According to PFF’s Steve Palazzolo, the Indianapolis Colts are ranked as having the NFL’s 2nd best offensive line unit heading into the 2021 campaign:
2. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Prior to last season, we listed the Colts as having the NFL’s best offensive line. The group finished the 2020 season ranked seventh.
Injuries struck hampered left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who was limited to 749 and retired this offseason, leaving the Colts with a massive hole to fill his spot. After staying quiet in free agency and in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Colts settled on former Kansas City Chief Eric Fisher, who is coming off Achilles surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season. When healthy, Fisher is a solid starter; his 80.1 overall grade ranked 16th among tackles last season.
Right tackle Braden Smith posted an identical 80.1 overall grade last season, his second straight year ranking as a top-16 offensive tackle. Smith made the rare transition from college guard to NFL tackle, and he’s developed into one of the best at it from the right side.
Left guard Quenton Nelson may be the best offensive lineman in the league, ranking as a top-three guard in each of his three NFL seasons. Nelson can make every block in the run game, and he’s graded at 81.8 or better every year in pass protection, so he’s the total package. Right guard Mark Glowinski‘s 67.1 overall grade last year ranked 24th among guards. He allowed 28 total pressures, tied for the 13th-most at the position during the regular season.
At center, Ryan Kelly is a dependable option with two top-10 finishes at the position in two of the past three years.
The Colts have also built good depth, including left tackle Sam Tevi, center Joey Hunt and tackle Julie’n Davenport. 2020 fifth-rounder Danny Pinter is another player to watch after he saw just 103 snaps last year.
The Colts have one of the best offensive lines in the league once again, especially when Eric Fisher is healthy and ready to go.
Indianapolis was ranked only behind the Cleveland Browns among top offensive line units.
The Colts return four starters from one of the league’s top offensive lines over the past few seasons.
It’s a unit that features two NFL All-Pros (and Pro Bowlers), Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly; a Pro Bowler, Eric Fisher; and one should-be Pro Bowler in ascending star Braden Smith.
Meanwhile, Mark Glowinski is a proven and solid starter at right guard.
During 2020, it’s a unit that paved the way for rookie running back Jonathan Taylor to rush for nearly 1,200 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns and allowed only 19 sacks to retired veteran starting quarterback Philip Rivers in pass protection.
However, the lingering question for the Colts’ standout unit, is regarding the starting left tackle spot. Specifically, A) when veteran signee Eric Fisher will initially be available and B) if he’ll be able to fully regain his prior Pro Bowl form (or close to it)—rehabbing from a late season torn Achilles injury suffered.
Indianapolis had been fortunate to have longtime veteran Anthony Castonzo anchoring the blindside for the past 10 seasons, but saw firsthand what sub-par left tackle play could do last year in his absence—until veteran street free agent Jared Veldheer finally provided reliable relief late in the season.
The hope is that a fully healthy Will Holden, as well as new signees Sam Tevi and Julie’n Davenport, will be upgrades if called upon to the likes of Le’Raven Clark, J’Marcus Webb, and Chaz Green—who were the replacements from last season (at both left and right tackle).
However, Palazzolo is right that at least on paper, the Colts have upgraded their overall offensive tackle depth—and rightfully so, as someone soon—whether it’s Tevi or Holden, will likely have to start at left tackle for at least Indianapolis’ first few games until Fisher can safely return to the field.
The Colts’ interior offensive line depth is also solid with Joey Hunt, Danny Pinter, rookie Will Fries, and former Panthers starter Chris Reed (who Palazzolo surprisingly failed to mention here)—despite Reed earning a +62.0 overall grade from PFF during 14 starts in 2020 (good for 42nd best at the offensive guard position, which is pretty respectable for a projected backup).
When Fisher is finally back into the fold, the Colts have a chance to be the league’s top offensive line unit—with four potential NFL Pro Bowlers if it all clicks collectively.
However, despite being annually regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive line units and showing flashes of complete blocking brilliance at times, this is a star-studded unit that I would like to see consistently dominate for the Colts on a weekly basis.
They’ve been close, but we haven’t quite fully seen it yet.
That would be the next step of greatness for the Colts’ stalwart line.