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THE COLTS’ ROSTER HAS BEEN ASSEMBLED. TRADES HAVE OCCURRED, FREE AGENTS HAVE BEEN SIGNED, AND ROOKIES HAVE BEEN DRAFTED. NOW THAT WE HAVE A VERY STRONG SENSE OF THE COLTS ROSTER, WE CAN FINALLY PROJECT HOW IT WILL PRODUCE IN 2022. WE CONTINUE THIS SERIES WITH: THE COLTS’ BLOCKING PROJECTIONS.

 

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The Colts’ offensive line is the position group undergoing a most significant change in its starting lineup this season. Starting left tackle Eric Fisher has departed, as have fellow starter right guard Mark Glowinski and key backup Chris Reed. Even the depth at Tackle is also being affected, with Sam Tevi & Julien Davenport both ending their stints in Indy after one season. Did the Colts end up upgrading their front five, or will they take another step back?

When evaluating the Colts’ offensive line, several questions need to be answered in these projections:

  • Who wins the Starting LT & RG spots?
  • Will those initial starters retain their spots in the lineup throughout the season?
  • How healthy are Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, & Braden Smith?
  • Will any starters potentially miss time in 2022 due to injury, or will injuries hamper their performance?

Naturally, this article will be speculative in answering these questions, and training camp should give the Colts and fans a better sense to answer them.

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 Unlike other positions in our prior articles in this series, offensive line performance can be tougher to quantify. While there are the base stats: sacks, QB hits & pressures allowed, yards before contact, and penalties, there is also some advanced analytics that can be more subjective as well: pass pro and run blocking win rates, as well as the infamous “PFF grades.” As such, we will stick to more objective measurements of blocking.



Takeaways: 

  • Bernhard Becomes The Blindside Blocker

While Matt Pryor likely gets the first crack at being the starting left tackle, don’t be surprised if by some point mid-season the Colts make a switch to the rookie Bernhard Raimann. The Central Michigan alum might be inexperienced at the pro level, but he has legitimate franchise LT potential.

Displaying frightening power at the point of attack, Raimann dominated in both the run and pass blocking in college. He allowed only one sack in 2 years as a tackle and was one of the best DI run blockers in 2021. Even against higher levels of competition, he more than held up.

However, he is still a rookie with plenty to tweak on in his technique. With further development, he could emerge in the second half of the season, especially if Pryor struggles in pass protection. He will still take his lumps but could finish as a solid starting LT by the end of the season. Raimann has the athletic upside to be an elite LT in future years as he continues to polish his blocking prowess.

Once he finds his footing, he should be an upgrade from Colts 2021 starting left tackle, Eric Fisher. Fisher allowed 41 pressures in 490 pass-blocking snaps last year, resulting in an 8.37% pressure rate. The former Chief’s seven sacks allowed also cost the Colts dearly in several critical situations. While the Austrian rookie might not be a perfect blindside protector to start, being an upgrade over Fisher in pass blocking is a step forward in the right direction for the unit, even if it is a low bar to clear.


Big Q Is Back

Quenton Nelson’s 4th NFL season was a bit more tumultuous than his previous two. A preseason foot injury hurt his offseason prep heading into the season, and during the season, he suffered a nagging right ankle injury. This forced him to miss time for the first time in his NFL career.

Despite this, the former Fighting Irishman fought through injury and surrendered only 15 pressures and one sack in 13 games. While this was a regression from 2020, it was still amongst the upper echelon guards in the NFL, just not #1. This, along with limited mobility in space due to injury, made for arguably his worst season as a pro. It marked the first time in Nelson’s career he wasn’t a 1st Team All-Pro guard; he was instead 2nd Team. Given enough time to rehab his injury this offseason, it appears Nelson is back at full strength and should return to reclaim his title as the best guard in the game.

The 26-year-old is in a contract year, after all, and has the potential to be the highest-paid guard in NFL history if he returns to form. A healthy and extra-motivated Nelson should be a scary prospect for opposing defenders.

