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Jay dives into the Offensive trenches with this edition of his annual article series: 2023 Stat Projections. Will Indy’s OL return to form?


It wasn’t too long ago the Colts OL was considered one of the NFL’s best. From 2018-2020 the Colts OL consistently ranked 1st, 3rd, & 7th each year respectively by PFF. The quintet of Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, and Braden Smith formed a strong starting unit.




Once Castonzo retired, things took a turn for the worse. Eric Fisher and Matt Pryor struggled to replace him as blindside protectors. Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly each got hit with injuries and regressed from their All Pro/Pro Bowl levels respectively. Braden Smith regressed in 2021 in part due to injury but had a strong bounce-back year in 2022. Mark Glowinski left in Free Agency in 2022, and the rotation of young linemen at RG was a weak spot all year.

However, there is room for optimism. Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson did improve as 2022 went on. 2022 Rookie Bernhard Raimann improved dramatically in the 2nd half of the season and looks to be a possible answer at LT. Pryor is gone and the Colts added depth in 4th Round Swing Tackle Blake Freeland & surprise draft faller UDFA Emil Ekiyor Jr.

Can the vets return to form? Can the young linemen develop and fill the LT & RG spots? Let’s see how they project for 2023 in their most important job: pass protection.

2023 Colts OL Projection: Pass Pro



Pass Blocking Snaps


Pressure %

Sacks Allowed

Sack %

Bernhard Raimainn LT 504 30 5.95% 3 0.60%
Quenton Nelson LG 540 22 4.07% 1 0.19%
Ryan Kelly C 451 17 3.77% 1 0.22%
Will Fries RG/RT 302 21 6.95% 2 0.66%
Braden Smith RT/RG 523 26 4.97% 3 0.57%
Blake Freeland LT/RT 82 5 6.10% 1 1.22%
Danny Pinter C/G 111 7 6.31% 1 1.05%
Emil Ekiyor Jr. RG/C 214 12 5.61% 1 0.47%
Wesley French C/G 18 1 5.56% 1 5.56%








How Did The Colts OL Perform in 2022?


Per PFF the Colts OL in 2022 was responsible for:

  • 187 Pressures
  • 27.3% Pressure %
  • 37 Sacks
  • 5.4% Sack %



A Lot Less Total Pressure


Simply put, the 2023 Colts OL is going to surrender a lot less total pressure in these projections compared to 2022, 46 fewer pressures in fact.




Glad you asked Dr. Reynolds. It’s a simple formula:

Less Passing Volume (-123 total dropbacks from 2022 to 2023 projections)

+ Modest individual improvements (not projecting close to career peaks, but at a midway point between career and 2022 pressure %s)

= Much Less Total Pressures

The actual OL Pressure % change is 27.3% to 25.09% which is enough to propel the Colts from a bottom-tier pass pro-OL to a middle-of-the-pack pass pro OL in pressure %.

Raimann Makes Strides Forward


The 2022 Colts Offensive Line’s pass protection was abysmal, especially at the beginning of the season. Matt Pryor’s play falling off a cliff in 2021 was a big factor in the OL’s regression, especially when at LT. Free Agent Dennis Kelly had his issues on the blindside as well, and Raimann’s early season struggles didn’t offer relief initially.



However, once Raimann took over the LT spot in the 2nd half of the season, he showed signs of optimism. He allowed 20 pressures in 330 pass pro snaps (6.06%) compared to 7 pressures in his 74 prior career pass pro snaps (9.46%). 7 of those pressures were converted into sacks, but when seeing the gauntlet of pass rushers he faced in that span it is easy to see why:

  • Week 9: Matt Judon
  • Week 10: Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones
  • Week 11: The Eagles EDGEs of Haason Reddick, Brandon Graham, and Josh Sweat
  • Week 12: TJ Watt
  • Week 13: Micah Parsons
  • Week 15 Danielle Hunter & Za’Darius Smith
  • Week 16: Khalil Mack

Despite that gauntlet of pass rushers and the 7 sacks allowed, Raimann was ranked 33rd out of 82 OTs in that stretch in pass blocking. Combine that with being the 12th-best run-blocking OT, and the highly athletic Austrian has reasons for optimism in 2023.



I project he will continue to build off of that end-of-season form. Last year was only his 3rd year as an Offensive Lineman and he endured a trial by fire during it. Now with a bit easier opposing pass rushers and with continued growth, the 2nd year Tackle from Western Michigan can continue to hone his craft. His development will be one of the biggest X-Factors of not just the Colts OL, but the Colts’ season as a whole.

Veteran OL Rebounds


The Colts have 3 Veteran Offensive Linemen returning in 2023: LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, and RT Braden Smith. Each of them had up and down results in 2022 but has an opportunity in 2023 to rebound.

