For the Indianapolis Colts, nose tackle isn’t a position the team has worried about much over the last few years. They have had some average players manning the middle of the defensive line, but they have not made many drastic moves to try and improve.
This offseason appears to be different. For many reasons, it has to be.
For starters, there is a new general manager in town, Chris Ballard. He has reviewed the Colts’ roster and knows which areas are in need. Whether he is finally giving head coach Chuck Pagano the types of players that Coach prefers or is just simply cleaning out underwhelming players, the defensive front seven is getting a makeover.
Next, David Parry, who has started at nose tackle for the past two years, was recently arrested. His status with the team is now in limbo. However, even if he is retained, he stands to be upgraded over, as he is a very mundane presence on the line. Art Jones, also capable of playing the nose, is essentially a lame duck. It will save the Colts roughly $1 million if they wait to release him after June 1. Zach Kerr, who always showed promise and flashed big plays during his time in Indianapolis, moved on to the Denver Broncos this offseason in free agency.
The overwhelming issue with the Colts’ nose tackle rotation is, though, is that it just hasn’t been good enough. Since Pagano and Co. arrived in 2012, the Colts have never finished better than 18th in the league or allowed fewer than 113 yards per game against the run. They have finished 25th or worse in four-of-five years. Their average yearly finish is 25th place, giving up 123.7 yards per game.
In a base 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is often tasked with being the tone-setter for the defense’s attack against the run. The troop of Antonio Johnson, Aubrayo Franklin, Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes and Parry haven’t gotten the job done. The Colts need a nose tackle who can create his own path to the ball carrier, consume blockers so that the linebackers have lanes to pursue the ball and provide an occasional pass rush.
Ballard and Pagano have brought in free agent Al Woods to contribute to the nose rotation. They were also in the “Dontari Poe Free Agent Sweepstakes”, but the two sides could not come to a deal. Among the other top free agents, Bennie Logan signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Brandon Williams returned to the Baltimore Ravens. And, Johnathan Hankins’ asking price is likely too rich for the Colts’ taste. Apparently, he is asking for north of $10 million per year. If Hankins’ price drops, perhaps the Colts become interested. Colts target John Jenkins also signed elsewhere, with the Chicago Bears.
Now, the Colts are in a spot where they still have a need, but there are not many quality options.
After Hankins, former Detroit Lion Tyrunn Walker may be the next best option on the market. Though he is more of a movable piece than a true nose tackle, his versatility is a trait that normally attracts the Colts. That is essentially where the quality options end in free agency. The draft has several more options, but it would be a stretch to call many of them potential game-wreckers. But, that does not mean that the following options could not eventually develop into upgrades.
On Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) of the draft, the Colts could look toward Dalvin Tomlinson, Elijah Qualls or Jaleel Johnson. Later on, players like Carlos Watkins, Eddie Vanderdoes, Stevie Tu’Ikolovatu and Josh Tupou would make sense. Last, unless the Colts acquire sixth and/or seventh-round picks between now and the end of the draft, players like D.J. Jones, Josh Augusta and B.J. Singleton could be undrafted free agent options if available.
The Colts will continue scanning the NFL free agent pool for talent. However, their best bet is likely to see what they can turn up in the draft.
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 Facebook. Check out his other work HERE.