The latest installment of Jay Robin’s annual article series ‘Stat Projections’ features the Indianapolis Colts DL.
The Indianapolis Colts have searched for years to find an Edge duo that can take their pass rush back to the good old days of Freeney-Mathis. When the Colts defensive front was the stuff of nightmares for passers. While the Colts currently have its most intimidating DT duo in ages with All Pro/Pro Bowl Caliber DeForest Buckner and criminally underrated Grover Stewart, the Edge rush still has questions.
The Colts have sought to beef up their Edges in a number of ways over the years. From Free Agency (Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, DeNico Autry, Justin Houston, Al-Quadin Muhammad) to trading (Yannick Ngakoue), to the Draft (Tarell Basham, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu, Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo).
Since Mathis retired after the 2016 season, here’s how the Colts have ranked in sacks each year in the Chris Ballard era:
- 2017 | 25 sacks, 31st
- 2018 | 38 sacks, Tied 19th
- 2019 | 41 sacks, Tied 15th
- 2020 | 40 sacks, Tied 12th
- 2021 | 33 sacks, Tied 23rd
- 2022 | 44 sacks, Tied 10th
The Pass Rushes under Ballard have performed decently with flashes of great play, but not enough consistency or dominance to be a high-end playoff-caliber pass rush. 2022 was the best year for the Colts pass rush in terms of sacks in the Chris Ballard era. In fact, it was the 4th most in Indianapolis Colts history, and the most since 2005. However, while the Colts Defense was able to get home for sacks at a high rate, the number of pressures lagged behind comparably. According to Pro Football Reference, the Colts were 15th in pressure rate and 18th in total pressures.
But how could the 2023 Colts DL perform?
2023 DL Projections
|Name||Kwity Paye||DeForest Buckner||Grover Stewart||Samson Ebukam||Dayo Odeyingbo||Taven Bryan||Adetomiwa Adebawore||Tyquan Lewis||Eric Johnson||TOTAL|
|Position||LEO DE/Strongside DE||3T DT||1T NT||LEO DE||Strongside DE/3T DT||3T DT||3T DT/Strongside DE||Strongside DE/3T DT||1T NT||DL|
|Pass Rush Snaps||477||530||353||492||341||95||83||77||64||628|
|Run Defense Snaps||324||332||341||246||298||65||70||59||62||449|
|Tackles For Loss||12||10||5||5||8||1||2||0||0||43|
38 Total Defensive Line Sacks + 230 Pressures
Compared to 2022, the Colts Defensive Line stays relatively the same in production in 2023. In 2022 the Colts DL recorded:
- 37 sacks (Tied-13th)
- 205 Pressures (27th)
With some personnel changes that should help the pass rush efficiency and the natural development of several young pass rushers, the Colts DL could take a decent step forward. Their sack rank would remain relatively the same (tied 13th to tied 11th) but based on 2022 numbers they would jump from 27th to 17th in DL pressures.
The Differences between Samson Ebukam vs Yannick Ngakoue
Seeking more consistency in their pass rush pressure generation, the Colts allowed pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to walk in Free Agency after just one year and replaced him with Samson Ebukam. While Ngakoue was the top pass rusher for the Colts in sacks for 2022 with 9.5 sacks, his pressure rate was more inconsistent with 44 pressures in 434 pass rush snaps (10.1%) compared to Samson Ebukam in 2022 (43 pressures in 362 pass rush snaps = 11.88%). On top of that, his at times egregious run defense hurt his viability to be a 3 down defender, whereas Ebukam is a much stronger run defender
Samson Ebukam is an explosive, high-motored EDGE who exhibits exceptional athleticism with his mix of speed/power. He’s an upgrade, as well as a perfect fit, for the LEO role within DC Gus Bradley’s scheme.
Get to know the under-appreciated edge rusher in this thread.
— Noah Compton (@nerlens_) March 15, 2023
Ebukam might not ever be a 10+ sack defender. For whatever reason he struggles to finish his rushes and convert them to sacks. However, he combines an excellent explosive get-off with remarkable strength. He isn’t the biggest DE but he packs a lot of punch and athleticism at the point of contact. His pressures have more often allowed other DL to clean up for the sack rather than him earning it.
Love how Samson Ebukam is able to use speed and power on his pass rushes.
He uses his length to knock offensive tackles off balance with a bull rush and then rips under to win with speed as his finisher. pic.twitter.com/3dtyiQvWEY
— Zach Hicks (The Soyest Boy) (@ZachHicks2) July 9, 2023
I anticipate Ebukam joins Kwity Paye & Dayo Odeyingbo as the primary 3 players in the DE rotation. He seems to be a natural fit at the LEO position in Gus Bradley’s Defense with his explosiveness, though he could also rotate to strongside with Kwity Paye sliding to LEO as they employ double wide-9 DE looks on clear passing situations.
Kwity Paye & Dayo Odeyingbo Year 3 Breakouts
Two 2021 Colts Draftmates could be in for a big 2023 season. Each of them has had their highs and lows in their first 2 years in the NFL, but the flashes Colts fans have seen of them are highly encouraging.
