After a Super Bowl XLIV loss to the New Orleans Saints, Colts president Bill Polian credited the lackluster play of the offensive line as the reason for the 31-17 defeat. And after Nick Folk and the New York Jets kicked the Colts out of the playoffs in Wild Card action last Saturday, Polian again pointed his finger at the offensive line.
So it doesn’t take a genius to guess where the Colts will be focusing in April’s NFL Draft. But Polian’s draft strategy is anything but predictable. For the sake of the Colts' running game and making sure Indianapolis doesn’t suffer another mediocre season next year, Polian should go with the obvious come draft time.
Draft an elite offensive lineman. Polian of all people should know that depth is invaluable, so the more offensive lineman drafted, the merrier.
Remember the days where the Colts offense was virtually unstoppable with Edgerrin James running the stretch play to perfection and Peyton Manning basically inventing the art of the play-action pass? As great as Manning is, he’s much better when he has a complementary run game and that’s something that has been missing since James left for Arizona.
The offensive line has received credit for protecting Manning immensely well through the years but with the exception of a few games here and there, the run game has been non-existent. If the Colts want to win another Super Bowl and get everything they can out of their aging, future Hall of Fame quarterback, Polian needs to use the 2011 draft to put run blocking offensive linemen in place.
The Colts have the 22nd pick in this year’s draft, their highest since 2002. At this point it looks like there is five elite offensive linemen worthy of a first-round pick, four of them being offensive tackles.
Nate Solder from Colorado, Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin, Anthony Castonzo from Boston College, Mike Pouncey from Florida and Ben Ijalana from Villanova are the top offensive linemen prospects in the draft. All are tackles except for Pouncey, who played center for the Gators this year but is naturally a right guard.
The Colts' biggest need on the offensive line is right guard, where Mike Pollak and Kyle DeVan struggled mightily this year. The Colts used a third-round pick on Jacques McClendon last year, an oversized right guard who made one appearance as a tight end this year and is listed as third string on the depth chart.
Pending weight loss or significant progression, McClendon isn’t looking like the answer there, so Pouncey may be an option. Remember, his brother Maurkice was taken by the Steelers in last year’s draft and evolved into a Pro Bowl center as a rookie. Jeff Saturday is getting old, so picking Pouncey as a right guard who could transition to center would be a great option for Indianapolis.
Looking at the Colts' current offensive tackles, Ryan Diem has been solid at right tackle and Charlie Johnson has performed well as an undersized left tackle.
The Colts haven’t had a true, impacting left tackle since Tarik Glenn unexpectedly retired after the Colts' Super Bowl XLI victory. Johnson has done well in pass protection but the Colts' bread-and-butter stretch run play has disappeared since Glenn’s retirement.
The solution? Draft one of these big, hulking tackles and move Johnson back to his natural position of left guard.
Solder and Carimi are both 6'7", 300-plus pounds with athleticism to execute that stretch play. Ijalana is slightly smaller at 6'2", 321 pounds, but scouts say he has the ability to play guard too, so that means he’s fairly athletic as well.
All are prime options that should flourish in the Colts blocking scheme. I’d say Carimi has the most upside because of the dominant running program he’s been a part of at Wisconsin. Anybody heard of Joe Thomas? I heard he’s pretty good.
Seeing as 21 teams pick before Indianapolis, the likelihood that all five of those players will be there for them to select is unrealistic. There’s still a long way to go in the evaluation process and the scouting combine will change many views on each player.
If the Colts take one of the offensive tackles, their offensive line will look something like this: 2011 draft pick at left tackle, Johnson at left guard, Saturday at center, Pollak/DeVan at right guard, and Diem at right tackle.
If Indianapolis decides to go the Pouncey route, the O-line looks like this: Johnson at left tackle, Pollak/DeVan at left guard, Saturday at center, Pouncey at right guard, Diem at right tackle.
I like the idea of Pouncey filling the right guard problem right away and switching to center when Saturday retires. That’s the best long-term solution in my eyes. However the, Colts will probably look to the more immediate option (a tackle) seeing as Manning’s career has five or so years left.
If Carimi, Solder or Castanzo isn’t there at No. 22, the Colts need to go ahead with Pouncey. If Pouncey isn’t there either, Ijalana isn’t a bad consolation seeing as he has the versatility to either be the future at left tackle or could fix the problem at right guard immediately.
I’m not an NFL executive, but it’s clear what path the Colts need to take in the 2011 draft. I’ll analyze where the Colts should use their second through seventh round picks as time ticks down to April 28.