Do Colts Already Have 2017's Starting Offensive Line?
Over the last several years, the Indianapolis Colts have had critical needs on the offensive line, unsuccessfully addressed with free agents and mid-to-late-round draft picks until the Colts finally went all in and drafted four linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Ryan Kelly was drafted in the first round, No. 18 overall and became the starter at center essentially as soon as he was drafted. Le'Raven Clark was drafted in the third round, No. 82 overall and was viewed as a project and eventual starter due to the type of offense that he played in at Texas Tech. Joe Haeg was drafted in the fifth round, No. 155 overall and displayed his versatility along the line immediately in the preseason. Last, Austin Blythe was drafted in the seventh round, No. 248 overall and was plugged in at center and guard multiple times during the preseason.
Since quarterback Andrew Luck arrived in 2012, the Colts' line has never given up better than the fourth-most quarterback hits in the league, averaging 116 allowed per year. It is no secret that the Colts' franchise player, Luck, has dealt with a litany of injuries over the last two seasons. And though Luck was sacked 44 times and hit 128 this season, those four linemen showed growth, and three of them – Kelly, Clark and Haeg – became starters at some point.
Unfortunately for the Colts, they had to deal with starting left guard Jack Mewhort landing on season-ending Injured Reserve in Week 14, but in the process, other players stepped up. Since that time, Luck was sacked zero times (but hit 10 times) in Weeks 15 and 16, but then in Week 17 was battered by the Jacksonville Jaguars, being sacked four times and hit 10. Some of those numbers stand out in a negative fashion, but there was plenty of positives to take away as well.
For starters, Clark, starting a right tackle, did not look like the disaster that he was during the preseason. He had a rough go of it against the Oakland Raiders in Week 16, but Weeks 15 (Minnesota Vikings) and 17 were not so bad. All in all, he played 201 snaps according to Pro Football Focus, so that is ample, valuable time to build on heading into 2017.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo's play has been discouraging at times in the last two years, but just understand now that the Colts aren't replacing him anytime soon. Not when they're still on the hook with him for approximately $18 million (according to Spotrac.com).
Kelly and Haeg were both dependable in 2016, Haeg struggling more than Kelly, however. Kelly allowed zero sacks this season while Haeg gave up his fair share of hurries, hits and sacks. But, Haeg did play all over the line, giving the Colts better options than they would have had otherwise.
Denzelle Good and Joe Reitz were the one-time starters at right guard and right tackle respectively, but injuries hampered their availability during the season, allowing players like Haeg and Clark to get valuable in-game snaps.
Did the Colts have their struggles yet again on the offensive line in 2016? Absolutely, but that is to be expected when many components are in their first or second year. Growing pains come with the territory. And for what it is worth, the Colts' line did perform better in run blocking than they did in pass protection, playing their part in finally getting a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007 (Frank Gore, 1,025 yards rushing).
Moving into 2017, Castonzo (LT), Mewhort (LG), Kelly (C), Haeg (RG) and Clark (RT) makes for a compelling possible starting five.
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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