 


Ryan Kelly Remains A Rock

Ryan Kelly has been a solidifying presence in the interior of the Colts’ offensive line for over half a decade now. His intelligence and awareness have been crucial in protection calls, and his pass-blocking prowess has paired well with Nelson to create one of the most formidable interior duos in the NFL.

Kelly’s 2021 season began with a rocky start. He initially suffered an elbow injury during a freak Training Camp collision. That led to a below his standard start to the season, and later, he suffered some neck hypertension that limited him in practices in the midseason. The former Rolling Tide also suffered personal tragedy in his family, causing him to miss several games towards the end of the season. Once he returned, he, unfortunately, contracted COVID-19, limiting his impact in the final stretch of the season as well.

Kelly persisted, however, and now returns to the Colts healthy and determined for the upcoming season. Should he remain healthy and be able to practice more consistently in the offseason and during the season, he will jell nicely with new Colts QB Matt Ryan under center. His leadership will be essential for the unit yet again, especially with several young players stepping into bigger roles in the lineup.


Raise Your Pinter

Danny Pinter has the chance to finally break into the starting lineup for a season. The 2020 5th-round pick has had some sparse time in the lineup in the first two years of his career, getting four starts during Ryan Kelly’s absences.

In his three starts last season, the former South Bend, Indiana native allowed four pressures, no QB hits, and no sacks in 79 pass-blocking snaps. While he has a limited sample size, Pinter could be a pass-blocking upgrade over 2022 incumbent Mark Glowinski. Glowinski allowed 38 pressures in 16 games last year, though the impact was limited to just two sacks. Pinter could very well be a more consistent pass-blocker but might not be as lucky as Glowinski was. Whether he lives up to Glow’s run-blocking prowess is another story, but the Colts getting better pass protection at right guard in 2022 isn’t too bold of a prediction.

Overall, I expect him to win the starting right guard spot and prove to be a solid starter in 2022, with room to grow further in the end of his rookie contract.


Smith Silences Doubters

Braden Smith, in the 2021 offseason, was made one of the highest-paid right tackles in the NFL but didn’t quite live up to his new contract for the final year of his rookie deal. After suffering a foot injury in week 1, Smith missed the next six games. He later dealt with a triceps injury and, like most of the starting offensive line, contracted COVID towards the end of the season.

When he did play, his pass blocking in particular regressed, allowing 22 pressures in 11 games compared to the 23 in 16 the year prior. He also allowed four sacks instead of the 0 from 2020. Should he be healthier in 2022, the former Auburn Tiger should have a bounce-back year.

In a down year, Smith was ranked the 18th best offensive tackle from either side of the line in 2021. Should he bounce back healthy, he will return to close to the 2020 pass-blocking levels and live up to his new contract. Braden Smith has always been a punishing run blocker. Expect that to continue as well next season as he paves the way for the Colts’ talented stable of backs on the strong side of the line.


Pryor To The Rookie

Prior to rookie Bernhard Raimann stepping into the starting lineup on the blindside, Matt Pryor was the projected starter to get the first nod at LT. With his experience and versatility, it is no wonder the Colts want to give him the first chance.

While Pryor has prior NFL experience, the former Eagle doesn’t have much of it at LT. He was primarily used as a guard or a right tackle during the Colts’ reshuffling of the starting OL due to injuries in 2021. He did have one impressive start vs. the Raiders and Maxx Crosby/Yannick Ngakoue in week 17 at left tackle. But it wasn’t very big of a sample size to feel too confident in the performance. With concerns about his athleticism vs. elite tier edge athletes and his limited experience in this role, we could see Pryor be supplanted at LT by Raimann.

Pryor can still earn a starting job elsewhere on the line if Pinter struggles or Ryan Kelly gets injured. This would force Pinter to kick in at center and open up the right guard spot. There will very likely be a role for Matt Pryor in 2022 somewhere along the line, as he can line up at nearly any spot. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if his best spot is not on the blindside.