EDGEs with the lowest rate of unblocked+cleanup pressures in 2022, per @PFF (min.250 prsh snaps & 30 pressures)
1. Marcus Davenport: 20.6%
2. Za’Darius Smith: 21.8%
3. Myles Garrett: 21.9%
4. Micah Parsons: 23.3%
5. Brandon Graham: 25%
6. Travon Walker: 25%
7. Kwity Paye: 26.5%
— Jon Macri (@PFF_Macri) July 10, 2023
In the early portion of the 2022 season, Kwity Paye was a man on a mission. At the start of the year his 16.8% pass rush win rate ranked 22nd among DEs and his run defense was at an elite level. He looked very fast, quick, and agile off the edge and was showing that he could be a strong and well-rounded starting DE in just his 2nd year. However, in Week 5 he suffered a high ankle sprain vs the Broncos, forcing him to miss the next 4 weeks.
Kwity Paye currently has a pass rush win rate of 16% on the season. That is the highest pass rush win rate from a starting Colts’ edge rusher since Justin Houston back in 2019.
He finished this past game against the Patriots with 4 hurries and a sack in his first game back: pic.twitter.com/inNlO9SgxM
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 9, 2022
Paye played through the pain the rest of the year from Week 9 on. While he still had some standout games in the 2nd half of the year (17 pressures in 135 pass rush snaps vs Patriots, Cowboys, Vikings, and Texans = 12.6% pressure rate + 3 sacks), he wasn’t quite as consistent. His overall pressure rate went from 10.22% pre-injury to 10% post, but in games against the Raiders, Chargers, and Giants he only had a pressure rate of 4.62%. Even on tape, Paye looked slightly less explosive and more sluggish as he played through the injury. Thankfully he has a full offseason to heal and regain strength in his ankle (was cleared in February) to return to form for 2023.
If Kwity stays healthy, he could be in for his first 10+ sack season. His pressure rate was already fairly strong, and his pre-injury sack rate 0f 2.2% would be high enough to get him to that vaunted threshold with his usual pass-rush snap load in a 17-game season.
If the Colts pass rush is going to take the next step, two questions are going to be critical.
Can Kwity Paye avoid the injuries that have limited his impact?
Was Dayo Odeyingbo’s strong finish
a flash, or a sign of what’s to come? https://t.co/pAOBUsNKQm
— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) May 24, 2023
Dayo Odeyingbo meanwhile had a bit of a slower start to his career for good reason. In January 2021 in a Bowl game, the young Vanderbilt Commodore tore his Achilles tendon. Despite that devastating injury occurring just 4 months prior, in Round 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Colts scooped up “Hurricane” Dayo.
After a smaller role in the reserves of the DL rotation, as he worked back from the injury, Odeyingbo earned a bigger role in 2022. Working both as a strongside DE and 3T DT on passing downs, his insane physical profile worked to his advantage in versatility. He racked up 5 sacks and 23 pressures in a rotational role, and really hit his groove late in the season.
*Colts are on a 5 game losing streak*
*Dayo Odeyingbo has 4 sacks and 8 pressures in the last 5 games* pic.twitter.com/e7zOM4UNEQ
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 30, 2022
Odeyingbo could be ready for an even bigger impact in year 3 both inside and outside. His sack % was highly efficient at 2.06% and his pressure rate of 8.59% is remarkable considering his inside-out versatility (wouldn’t be as great for a strictly outside rusher). An absolute weapon on stunts, Dayo Odeyingbo entering year 3 should be very fun for Gus Bradley to utilize.
With Kwity Paye showing signs of high-end play early in 2022 and Dayo Odeyingbo now 2 full calendar years removed from his collegiate Achilles Tear, the duo could emerge as one of the brightest spots on the young Colts Defense. This is the 1st offseason where they won’t have to learn a new defensive scheme as well so that familiarity should help their growth in 2023. If so, I’d expect them each to be retained after 2024 to bolster the Colts pass rush for years to come. Somewhere, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are smiling.
DeForest Buckner Still Got It
DeForest Buckner might not have gotten the national recognition he deserved in 2022, but he still performed to his usual standards. Every year Buckner has racked up:
- 501-543 Pass Rush Snaps
- 48-56 Pressures
- Since 2019: 7-9.5 sacks
ESPN’s ‘League Insiders’ Rank Colts’ DeForest Buckner as NFL’s 7th Best Defensive Tackle https://t.co/jq9O3IiubX
— Stampede Blue (@StampedeBlue) July 10, 2023
In 2022 he set a career-high in pressure rate (by 0.21%) along with getting 8-9 sacks (Pro Football Reference vs Pro Football Focus). Yet despite those numbers, DeForest Buckner didn’t make either All Pro Team or the Pro Bowl. The veteran has been a model of consistency in the last 4 seasons after his career year in sacks in 2018 for his breakout.