Braden Smith had a semi-bounceback season in pass blocking in 2022 (getting close to his career-best 2020 season) in terms of pressure %. However, he allowed 7 sacks, which showed that when he did get beat, his rushers were able to finish sacks too often. He was still is a strong run blocker as well, so he has returned to being considered a Top 5-10 RT in the NFL.



Quenton Nelson dealt with injuries throughout 2021, and it was clear that they lingered in 2022. He was ruled out from the Pro Bowl due to an undisclosed injury from the season. While it’s hard to speculate, Nelson’s most lingering injury of the prior season was an ankle injury which did flair up at times that year. 2022 was arguably Nelson’s worst season as a pro. His 5 sacks allowed were more than his previous 4 seasons combined, and his 31 pressures allowed were also a career-high. There were times when he even lost balance in his anchor and was driven back by DL, a true rarity in prior years. Nelson regressed to being an above-average Guard instead of being arguably the best Guard in the NFL.




With another offseason removed from injury and a new OL coach, there is optimism for him to make strides back to form. While asking for him to return to his prior level (3.2% pressure rate allowed from 2018-2020 vs 4.53% in 2022), getting to around 4% pressure rate allowed seems like a modest step in the right direction to begin to regain his prior All-Pro play.

Ryan Kelly’s evaluation of 2022 is a weird one. His pressure allowed % wasn’t a stark dip, with 3.86% in 2022 vs 3.6% in his career. However, he also had 8 games of sub-60 graded pass protection, 5 of which were even sub-50 graded. From looking at the tape, the issues for Ryan Kelly weren’t so much how he held up on his individual blocks. The issues were in blitz ID’s and communication with his fellow linemen on blocking assignments. As the Center, it is either Kelly or his QB’s job on the field to call out blitzes and communicate to the whole line their blocking assignments.



Because of miscommunications, there were too often free rushers to the QB. Whether it was Kelly’s fault or the recipient of the information’s fault is hard to determine, but PFF seems to shoulder Kelly with the responsibility. Perhaps a new OL coach will help him to further get the unit on the same page and strengthen Kelly’s ability to ID rushers for the rest of the OL. In the meantime, his individual pressure % allowed should remain stable barring injury.

The RG Conundrum


Will Fries will take the first crack at RG as of right now. The 2021 7th rounder out of Penn State got his first crack at consistent minutes with 10 games (including consecutively in Weeks 9-18). He proved to be a solid run blocker with his 66.8 grade there.



However, his pass protection was very suspect with 20 pressures allowed at a 5.46% pressure rate. He had a pass pro grade of 44.4 and was at times not on the same page with Ryan Kelly on interior blocking assignments. As of now, he is still taking starting snaps at RG, but the 3rd year RG needs to develop as a pass blocker, become even more of an asset in the run game, or risk being benched.

Danny Pinter was the starting RG for the first 3 games of the season, but that experiment ended in disaster. He even shifted back to C for one game vs the Broncos in Week 5 before being benched for the rest of the season.



While never being known as a great pass blocker, 2022 was a regression year for him t 36.2. Most concerning however was his regression as a run blocker as he went from being 70.4-78.4 graded run blocker to 47. As of now, he will stay at his most comfortable position of Center where he has shown the most promise in the NFL, and likely shouldn’t be used at G going forward.

Rookies Add Valuable Depth/Competition


Rookie OL Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Blake Freeland could prove to be very valuable additions to the Colts OL. While neither are projected starters for 2023, each could provide valuable depth and competition on the roster.

Freeland is a 4-year starter at BYU who has experience at both RT (2019-2020), & LT (2021-2022). He projects as a swing Tackle to help shore up the Colts lack of depth behind both Tackle spots. Should Bernhard Raimann or Braden Smith miss any time, Freeland would be the next in line to be a starting Tackle. A highly athletic player, Freeland steadily became better and better each year at BYU. He finished 2022 surrendering only 7 pressures and allowing 0 sacks as a full-time starter for the whole season.



However, his level of competition at BYU wasn’t the strongest and he still needs to work beyond the basics of pass protection technique. As long as no injuries occur to Raimann or Smith, Freeland will have some time to learn proper technique before getting starter snaps. If Freeland progresses at a quick enough rate, some speculate that he could earn the starting RT spot and push Braden Smith back to his collegiate RG position (especially if the incumbent options at RG fail to impress or progress). While that would almost certainly downgrade the Colts starting RT spot for 2023, it could represent the approach of “get the 5 best blockers on the field”.