 


Dennis Kelly: A Good Insurance Policy 

A new veteran addition to the OL, Dennis Kelly represents the only Colts offensive linemen over 30 on the roster. The longtime Titan is no spring chicken, but he has tons of experience to share with the younger unit. If need be, Kelly can provide strong depth along the offensive line.

Kelly has predominantly been used as a swing tackle in the NFL, shifting to either side of the line for the Titans. He is most comfortable on the right side, where he has had the most experience in his career. Kelly had a strong regular season in 2021 as the Packers’ right tackle towards the end of the season. However, an abysmal performance in the playoffs made Green Bay sour on retaining him.

While Kelly is far from perfect, having a starting caliber swing tackle could be very useful in case of injuries. Should Braden Smith, in particular, miss any time, Kelly should compete with Pryor for the starting role in Smith’s absence.


Will Fries Beats French While Van Demark Keeps UDFA Streak Alive

To round out the offensive line rotation, three OL will compete for potentially only two spots left on the roster. 2021 rookie Will Fries likely has the best chance of the three. Reports from OTAs say that Head Coach Frank Reich is impressed by his year two improvement. The Former Nittany Lion didn’t get much playing time as a rookie but will have an opportunity to compete in the open competition for the starting RG spot. As of right now, I give the edge to Pinter, but may the best man win according to Reich.

Behind Fries, a pair of Undrafted Free Agents could be in the mix to round out the roster. Wesley French and Ryan Van Demark each have the potential to win an active roster spot. French out of Western Michigan was an All-MAC player and didn’t allow a sack in his final collegiate year.

The staff could be higher on Van Demark from UConn after giving him the highest guaranteed money for UDFA OL post-draft. They should be the front runners to fill out the end of the roster for the Colts OL. Neither likely receives much playing time barring very impressive showings this offseason. If several major injuries occur, there can be a chance to leapfrog those ahead of them on the depth chart.


Offensive Line Summary

The Colts’ offensive line in 2022 should take several important strides to regain their previous form in pass protection. Three factors aid their potential positive regression back closer to 2018-2020 levels:

  • Better Personnel: Potential pass protection upgrades on the starting OL with Raimann over Fisher and Pinter replacing Glowinski. Improved tackle depth from last season with Kelly replacing Davenport will help too.
  • Healthier Starting Lineup: Unlikely to have another season with 4/5 starters dealing with injuries by week 2. Several injuries even lingered throughout the season. More prep time this offseason and fewer missed practices/games should aid both the individual players and the unit’s cohesiveness.
  • QB Change: Matt Ryan was ranked 15th fastest time to throw while former Colts QB Carson Wentz was 26th. Having a more decisive QB with a faster release and more experience calling protections helps the pass protection stats.

When considering those three factors, the likelihood of the Colts improving their pass protection stats is likely. However, there is also a possibility the Colts will take a step back in run blocking. For all the complaints of Fisher as a pass-blocker, he was a highly effective road grader. Mark Glowinski shone in that area as well at RG. Raimann has potential in this area, and Pinter has plenty of athleticism in space too, so there is reason to have hope. This can be partially negated by healthier returning starters on the OL. Expect there to be a step back in yards before contact, but not by a dramatic margin.

Ultimately this Colts offensive line is due for a big rebound. Should it happen, the unit has a chance to reclaim its place in the upper echelon of blockers. Giving Matt Ryan more time will be critical to his success and will increase his likelihood of staying healthy. With the added youth on the offensive line, this front five could have room to grow in 2023 and beyond.

 

Check Out Our Previous 2022 Stat Projections

 

2022 Colts Stat Projections: Receiving

 

 

 

Way Too Early Colts 2022 Stat Projections: Rushing

 

 

Way Too Early Colts 2022 Stat Projections: Passing

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