With their first pick of the 2014 draft the Indianapolis Colts surprised fans and media by taking Ohio State left tackle Jack Mewhort. While many fans and analysts projected the Colts going defense with the first pick, especially with safety Terrence Brooks still on the board, Ryan Grigson went with a versatile offensive lineman for the second year in a row.
Really, it should be no surprise that Mewhort was the pick, once you look into him. He was overlooked by most Colts analysts and fans due to his label as a tackle, but Mewhort possesses many of the traits that Grigson and Chuck Pagano typically value.
So let's take a look at the big left tackle and pinpoint just how he'll help the Colts moving forward.
A senior from Toledo, Ohio, Mewhort has prototypical tackle size at 6'6", 309 pounds. That size and strength is Mewhort's best tool; he takes up an enormous amount of space, and when he locks on to defenders, he does not let up. He's also durable, having played 39 straight starts to finish his career as a Buckeye.
Mewhort's combine performance wasn't anything special, and it speaks to his lack of athleticism. While Mewhort's 28 repetitions in the bench press was 14th among offensive linemen, via NFL.com, none of his other drills finished in the top 15. In fact, his 40-yard dash of 5.37 was the fourth-slowest time of any tackle in the draft.
But where Mewhort excels has never been raw physical traits (outside of his size and frame), but his technique is extremely solid. While his height causes him to lose some leverage, he has enough flexibility to bend and offset that, to some degree.
For Indianapolis, his intangibles may be even more important. Grigson and Pagano consistently preach buzz words like "tough" and "gritty." ESPN spoke to Grigson after Friday's picks.
"He fit a lot of the specs that we're looking for," he said. "He played at a very high-level program, he's a competitor, he's smart. He has position flexibility across the entire offensive line, which isn't easy to come by."
That position flexibility is one of the things that the Colts have valued throughout Grigson's tenure. On both the offensive and defensive lines, the Colts have targeted players with experience playing multiple positions. Guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes were selected last year, for example, with experience at multiple spots. Thornton played four line positions at Illinois, while Holmes played both center and guard.
While Mewhort didn't play center in college, he did in high school (was an All-American) and actually was initially redshirted at Ohio State as a center during his freshman year. Mewhort can potentially play all five spots on the line (although left tackle would be difficult for him in the NFL) and gives the Colts plenty of options. While his height could be a problem for some NFL quarterbacks if playing in the interior, Andrew Luck shouldn't have a problem.
The one area that doesn't quite fit Grigson and Pagano's usual profile for a lineman is his foot speed. While Thornton and Holmes both have quick feet, Mewhort struggles if he has to get out in space. In close quarters, his strength is phenomenal and his balance is adequate, but he may not be the best to pull as a guard.
So where does Mewhort go in Indianapolis? That flexibility is great, but if he's just going to float around as a utility lineman, a la Jeff Linkenbach, then a second-round pick is a massive overpayment.
During his rookie season, the Colts won't need Mewhort to slide out at tackle. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo still has two years on his contract after the team picked up his fifth-year option, and Gosder Cherilus still has four years left on his $35 million deal. Unless there's a major injury, Mewhort should stick to the interior.
Fortunately, the interior is where the need is for Indianapolis. Thornton was disappointing as a rookie, and Donald Thomas is still recovering from a torn quad and torn biceps. At center is Holmes, who played all of 13 snaps last year.
Mewhort could theoretically compete with Thornton or Holmes for a starting position, or take over for Thomas if his recovery doesn't go as planned. If Mewhort did start for Thornton or Holmes right away, it would be a bad sign for the 2013 draft picks. The two have a year of experience over Mewhort, even if he was picked higher. Outside of rotational snaps, the most likely scenario is that Mewhort is injury insurance in 2014.
The selection also gives the Colts some flexibility with Castonzo's contract in 2016. Of course, Mewhort has to develop into a reliable left tackle for that to be true.
The draft is about what players can do for you long term, not necessarily during their rookie year. If Mewhort sits his rookie year, it's OK as long as he develops into a long-term starter. From a team-building and value standpoint, I don't love the pick. I think there was better production available elsewhere, even if you wanted to go with an offensive lineman.
But Mewhort can be a good player, and if he is, the pick will be just fine for Indianapolis. The team needs some stability on the line, and Mewhort may provide that.
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