Colts’ GM Chris Ballard rightfully deserves praise for a lot of things. In less than four years, the former Executive of the Year has turned one of the NFL’s most obsolete offensive lines into perhaps the league’s best.
But are they the best? That’s the question which is often debated around the league and by experts and fans alike. Let’s examine this position by position, shall we?
Left tackle: Eric Fisher
Fisher was brought in to replace the recently-retired Anthony Castonzo, who was considered one of the best at his respective position during his career in Indy. While Fisher may not be on Castonzo’s level (yet), the anchor of a left tackle and two-time Pro Bowler, when healthy, is still considered one of the league’s best left tackles. Before tearing his Achilles, Fisher was as good as any left tackle last season, surrendering just three sacks and committing only three penalties, according to Pro Football Focus.
Coming off an injury as difficult as an Achilles won’t be easy for the former No. 1 overall pick, but I believe the 30-year-old still has a lot of solid football in him. After all, Frank Reich did advocate for Fisher, so that’s got to stand for something, right? If Fisher comes back as strong as he was before the injury, I see no reason why he can’t earn his way back into the conversation of being one of the league’s best at his respective position.
Left guard: Quenton Nelson
Que the “you can’t take a guard at No. 6 overall” takes. You can take a guard at No. 6 when his name is Quenton Nelson. The three-time Pro Bowler is easily the best at his position, and it’s not even close. Not only has Nelson made the Pro Bowl in every season since being drafted in 2018, but he’s also one of only two players in league history (yes, you read that correctly) to be named All-Pro in each of his first three seasons, too. The other player? Hall of Fame running back, Barry Sanders.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Nelson is well on his way to earning one of those gold jackets himself. In 1,946 pass-blocking snaps, Nelson has surrendered only three sacks. This stat alone should put a smile on Carson Wentz’s face, and a frown on the face of any defensive player who has the unfortunate responsibility of lining up across from him. Nelson will maul you in the running game, too. His athleticism, pure strength and elite ability to pull and get out in space is part of what makes the left guard one of the league’s elite run blockers. Nelson is worth every penny the Colts will eventually pay him. Players of his caliber don’t come around too often.
Center: Ryan Kelly
Although Kelly wasn’t drafted by Ballard, the two-time Pro Bowler, like his fellow teammate Nelson, is arguably the best at his position. In 1007 pass-blocking snaps, Kelly only surrendered two sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Kelly’s athleticism and elite ability at getting to the second level isn’t talked about enough. Go back and look at his performance against the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2019 season. Kelly quite literally helped pave the way for running back Marlon Mack to have one of the best games of his career, which in large part was due to his elite athleticism and pure strength.
There are very few centers in the league today who can run block like Kelly, if any at all. The Colts gave him an extension last offseason, which was a no-brainer. While Kelly did make second-team All-Pro last season, he could’ve and probably should’ve been named first-team All-Pro. For someone who’s only surrendered a total of five sacks in his entire career, Kelly doesn’t get the credit he so rightfully deserves. In my mind, there isn’t a single thing he doesn’t do well.
Right guard: Mark Glowinski
Since being claimed by the Colts during the 2018 season, Glowinski has been nothing but excellent. In his three seasons with Indy, Glowinski has surrendered a total of five sacks. Where the right guard tends to struggle, at times, is in the running game. Make no mistake, though, there’s a reason Ballard gave Glowinski an extension just two offseasons ago. It’s very difficult to find quality starting offensive lineman in the NFL, and before Glowinski arrived, the Colts’ right guard position was a revolving door.
He might not be the best right guard in the league, but Glowinski is certainly one of the best. Having a clean pocket to step up into or a lane to run through is vital as well, and Glowinski certainly helps provide that at a consistent level. His play over the last three seasons should’ve resulted in at least one Pro Bowl selection, in my opinion. Glowinski is vastly underrated, and I could certainly see him earning the Pro Bowl nod in the future.
Right tackle: Braden Smith
The former second-round pick has easily been one of the best right tackles in the league. In 531 pass-blocking snaps, Smith gave up zero sacks last season. That’s a tough task for any tackle in today’s pass-heavy NFL. And when you consider the level of competition Smith faced last season — (J.J. Watt, Matthew Judon, Josh Allen, Khalil Mack and others), not allowing a single sack is even more impressive.
Smith was originally brought in to play right guard, but was quickly moved to right tackle after injuries to several starters during the 2018 season. From that point forward, Smith has been nothing short of exceptional. Not only is he a dominant pass blocker, but Smith’s dominance in run blocking is also part of what makes him an elite right tackle. Even after not giving up a single sack last season, Smith somehow wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl. Trust me. It’s mind-boggling to me, too.
Like Nelson, Smith is 100% deserving of a contract extension, and it could very well come sometime during this offseason. After working his way to becoming arguably the best at his respective position, Ballard isn’t letting Smith walk out the door.
In total, Indy only surrendered 21 total sacks last season, but those numbers don’t always tell the entire story. Their line also has some of the best run blocking lineman in the league, too. Just ask second-year running back, Jonathan Taylor, who’s coming off a season where he finished third in rushing yards with 1,169 yards. Not to mention the starting QB almost always has a clean pocket to throw from.
Even though there are other teams like the Chiefs or Browns who could arguably compete with the Indy for the ‘best starting offensive line’ title, when you consider the consistency in both run and pass blocking; as well as the amount of game-changing players the Colts’ line has, in my mind, the answer as to whether or not Indianapolis has the best offensive line in the NFL, is a resounding yes.