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All signs point to Colts’ RT Braden Smith returning vs. Raiders—and it couldn’t come at a better time

The Colts have simply been lost during Braden Smith’s most recent absence at starting right tackle—and now their season is on the line, with his return seemingly (and very fortunately) imminent.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have recently received some great injury updates.

Among them, starting right tackle Braden Smith (“questionable”) has practiced all week, and all signs point to him returning against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 17—having missed the team’s last three games with a knee injury:

Not only could it not come at a better time as Raiders star defensive end Maxx Crosby is coming to town, with his 13.5 sacks on the season and counting...

But because the Colts, who are still clinging to the AFC’s final wild card spot, have simply struggled holding down the fort in Smith’s latest absence at starting right tackle.

While I still maintain hope that rookie fourth round pick Blake Freeland can at least develop into a quality NFL swing-tackle in time, the most recent results for Smith’s ‘very much still green’ replacement haven’t been all that encouraging.

Specifically, per PFF, Freeland has earned very poor overall grades of +31.2 and +37.7 respectively during his last two fill-in starts for Smith. During that same two-game span, Freeland’s allowed 13 total QB pressures, 10 QB hurries, and 2.0 sacks in pass protection.

In his rookie season, Freeland has just a +45.2 overall grade during 9 starts (filling in at both left and right tackle).

Things have devolved so quickly for the rookie as of late, that it was a fair question of whether a recently re-signed 36-year old longtime veteran offensive tackle, Jared Veldheer, who hasn’t played professional football in almost three years, would’ve been a better option last weekend against the Atlanta Falcons (with Freeland being benched in-game, as things once again snowballed quickly for the rookie out there).

After all, sometimes an NFL starting offensive line is only as strong as its weakest link.

In comparison, Smith is currently PFF’s 8th best graded overall offensive tackle with a +80.8 overall grade during the 2023 campaign, as he’s only allowed 10 total QB pressures, 8 QB hurries, and 0 sacks during his 8 starts this season—having also missed earlier time with foot, hip, and wrist injuries.

There’s no question winning these last two games are incredibly important for the Colts to keep their AFC playoff hopes alive, and having their starting right bookend back will go a long way toward achieving that goal—especially given the lack of suitable replacements.