ESPN’s Mel Kiper, other draft analysts expect Colts to target offensive line in draft

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (February 22, 2016) – Two months and counting until the NFL Draft, and mock drafts once again are in vogue.

Not surprisingly, most are convinced the Indianapolis Colts, who hold the 18th overall pick, will address their most pressing need – offensive line – in the first round April 28.

That includes Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN’s long-time draft expert. In his latest mock draft, Kiper has the Colts selecting Alabama center Ryan Kelly.

“I think Kelly (is a good fit) based on the way he played at Alabama, the great leader he is, how durable he is,’’ Kiper said on a Monday conference call. “I think he’s a first-round pick.

“For the Colts with (quarterback Andrew) Luck, having a guy like Kelly right there in front of your franchise quarterback wouldn’t be a bad call.’’

Kelly isn’t listed on Kiper’s “Big Board’’ of top 25 prospects, but that might change following this week’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kiper does have the 6-5, 300-pounder as his top-rated center.

Kelly was a three-year starter at Alabama and recipient of the 2015 Rimington Award, given to the nation’s top center.

Kiper compared Kelly favorably with the Cleveland Browns’ Alex Mack and New York Jets’ Nick Mangold.

Several other mock drafts fall in line with Kiper – an offensive lineman – although the choice varies.

ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Colts targeting Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. Of four NFL.com mock drafts, two have the Colts addressing their offensive line with Decker and Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin. One prefers Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd while the other opts for Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.

No one can argue the importance of the Colts’ upgrading their offensive line.

In 55 career regular-season games, Luck has been sacked 115 times, 16th-most in the NFL since 2012. But the abuse he’s absorbed in the passing pocket transcends the raw sacks.

According to NFL game books, Luck was hit 57 times in seven games last season. He missed nine games with shoulder, rib and kidney injuries.

And according to NFL.com, since 2012 the Colts have allowed their quarterbacks to be hit a league-high 450 times while passing. Jacksonville is second with 410.

The Colts haven’t ignored improving their offensive line, but too often have failed at doing so. That’s especially true when using the draft. Since 2012, they’ve selected six offensive linemen, including three in the top four rounds. Only Jack Mewhort, a second-round pick in 2014, can be considered a success.

The jury remains out on three: guard Hugh Thornton (round 3, ’13), center Khaled Holmes (round 4, ’13), tackle Denzelle Good (round 7, ’15). Tackle Ulrick John (round 7, ’14) and guard Justin Anderson (round 7, ’12) no longer are with the team.

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