According to Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson, the Indianapolis Colts are among the suitors expected to have interest in Los Angeles Chargers free agent outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu this early offseason:
“While remaining in Los Angeles is a viable scenario for Nwosu — sources emphasized –, he has plenty of options,” Wilson writes. “I’m told that includes the Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, whom sources predict will move on from Za’Darius Smith and sign Preston Smith to a new contract, along with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.”
Originally a 2018 second round pick of the Chargers, the 25 year old outside linebacker (33 3/4” arms) recorded 40 tackles (24 solo), 8 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 40 total QB pressures, an interception, 4 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery during 15 starts in 2021.
Per PFF (subscription), Nwosu was their 58th best graded edge with a +64.3 overall grade this past season—including a +68.5 pass rushing grade.
Having played under new Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley from 2018-2020 with the Chargers, there’s obviously a lot of familiarity between the two sides—and Nwosu was drafted to be a natural SAM in Bradley’s evolved ‘Cover 3’ defensive scheme.
In turn, the Colts could also use a true ‘SAM’ upgrade in this defense, as last year’s starter at SAM, Zaire Franklin, weighs 235 pounds, and appears potentially too light to play the position going forward in Bradley’s scheme transition (but remains a valuable backup and special teams contributor).
Specifically, the SAM in Bradley’s defense is asked to defend on the tight end’s side (i.e, the strong-side), oftentimes is deployed close to the line of scrimmage (outside the tight end box), and will be called upon at times to rush the passer from the edge—while always having to set the edge against the run and force the opposing ball carrier inside. That linebacker may also be asked to cover a tight end occasionally in space.
Nwosu, at a listed, heavier 6’2”, 251 pounds is better equipped to absorb some of that physical contact and hold his own in the trenches, and has the pass rushing prowess to get after the quarterback when needed and provide the requisite push off the edge—with enough speed to still be able to cover tight ends in space—when requested.
Currently, Spotrac projects Nwosu’s contract market as 5 years, $60.5M, at an average annual salary of $12.1M per year, so his next deal is not expected to be cheap by any means.
Other potential top free agent linebackers who could also make sense for the Colts in such a SAM role could include the New England Patriots Dont’a Hightower, Minnesota Vikings Anthony Barr, Kansas City Chiefs Melvin Ingram, or Carolina Panthers Haason Reddick, but that’s purely just speculation given each’s respective skill-set.
The Colts could also look at their SAM as largely a two-down linebacker while deploying more of a pure pass rusher on obvious passing downs (which the latter, both Ingram and Reddick fit more of the mold of)—to terrorize opposing quarterbacks (which means they could look to get a little cheaper at the position for two downs, while also adding a more expensive pass rusher into the fold for obvious passing downs).
Regardless, for at least two downs, this position must be filled by an outside linebacker, similar to Nwosu, whose versatile enough to offer a number of skill-sets as previously mentioned. As such, the Colts’ expected interest in him—especially given the history between him and Bradley, only seems logical.