All four pass rushers pressured Justin Herbert on the Colts’ strip sack. DeForest Buckner has generated 16 pressures since Week 15 (4 more than any other player).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 27, 2022
Buckner is entering his age 29 season and has shown no signs of slowing down, and with his consistency, it is hard to project any regression as of now. Helping his case is that DT is a position that regularly has top players continue to perform great well into their 30s. He has 2 years left on his contract so the Colts are wisely preparing for life without DeForest Buckner should regression come. Plus adding depth to the DL rotation is never a bad idea. Should the worst case scenario happen the Colts have several 3T options to fill Buckner’s role in the Defense. But if that scenario doesn’t occur, the Colts DL rotation has the potential to emerge as one of the NFL’s best.
Grover Stewart: Perennially Underrated, Never Underappreciated
The other half of the Colts starting interior linemen duo, Grover Stewart is unheralded to national audiences. It is a shame because they are regularly missing out on seeing a really strong 1T DT.
#90 Grover Stewart has been playing like one of the best run defenders in the NFL so far in 2022 pic.twitter.com/W5pzXtfrRm
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 26, 2022
Big Grove is a mammoth of a man in the middle. He is one of the main catalysts up front for the run Defense with his ability to take on multiple blockers at once. The sink-chicken cooking DT also regularly commands double teams at the same rate as Jeffrey Simmons and Ed Oliver in pass rush situations, helping free up others. While he doesn’t win a high amount of his rushes or get as much pressure as some of his counterparts, his impact in helping others along the line is immense. By devouring opposing blockers in the run game, he has helped his linebackers rack up an impressive amount of tackles and tackles for loss since 2018.
— The Blue Stable (@TheBlue_Stable) May 13, 2023
He might not get the high sack numbers or pressures, but Grover Stewart does the dirty work to make the Defense hum. He did set a career-high in sacks in 2022 with 4 (which is a strong amount for a 1T/NT) and has been determined to improve his pass rush ability to gain more 3 down viability. I expect his sack rate to fall somewhere in between his career % (0.55%) and his 2022 % (1.02%). The Colts have not added much depth behind him in the 1T role, so his snap counts should stay consistent as long as he remains healthy.
The now 30-year-old has come a long way from being drafted by an orangutan in the 4th Round on draft night. He is entering the last year of his 3-year, $30.75m extension. Considering his clean bill of health throughout his career, his consistency, his positional longevity, and the lack of clear successors currently on the depth chart, Stewart is a good bet to receive another deal with the Colts.
Backup 3T Battle: Taven Bryan Vs Adetomiwa Adebawore
The Colts double-dipped this offseason in addressing their backup 3 Technique DT depth. First, they added former 2018 Jags 1st Round Pick Taven Bryan as a free agent. Then in the draft they stopped the slide of Projected Day 2 pick Adetomiwa Adebawore in Round 4. While Dayo Odeyingbo and Tyquan Lewis also can slide to 3T on pass downs, there will still be a role for a more regular 3T in the rotation behind DeForest Buckner.
Taven Bryan has not lived up to his 1st round billing thus far in his career. The 27-year-old DT out of Florida played his whole rookie contract in Duval, recording just 5.5 sacks and starting just 17/63 games with them. After his rookie deal expired he signed a 1-year deal with the Browns and earned his biggest role yet. He started 16 games for the Browns and recorded 3-4 sacks.
The freakish athlete had a 9.91 RAS coming out, but his subpar length and high frame have seemed to limit him in the pros. He might never emerge as a strong starting 3T DT in the NFL, but he is a solid backup with experience. Gus Bradley and Nate Ollie can likely find a use for the explosive and strong DT in their scheme.
Adetomiwa Adebawore was a surprise faller in the 2023 draft class. While he might have a similarly high RAS, his frame might be a better fit for the NFL. The undersized DT has natural leverage at his 6’1 height but has a very long wingspan compared to Bryan. On top of his frame, Adebawore is even more explosive, fast, and agile coming out with a genuinely freaky profile. The former Northwestern Wildcat was used everywhere along their DL, but projects best as a 3T in the NFL.
Adetomiwa Adebawore absolutely working Ohio State here. Dude is an absolute FREAK when they lined him up at 3T. Wrecks games. pic.twitter.com/FWppHytSc8
— Landon Oliver (@Landon3MR) May 5, 2023
The issues with Adebawore coming out is proper hand usage at the line and figuring out his exact role. He is a tweener as a big DE, but an undersized DT. If he can develop his pass rush moves and counters, the Nigerian royal can turn into a strong pro DL.
Colts’ new DL, Adetomiwa Adebawore
Adebawore’s pass-rush ability improved throughout his college career, culminating in 2022 when he registered 6 sacks, 3 hits and 22 hurries on 309 pass-rush snaps
9.72 RAS: 4.49 40 with a 1.61 10yd split at 280 lbs is absurd — Colts be Coltin’ pic.twitter.com/OJOd9bX0pW
— Noah Compton (@nerlens_) April 29, 2023
The winner of this battle will come down to how quickly Adebawore develops. His predraft projection was a Round 2 pick, especially once he tested as the fastest player ever over 280lbs. Should Nate Ollie refine Adebawore as a rookie, he could run away with the backup 3T job going forward.
More from The Blue Stable: