One of, if not the, biggest needs for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2011 NFL Draft is offensive linemen. Although Bill Polian is known for having a mind of his own, often drafting much differently than experts would expect, the Colts offensive line in 2010 was horrendous and needs to be rebuilt. It is the opinion of most experts that the Colts will likely go with an offensive linemen in the first round and certainly in the early rounds.
So who is on the Colts' radar for shoring up what seems to be their biggest weakness?
Carpenter blocking Marcell Dareus during pre-game
James Carpenter is somebody the Colts could definitely take with their third-round pick. Carpenter has been a critical piece for the Crimson Tides offensive line, which opened up holes for the 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram.
A great value at pick number 87, Carpenter reminds some people of RT Ryan Diem, who, until the last two years, has played wonderfully at right tackle for the Colts. Carpenter has good technique and a solid base, but lacks lateral speed to be a left tackle. However, the Colts RT desperately needs to be upgraded, and Carpenter could be the piece that allows the Colts to get rid of Ryan Diem's corpse.
If Marcus Cannon falls to the Colts second-round pick, the Colts will be tempted to take him. At 6'5", 350 pounds, the Colts may feel that his size is too much for their scheme, even though Cannon has been described as incredibly athletic. With the Colts, he would likely be asked to trim down a little bit, or be moved to the interior line.
Cannon's incredible strength would be a great help for the Colts abysmal running game, but his lack of quickness would hurt his chances at the right tackle spot. At best, Cannon would be a good right tackle for the Colts, but he would likely move to the interior, therefore not having the risk of being beat by edge-rushers.
While at Villanova, Benjamin Ijalana was one of the most dominant players in the conference. He was a exceptional pass and run blocker, but his competition was also of much lesser quality.
The concern regarding Ijalana is his ability to handle the speed of top edge-rushers, and he missed his opportunity to prove himself at the Senior Bowl due to a sports hernia (also didn't participate in on-field workouts at the combine).
Despite that, Ijalana looks to be a very durable prospect, until the hernia, Ijalana had started all 53 games of his career at Villanova, making him one of the most experienced players in the draft. While he played all of college at left tackle, most experts project him as a guard in the NFL. Either way, Ijalana looks to have the versatility that the Colts love, and would provide great value if he fell to the Colts' second-round pick.
Rodney Hudson's incredible career at Florida State looks to be something that could transition to the Colts quite nicely. The All-American, two-time Jacobs' Blocking Trophy (best offensive lineman in ACC) winner's experience in the FSU zone-blocking scheme would aid him immensely in the transition to the Colts offense. Also, his experience at both guard and center would give him the versatility to fill in for, and possibly replace, Jeff Saturday.
Hudson's athleticism and quickness is something that the Colts have coveted over the last 10 years, but if the Colts are trying to get bigger on the interior (as Bill Polian stated last year), than Hudson's 6'2'', 299-pound frame may be too light for them.
No matter the case, if Hudson does last to the Colts second rounder, they will certainly take a hard look at him.
Rated as the number one interior offensive lineman in the draft, Mike Pouncey looks to be the best chance for the Colts to take a guard at number 22. While the Colts do need a franchise left tackle, the interior line was a huge weakness this past season. If Bill Polian doesn't like the value at OT when pick 22 comes around, Pouncey could be a very good option.
Although not quite as highly touted as his twin brother, Pouncey is expected to be a very solid interior lineman in the NFL. While he likely wouldn't be a rookie Pro-Bowler (as Maurkice was this past year for the Steelers), Pouncey would most likely come in as a starter for the Colts, allowing them to replace underachieving Mike Pollak.
Pouncey seems to be a very safe pick, with few weaknesses, and the Colts would love to shore up their running game in the interior.
While Tyron Smith is seen as the number one rated offensive lineman in the 2011 draft, he will likely be taken before the Colts pick at number 22. He is a premier pass-blocker, a priority for the Colts, as they try to protect Peyton Manning. Smith is also a good run blocker, although his ability to finish off blocks is suspect. Overall, Smith has the size and skills to be an elite offensive takle in the NFL.
Of course, the Colts could trade up to get Smith, why is he so low on this list?
