Offensive line high priority for Indianapolis Colts during 2018 NFL Draft

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard is all about rebuilding the Indianapolis Colts through the draft, so it’s understandable his eagerness is amped these days.

He holds nine selections in the April 26-28 NFL Draft, including the 6th overall. That offers ample ammunition to address a roster that lacks enough top-end talent to make a difference.

“At the end of the day,’’ Ballard said, “you’ve got to draft and develop and stack drafts – one, two, three drafts – on top of each other where these guys are homegrown Colts. That’s how you build a winner.’’

Between now and the draft, we’ll examine some of the team’s more pressing areas of needs:

Today: Offensive line

  • On hand: T Anthony Castonzo, C Ryan Kelly, G Jack Mewhort, G/T Joe Haeg, G/T Le’Raven Clark, G/T Denzelle Good, G Matt Slauson, G Jeremy Vujnovich.
  • Key stats: 56 and 52. The Colts allowed 56 sacks in 2017, most in the NFL and the fourth-most in team history. Jacoby Brissett went down 52 times in 15 starts, again the most in the league and the second-highest total in team history. That wasn’t an aberration. Pass protection has been a serious issue since Andrew Luck became the face of the franchise in 2012, and it transcends the sack total. Indy has yielded 239 sacks since Luck’s arrival, which ranks 12th in the league over that stretch. But pass protection and QBs holding onto the ball too long have resulted in 691 hits, according to NFL.com. That’s the most in the NFL. And that’s already taken a toll on Luck. That must stop.
  • Level of concern: High.
  • What about?: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame; T Michael McGlinchey, Notre Dame; T Orlando Brown, Oklahoma; T Connor Williams, Texas; G Isaiah Wynn, Georgia.
  • About Nelson: Regardless which draft analyst you side with, Nelson is considered one of the top three non-quarterbacks on the board. He possesses outstanding size (6-5, 325 pounds) and brings a nastiness to the game. Nelson started 36 of 37 games for the Irish, including all 12 as a senior during which he didn’t allow a sack. Team captain and Outland Trophy finalist as a senior.
  • From Nelson: Wherever Nelson lands, that franchise will be getting an interior offensive lineman that oozes confidence.
    “I haven’t really thought about whether I’m the best player in this draft or not, but I believe I’m the best offensive lineman and that’s all I can control,’’ he said during the NFL Scouting Combine.
    “I think I should be talked about in that regard – the top-5 conversation – because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys and you need to stop them.
    “I think I’m one of those guys.’’
  • Final word: We’ve watched Luck, Brissett, Matt Hasselbeck and others take their lumps behind an offensive line that too often has been ineffective. We’re in favor of investing an early pick in another prospect, one capable of providing game-changing impact (a pass rusher, a running back, a linebacker, perhaps a defensive back). At the risk of irritating guards across the land, it’s hard for us to get on board with investing the 6th overall pick in an interior lineman. Others agree. The last guard taken with a top-6 pick: Jim Dombroski by the New Orleans Saints in 1986. Since 1980, only 10 guards have the distinction of being a top-10 pick.
    Having said that, we’ll applaud Ballard snatching Nelson . . . but only after he adequately addresses the Colts’ pass rush, the lack of a feature running back and the linebacker corps.