Colts Rookie 2016 Season in Review: Offense
The Indianapolis Colts entered the 2016 offseason with few needs on the offensive side of the ball, but what they did need almost exclusively existed on the line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Jack Mewhort were the only linemen that the Colts knew were keepers, so heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, the Colts decided to change that, claiming they just followed their board but at the same time addressing what they knew were enormous needs.
Round 1, Pick 18
Ryan Kelly | Center | Alabama
Since 2012 and the selection of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, the first round of the draft has been a source of dread for Colts fans, as the Colts just haven't seemed to be able to get it right. When the name "Ryan Kelly" was announced last spring, though, it was a much-welcomed pick, and it has worked out as well as could be hoped. The Colts had no definite center at all so far during the Luck era, having tried the likes of Samson Satele, A.Q. Shipley and Khaled Holmes, so pairing a center that should be around for the long haul to protect Luck was a great idea.
Not only has Kelly been the unquestioned starter at center since Day 1, but he has never given the coaching staff any reason to ever consider otherwise. The only snaps Kelly has missed all year were due to minor injury. According to Colts Assistant Director of Communications Matt Conti, Kelly was one of just 11 rookies to start all 16 games, one of only five offensive linemen and one of only two centers.
Pro Football Focus rated Kelly as the league's 20th-best center with an 81.0 grade. However, competition was very close at the position, as the No. 1 center had a grade of 90.7, so just a difference of 9.7 points separated Kelly from the top. Kelly also did not allow a sack all year, and it would be hard to imagine Kelly's presence not playing a large role in Frank Gore being the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007. Unlikely to be his only postseason accolade, Kelly recently made Daniel Jeremiah's list of the top-25 rookies.
Round 3, Pick 82
Le'Raven Clark | Offensive Tackle | Texas Tech
After displaying some awful play at right tackle during the preseason that got quarterbacks Luck and Scott Tolzien walloped, when Clark was forced into the starting lineup the last three weeks of the regular season, he actually did pretty well, showing some major growth in the three months leading up to when his number was called again. So much so that he received a game ball from the team in Week 15.
Clark came back down to earth in his Week 16 matchup with the Oakland Raiders, giving up seven pressures/hits according to PFF's Sam Monson, but Clark improved yet again the next week. He received much better marks as a run blocker (78.6, 84 snaps) than in pass protection (38.6, 117 snaps), but that makes sense for a rookie tackle who needed plenty of time to develop. At one point, Clark was not even in the picture at right tackle, and now it makes perfect sense for him to enter 2017 as the starter there. Thanks to Clark's apparent growth, the Colts might have a legitimate starting five on the offensive line in 2017.
Round 5, Pick 155
Joe Haeg | Offensive Lineman | North Dakota State
Haeg had an interesting season. He was one of the Colts' most dependable linemen, but no other offensive rookie's lows looked quite as low as Haeg's. He had some brutal plays in pass protection, particularly when lined up at right tackle, but he always seemed to learn from his mistakes and didn't continue to let his struggles last for long. However, despite his lows, the fact of the matter is that Haeg was "Mr. Do It All" for the Colts. He played all over the line, save for perhaps left tackle and center, and he started in 14 games, purely out of circumstance, when he wasn't even penciled in as a starter to begin the year.
The Colts could very well enter next season with Clark starting at right tackle and with Haeg right next to him at right guard.
Round 7, Pick 248
Austin Blythe | Offensive Lineman | Iowa
Blythe didn't play all that much this year (just 89 snaps), but PFF was not a fan of his work, regardless. Blythe received the lowest grade of any center in the league (36.7), but it pretty much all came from Week 4 when he was the team's primary center (77 snaps). The only other times that he saw snaps were Week 3 (4) and Week 15 (8). Blythe wasn't as bad as this grading makes it seem, plus his ability to play both guard and center is a big asset to the Colts' line.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
Josh Ferguson | Running Back | Illinois – Ferguson's offseason started out with a bang, being the "it" name to become the next big thing in the Colts' offense. In college, Ferguson was a multi-threat weapon for Illinois, racking up 2,586 career rushing yards, 168 receptions for 1,507 receiving yards (9.0 avg), 27 total offensive touchdowns, and he also returned 21 kickoffs for 381 yards (18.1 avg). However, since hitting training camp with the Colts, Ferguson was just average. He showed some speed, but he was very rarely out in enough space to do anything with it. His inability to create plays without just using speed showed, as he averaged just 4.5 yards on 35 offensive touches. He also returned four kickoffs for 80 yards (20.0 avg) and one punt return for 0 yards, fumbling it.
Chester Rogers | Wide Receiver | Grambling State – Outside of Kelly and Haeg, you could consider Rogers the Colts' most successful offensive rookie, especially if you factor in his contributions in the return game. Rogers made big play after big play in the preseason and made it nearly impossible for the coaches not to bring him onto the active roster when the season started. He wound up supplanting 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett as the No. 3 receiver (whether head coach Chuck Pagano wants to admit it or not) behind TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief, pulling in 19 receptions for 273 yards (14.4 avg). Six of his catches went for 20-plus yards, and he also returned 13 punts for 119 yards (9.2 avg), two of them going for 20-plus yards.
Jake Arthur is the AFC South Division Manager, Indianapolis Colts Team Manager, Assistant Director of NFL Content and a Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot. He is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @JakeArthurPFS on Twitter as well as on h, Google+ and FanCred.
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