Indianapolis Colts players made NFL.com’s ‘2020 All-Under-25 Team’: right tackle Braden Smith, left guard Quenton Nelson, and linebacker Bobby Okereke:
OT Braden Smith
Indianapolis Colts · Age: 24
No questions linger over Smith, either, with the second-year Colts tackle scoring PFF’s fourth-highest run-blocking mark at the position as an integral part of one of the AFC’s top lines.
OG Quenton Nelson
Indianapolis Colts · Age: 24
Forget the age restrictions: Nelson is already the finest guard in all of football. One of the most complete interior linemen of the 21st century, the third-year blocker cuts the figure of a mauler who could thrive in any era. It’s a shame Andrew Luck didn’t get his services sooner, but Philip Rivers isn’t complaining.
LB Bobby Okereke
Indianapolis Colts · Age: 23
Many to pick from with Devin Bush, Devin White and Dre Greenlaw showing plenty as rookies. Okereke produced the most complete campaign of the bunch, though, finishing as PFF’s ninth-rated linebacker with an ability to line up all over the field. He’s dynamic in coverage, too, more of a need than ever in today’s NFL. Colts general manager Chris Ballard has an eye for stacking talent in the middle of his defense, pairing Okereke with alpha dog Darius Leonard to cause a special blend of havoc in Indy.
The criteria is that each player selected has to be younger than 25 years old on September 10th, the day the NFL regular season is scheduled to kick off (which disqualifies Colts’ All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard from consideration, who turns 25 in late July).
Regarding Braden Smith, the former 2018 second round pick out of Auburn has turned into one of the better young starting right tackles in all of football, having made 29 starts over the past two seasons for the Colts much improved offensive line.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription), Smith was their 11th best rated offensive tackle this past season with a +79.8 grade overall—including a +86.4 run blocking grade. The 2nd-year right tackle allowed 7 sacks and 46 total QB pressures, while committing 5 penalties in 2019.
Smith shows impressive athleticism, quick feet, and should be a cornerstone on the right side of the Colts offensive line for many years to come.
Meanwhile, his second-year partner in crime, Quenton Nelson, who was the 6th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, has been as great as advertised as one of the best guard prospects to come out in 25 years—and as a generational talent at the position.
Nelson has started all 32 games for the Colts at left guard over the past two seasons and has been the catalyst for one of the NFL’s strongest units during that same span.
This past season, Pro Football Focus graded Nelson as its second best rated offensive guard with a +91.2 grade overall—highlighted by a +90.1 run blocking grade. He surrendered 0 sacks and a mere 20 total QB pressures—while committing just 3 penalties.
At offensive guard, the former Fighting Irish star has made highlight reels from his pancakes and mauling style (i.e., ‘WWE style’ takedowns). In fact, there might not be a scarier sight in the sport for defensive backs/linebackers than seeing Nelson pulling out wide and running like a rabid rhino full-steam, ready to demolish the next closest defender who dares step foot in his path.
Simply put, Nelson plays with incredible physicality, tenacity, and toughness to go along with his already impeccable technique, awareness, and strength. Those qualities have already worn off on his offensive line teammates—who’ve all elevated their play since his much anticipated arrival two seasons ago.
While some questioned taking a guard that early in 2018, Nelson isn’t like any other guard, as at only 24 years old, he’s arguably the best player at his position right now. He simply makes the rest of the offense better and tougher (like having your big brother show up to the schoolyard fight to have your back).
He’s an animal out there and a truly dominant young offensive lineman.
Lastly, rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke had an impressive debut season, recording 55 tackles (38 solo), a sack, a pick-two, and two passes defensed in 16 games (8 starts).
At 6’1”, 235 pounds, the long-armed (34 1/2”) linebacker flashed impressive athleticism, speed, and instincts—especially in coverage, as both a spot-starter and as a sub-package linebacker in nickel situations during 2019.
Okereke was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded rookie linebacker with a +77.3 grade overall—with an impressive +79.2 coverage grade. His overall grade was good for the 16th best among all NFL linebackers, which isn’t too shabby for a rookie just learning the ropes.
The Colts will have to find a way to get Okereke on the field more next season, who should already be a staple in their nickel packages. That could mean that he starts out at the ‘Sam’ linebacker alongside Leonard and Anthony Walker—even if it’s not his most natural position bigger picture.
Having three Colts make NFL.com’s ‘All-Under-25 Team’ should tell us that the future is really bright in Indianapolis right now (and that’s excluding other proven talented young players—albeit a tad older, such as Leonard, Ryan Kelly, and Kenny Moore among others).
Colts general manager Chris Ballard has done a commendable job of building a young nucleus of talent—which continues to grow (and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see new rookies Michael Pittman Jr. and/or Jonathan Taylor join this list a season from now—but let’s keep our fingers crossed).