Emil Ekiyor Jr. might not have the draft pedigree of Blake Freeland, but the undrafted Free Agent has the better opportunity to rise up the depth chart. Falling out of the draft due to medical red flags, if healthy, Ekiyor Jr. is projected as a Round 4-5 talent. The Alabama RG doesn’t have the level of competition concerns of Freeland, the Tide Guard only allowed 31 pressures and 0 sacks in the last 2 years against SEC competition.



Ekiyor Jr. has a lot of technical refinement in his game. He has a strong punch and can use his hands well, with light feet and good balance in his anchor in pass protection. Unlike Freeland though, Ekiyor Jr. is far from a freaky athlete. He struggles against speed rushers’ inside counters and lacks the lateral agility in space to make an impact there. His pass protection should be solid, but the issues in getting to his spots in the run game could hurt him.

Ekiyor Jr. has the easier path to starting than Freeland, as his RG spot has the least entrenched incumbents. With Fries and Pinter as his primary competition for the spot, the local prospect out of Warren Central could carve out a starting role for his hometown team at some point in his rookie season.

QB Pressure & Sack Responsibility


Pass protection isn’t just a duty for the OL. QBs also share some blame for pressures and sacks. Whether it is slow release speeds, slow progressions, bad blitz IDs, or being skittish in a clean pocket, QBs can be to blame for a number of reasons. Even non-QB blocking can also contribute to Pressures and Sacks.

The Colts Total 2022 Pass Protection Stats were:

  • 237 Pressures
  • 34.6% Pressure Rate
  • 60 Sacks
  • 8.76% Sack Rate

This means non-OL blocking and QBs accounted for an additional 50 pressures and 13 sacks. Matt Ryan was 12th among 37 qualifying QBs in terms of pressure responsibility % (10.3%), showing a quick trigger (7th fastest time to throw) and quick processor. The other QBs didn’t qualify with enough dropbacks, but would have ranked 34th (Nick Foles 29.4%) and 28th (18.6%) had they qualified. While Ryan struggled in his throws under pressure, the former Falcons QB got the ball out quickly to avoid a lot of pressure on himself.



On the flip side, however, Matt Ryan and the Colts QBs struggled in evading sacks when under pressure. This led to a high pressure to sack % (25.32%), and several costly fumbles.

How will each of these change with new QBs under charge in 2023?


QB Pressure & Sack Responsibility Projections

Anthony Richardson

Pressures 32 20.46% of Pressures Responsible For
Sacks 3 9.59% Pressure to Sack %

Gardner Minshew

Pressures 8 10.67% of Pressures Responsible For
Sacks 3 20.33% Pressure to Sack %

Duality of QB: Richardson vs Minshew


Richardson and Minshew’s Pressure and Sack responsibility numbers run in stark contrast to each other. Richardson was responsible for the 46th-highest % of his pressures out of 144 QBs. While this is the least amount of Responsibility for Pressure among the big 4 QBs of his draft class, his 19.4% would rank 30th out of 37 NFL QBs in 2022. His slower field progressions and deeper throwing tendencies are a big change from 2022 Matt Ryan, showing that he will be responsible for a higher % of his pressures.



Another big change is Richardson’s ability to avoid sacks. Richardson’s 9.9% College Pressure to sack % (9.2% in 2022) is the lowest among any 1st Round QB in NFL draft history. His closest comparison among Rd1 QBs in this regard is Patrick Mahomes’ 11.3% in college. This is considered one of the most translatable metrics from College to Pros for QBs, as the ability to escape the pressure is related to the pocket presence and athleticism. Players rarely get worse in this regard barring injury and getting better can be tricky (but not impossible).



Considering this, Richardson being sacked a projected 15 times on 152 pressures (9.59%) is a realistic projection. This is a monumental improvement from the 2022 Colts QBs, who were sacked 60 times on 237 pressures (25.3%). This combined with the big change in passing volume means that the Colts total sacks are projected to go from 60 to 20 in 2023.


Minshew meanwhile isn’t the same athlete as Richardson but has had a respectable career Pressure to sack % of 18.3%. He has also been responsible for 9.1% and 11.1% of his pressures under Shane Steichen in the last 2 years. He is really good at not being responsible for his pressures, however, when the pressure does happen he isn’t the same caliber of escape artist as Richardson. As such in his 2 starts expect a lower % of QB pressures that he is responsible for, but a higher pressure to sack %.

Total Pass Pro Projections


Pressure Rate


Sack Rate

185 32.92% 20 3.56%


Difference from 2022:

  • -52 Pressures
  • -1.68% Pressure %
  • -40 Sacks
  • -5.2% Sack %



More from The Blue Stable:

Check out Jay’s previous edition of his article series, 2023 Stat Projections: HERE

Jay Robins

Twitter: @RobinsLucas Instagram: Lucas._.Robins

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