The much maligned Colts offensive line has been unfairly criticized, and taking a look closer reveals that it could be a strength without adding any new pieces.
Stop me if you have heard something like this before, “The Colts need to improve their offensive line to protect Luck,” probably sounds very familiar, but I would argue for the 2017 NFL draft adding to the offensive line is almost as non-important as adding another TE. When you break down the status of the Colts team and the draft pool, it becomes painfully obvious that offensive line isn’t nearly the most pressing need for the Colts.
Let’s start with the current state of the Colts offensive line. Football Outsiders released an article with the adjust line yards statistics of each team, and what is interesting is how good the Colts offensive was in the run game placing 3rd in adjusted line yards and 1st in stuffed runs, which is surprising considering the Colts lack of run game success recently.
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As we delve further, the Colts ranked 28th in 2nd level yards and dead last in open field yards, and this can be contributed to the state of the Colts running backs. Frank Gore has played admirably in his two seasons in Indy, and his vision and ability to get skinny at the point of attack plays into these statistics. However, he is 33 almost 34, and he does not have the same burst as he used to, and we all remember watching plays where yards were left on the field because of Gore’s lack of speed.
SB Nation ranked the most athletic offensive lines in the NFL before the 2016 NFL draft, where the Colts ranked third, and this was before adding Clark and Haeg in the draft, so the lack of second level success is most likely not the OL fault. So I would argue that to help the Colts running game, a more explosive back, such as a McCaffrey, Mixon, or Mack, would do wonders in picking up the big play yards that are routinely left on the field. The Colts should be a team that ranks in the top 10 in YPC, instead of routinely in the bottom half.
The next argument is that the Colts need offensive line talent for pass pro, which is very fair, in the same metrics, the Colts ranked 28th in adjusted sack rate. However, the Colts significantly improved as the season progressed, after week eight the Colts had 31 sack, but in the next eight games, the Colts totaled 10 (including a four sack finale against the Jaguars) with Luck at quarterback.
This second half surge was also without top guard Jack Mewhort for most of it. So the Colts pass protection issues are greatly over exaggerated, but there is room for improvement.
2017 Colts Sack Totals
*Luck DNP (Concussion)
What is one way to improve the pass protection? Give the defense something to worry about besides Luck. Now, if you believe my argument that a more explosive running back would significantly improve the running game. Then you should agree that would also take some heat off Luck and the passing game.
Linebackers and pass rushers will need to be careful not to let an explosive Colts running game, and that could slow the pass rush to give luck and the Colts offensive weapons to pick apart opposing defenses. On top of that, probably Luck’s biggest flaw is his tendency to hold on to the ball too long, a way to fix that is to give him a talented check down who can create yards after the catch, like a particular running back out of Oklahoma or Stanford.
A quicker passing game with check downs combined with a reliable running game would help the pass protection that will most likely take a step forward on its own with the development of the young blockers under the second season of Coach Philbin’s blocking scheme.
Now, let’s say you still think it’s worth an early round lineman to solidify the protection around Luck, who would you choose? Lamp? Robinson? Ramcyzk or Bolles?
With three players on the roster with success at right tackle, specifically the impressive Clark, drafting a right side tackle here might be a complete waste. Lamp is a phenomenal prospect and would be an improvement over whoever the Colts would start at right guard, but with a plethora of needs on defense, best player available is the mantra Ballard and co. will be employing.
I cannot see a combination of 14 players picked ahead of the Colts that would leave any of those prospects being the best player on the board. Therefore, those prospects wouldn’t be the best talent available, and it wouldn’t be the most glaring need.
On top of that, it probably wouldn’t have the most impact since the Colts would still need more explosive running backs to talk advantage of the holes created by the line. After the first round, unless a top prospect falls to the Colts, it probably wouldn’t be worth it until day 3 in the draft. This draft is being lauded as the deepest drafts for defensive backs, pass rushers, and running backs.
But it is the opposite for the offensive lineman prospects. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network was told by an NFL that this is the worst class in 15 years.
A better debate is, should the Ballard take a running back first round or focus on defense? In my opinion, either would be helpful, as long as it was the best talent on the board. I think the gap between the corner that will be available to the Colts at 15 and ones that should be available in the second round is very small.
So passing on a first round defensive back wouldn’t be a bad move. Now edge rusher is stacked, and with the moves made in free agency, a situational pass rusher could be a good move as well. If McCaffrey was available at 15, and he was the best player on the board, I would be okay taking him.
After that, adding a second round corner along with a 4th round corner with a 3rd round back would be a good haul in my mind. If they went with guys like Joe Mixon or Alvin Kamara in the second, Kareem Hunt or Marlon Mack in the 3rd or 4th would be suitable as well. Remember that a good running game will also help the defense, and Chuck loves (to a fault) his time of possession stats.
In the end, the Colts have a lot of options in the 2017 NFL, and it isn’t crazy to think the Colts could be a double digit win team. And even win a playoff game or two this year.
However, adding any lineman early on in the NFL draft is utterly a waste of a pick. The Colts need to trust the progression the line made last year. With a healthy offensive unit next year, the Colts could be in the top 10 in total offense.