INDIANAPOLIS – That glaring hole at left tackle created by Anthony Castonzo’s retirement remains.
But so do the Indianapolis Colts’ options at replacing him.
Option No. 1 probably involves the April 29-May 1 NFL Draft.
Listen to Jim Irsay.
The draft, the owner said in mid-March, “would be a direction that would be ideal. We have seen that process work through Tarik Glenn and Anthony Castonzo, and we’ve been blessed there to have that sort of consistency and great play at that position.’’
They were a pair of 10-year cornerstones.
Glenn started 167 of 173 games from 1997-2006 and didn’t miss a game in nine of his 10 seasons. Castonzo was the Colts’ starting left tackle in 152 of 169 games from 2011-2020 and was a 16-game starter six times.
A left tackle of their ilk allows the offense to operate by maximizing the surrounding personnel. A tight end isn’t needed to serve as a sixth offensive lineman. A running back doesn’t need to chip an edge rusher before leaking out on a pass route.
Including the postseason, the Colts were 4-13 when Castonzo missed time with an injury, and the impact of his absence was on full display last season. The pass protection allowed just 12 sacks in 12 games when he anchored the left side, and nine in the five games he missed.
To this point, general manager Chris Ballard has resisted the urge to fill Castonzo’s void with a viable veteran prospect (Alejandro Villanueva, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, Russell Okung, Jason Peters). He’s signed veterans Sam Tevi and Julie’n Davenport, but both are on one-year deals and likely address the depth issue – they need to be upgrades over Le’Raven Clark and Chaz Green – and not the overriding concern of whom represents the long-term answer.
Adding another veteran as a short-term remedy remains a possibility, but the draft makes the most sense.
“There is always that transition process of college to pro,’’ Irsay said, “but it would be excellent if we could get one in the draft that we could see there for a long period of time to come as our left tackle.’’
No one should question Ballard’s commitment to keeping the status of the offensive line – and left tackle – on the front burner.
“I believe it in my soul that that’s where you win,’’ he said. “You win up front in this league.’’
Six overall picks – round 1 (21st overall), round 2 (54th), round 3 (to Eagles as part of Carson Wentz trade), round 4 (127th), round 5 (165th), round 6 (206th), round 7 (248th).
On the Roster
Braden Smith, Sam Tevi, Julie’n Davenport, Carter O’Donnell, Jake Benzinger, Elijah Nkansah.
There has been discussion of moving three-time first-team Pro Bowl left guard Quenton Nelson to left tackle, or flipping right tackle Braden Smith to the left side. It’s one thing to talk about it, and something else entirely to put that into action.
“Not specifically about this team . . . it’s not as easy as everything thinks it is,’’ said recently-hired assistant line coach Kevin Mawae. “I think everybody is like, ‘Just plug them in at guard.’ Well, that just doesn’t happen like that. There are unique tools and attributes that a guard has to have versus a tackle and a center, and just to plug and play is not the right way to go about it.’’
We agree with the Hall of Famer.
Leave Nelson at left guard and Smith at right tackle, and find a left tackle.
In the Draft
Penei Sewell, Oregon; Rashawn Slater, Northwestern; Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech; Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC; Jalen Mayfield, Michigan; Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State; James Hudson, Cincinnati, Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame; Sam Cosmi, Texas; Alex Leatherwood, Alabama.
Regardless which mock draft analysts you prefer, all agree this is a robust crop. As many as six could be selected in the 1st round and at least 10 are expected to be gone after two rounds. That quality depth, coupled with five quarterbacks almost assuredly been taken in the top half of the 1st round and the usual assortment of playmaking wideouts, cornerbacks and pass-rush prospects, should result in the Colts having options when they’re on the clock at No. 21.
The question Ballard might face: stay at 21 and take the best tackle on the board – Darrisaw (doubtful he lasts that long), Jenkins, Mayfield, Eichenberg, Leatherwood – or opt for an edge pass rusher? And no one should be surprised if he finds a trade partner and slides back in attempt at recouping that 3rd-round pick he sent to Philly. Ballard could retreat in round 1 and still get a quality prospect to succeed Castonzo or bolster the pass rush.
Eichenberg Next in Line?
The bar has been set high for Eichenberg. He’s considered a late-first or early second-round prospect, and is trying to measure up to those who have come before him.
“We’ve had a lot of great guys come through here such as Zack Martin, Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey and some other guys,’’ Eichenberg said. “It’s that standard they’ve held themselves to and we continue to do.
“It’s definitely the culture in our offensive line room . . . without good culture, you can’t win.’’
The Colts made Nelson the 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft and McGlinchey was taken three spots later by San Francisco. Stanley was the 6th overall pick in ’16 by Baltimore and Martin the 16th overall pick in ’14 by Dallas.
And now it’s Eichenberg’s turn. The 6-8, 302-pounder is viewed as NFL-ready after starting 38 games at left tackle for the Irish.
“I think I’m consistent,’’ he said. “I think I’m a guy you can plug in and play right now. I’m not a guy that needs a lot of development.’’
The Colts have been here before – needing a left tackle and sitting in the bottom third of the draft. Twice, they’ve gotten their man. They used the 19th overall pick in 1997 to land Glenn and the 22nd overall pick in ’11 to grab Castonzo.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.