Smith is very young, and his intelligence, instincts, and maturity are not quite what the Colts look for in draft picks. Smith will likely have growing pains in the NFL, and the Colts need somebody who will contribute quickly, as Manning's years come to an end. Smith's work ethic has also been questioned, something the Colts had in recent bust Tony Ugoh. Those factors, including the fact that the Colts need every draft pick they have this year, make it very unlikely that the Colts trade up to acquire Smith.
Solder battles against Brian Orakpo
Nate Solder offers a unique athleticism at the tackle position. An ex-TE, his size of 6' 8", 319 pounds is perfect for pass protecting (allowing only 5 sacks and 21 pressures in 1,400 pass plays), and his athleticism allows him to get off of the line quickly for run blocking.
Solder has however, had trouble keeping weight on, as an ex-TE, which could be a problem in the NFL, as his frame is a bit on the small side already. Solder's height also may cause him to have trouble with small, fast, edge rushers in the NFL, although his 81 inch wingspan certainly helps in that department.
Solder also has an incredible work ethic, winning the John Wooten Award for outstanding work ethic and the offensive line's Iron Buffalo Award for hard work, dedication, toughness and total poundage lifted in the weight room. That, his size, and his intelligence (3.93 GPA in high school and a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete in 2010) will make him a very intriguing prospect for the Colts.
Derek Sherrod is quite frankly, an amazing pass blocker. He has the ability to shut down an opposing defensive end for the entire game, something the Colts would love to have at left tackle. Sherrod's lateral quickness and agility makes it possible to keep with the elite edge rushers, rendering them ineffective. Sherrod also has great vision, and picks up on blitzes very quickly.
Where Sherrod isn't as great at is run blocking. He has a very quick hit off the line, but his driving back of the defender is lacking. His upper body strength does allow him to slide defenders away from the hole, but his lack of a 'mean streak' and drive often keeps him from finishing blocks, something that again, reminds Colts' fans of Tony Ugoh. In run blocking however, Sherrod's vision is once again very good, allowing him to be a stout open field blocker.
Overall, Sherrod looks to be an elite pass blocker, but he will likely not aid the Colts 29th ranked rushing attack.
Quite the opposite of Derek Sherrod, Gabe Carimi certainly doesn't have a problem finishing off blocks. Carimi is known for his "mean streak," and the Outland Trophy winner is arguably the best run blocker in the draft. He attacks the defensive line, is quick off the snap, and has both the technique and natural abilities to dominate.
Carimi's confidence has also been noted, proclaiming himself as the best tackle in the draft. Bill Polian loves confidence in lineman, and also is known for drafting players (especially linemen) from the Big Ten.
Carimi's "weakness" is his pass blocking, where his occasionally sloppy footwork gives him trouble. However, this is not a natural problem, as Carimi has good later speed, but more of a technique issue. This could hopefully be remedied with quality coaching in the NFL. Carimi has gone against some very good competition, and has had success.
While he has been described as a better option at right tackle, he certainly has the tools to be great at left tackle. At the very least, he could be a great replacement for Diem on the left side, and if he is available at number 22, the Colts shouldn't hesitate to snap him up.
Anthony Castonzo was made to play left tackle for the Indianapolis Colts. He has the makings of an elite pass blocker, is a very good, though not great, run blocker, and has the intelligence and motivation that the Colts covet. Castonzo has amazing lateral quickness and agility, and can pick up just about any edge rusher that he faces, although he is susceptible to the occasional bull rush.
Castonzo's rush blocking is not quite as good as Carimi's, and he would have to bulk up quite a bit to play for a power rushing team. However, for a team like the Colts (who do not power run very much), Castonzo's weakness of bulk would be masked, as his finesse blocking skills would be put to use much more.
Castonzo's intelligence (straight "A" student, second highest Wonderlic score, biochemistry major), motivation (went to a military school to bulk up before attending BC), durability (never missed a game, started 53 games at BC), and blocking abilities makes him a perfect fit for the Colts. Hopefully for Colts' fans, he lasts until the 22nd pick, where he would certainly be a no-brainer for the Colts' front office.