Indianapolis Colts draft preview: Spotlight on the offensive line

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 4, 2016) – Here’s an undeniable reality in the NFL: high-profile free-agent signings drive public interest, but the draft is the lifeblood to building a championship-caliber roster.

Listen to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

“The draft is where we’re really going to be better,” he said. “I think we have to over these next two drafts continue to identify guys, particularly defensively, that are going to be key guys as we go forward.”

The Colts hold six picks in the April 28-30 draft – they sent their sixth-rounder to Oakland for linebacker Sio Moore – and it’s not hyperbole to insist their status as perennial playoff contender hinges on general manager Ryan Grigson and his personnel staff adequately addressing several roster deficiencies.

That in mind, over the next few weeks we’ll look at areas of concern.

Today, we focus on the offensive line.

  • Projected starters: LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, C Jon Harrison, RG Hugh Thornton, RT Denzelle Good.
  • Top backups: Joe Reitz, Khaled Holmes.
  • Key stat: We’ll give you two. First, as a result of injury or ineffective play and including the playoffs, the Colts have turned to 31 different starting combinations since the arrival of Andrew Luck in 2012. So much for developing cohesion. Second, Luck has taken way too much abuse because of leaky protection. He’s been sacked 115 times in 55 regular-season games, which ranks in the middle of the pack. But the Colts have allowed a league-high 450 quarterback hits in 64 games. That’s no way to treat the franchise’s most indispensable player.
  • Degree of concern: High. Very high.
  • What about: Ohio State T Taylor Decker, Michigan State T Jack Conklin, Alabama C Ryan Kelly, Notre Dame C Nick Martin.
  • More about Decker: He’s 6-7, 310 pounds and a former Buckeyes teammate of Mewhort. Decker excelled at left tackle, but would flip to the right side and be the long-term bookend with Castonzo. The team is high on Good’s potential, but we’d rather invest in someone with more long-term upside (Decker) than hope Good, a 2015 seventh-round pick, greatly out-plays his draft position.
  • More from Decker: “I don’t think anybody would want to come in and be like, ‘Oh, I’ll ride the bench for a couple of years.’ I want to come in immediately. I want to be a starter. I don’t want to just be a player that ‘we can survive with him.’ I want to provide value for a team and be an asset and not a guy who’s kind of dead weight.”
  • Final word: We understand those who believe there’s a stronger need for a pass rusher. We just don’t agree. If the Colts don’t fix their offensive line and keep Luck out of harm’s way, nothing else matters. Getting a tackle in the first round that might play for 10 years makes sense. We wouldn’t complain if Grigson looked for his center of the future in round 2. Kelly or Martin could bring stability to the middle of the line. Since 2012, Luck has taken snaps from five different starting centers: Samson Satele, A.Q. Shipley, Mike McGlynn, Harrison and Holmes.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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