INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – To address arguably their most persistent and pressing concern in this week’s NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts need to do something truly historic.
They need to give quarterback Andrew Luck what he’s been missing the past four seasons, something his predecessor – that would be Peyton Manning – had for the bulk of his 14-year career with the team.
They need to provide him with stability at center.
Manning and Jeff Saturday shared 13 seasons and an NFL-record 170 regular-season starts.
Luck has lined up behind five different starting centers: Samson Satele, A.Q. Shipley, Mike McGlynn, Khaled Holmes and Jon Harrison. Over the past 64 regular-season games, Harrison has started the most consecutive games at center – 10.
Make it stop.
Do something historic.
Take a center. Yes, with the 18th overall pick in Thursday night’s first round.
While we’ve lobbied long and hard for general manager Ryan Grigson to address a deficient offensive line by adding Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker, we’ve had a change of heart. Besides, there’s every chance a run on offensive tackles before the Colts are on the clock will exhaust the pool of those worthy of the No. 18 pick.
So, we’re banging the drum for Alabama center Ryan Kelly.
And have we mentioned that will represent a historic decision for the franchise and a rare one for the NFL?
Since their relocation in 1984, they’ve drafted six centers, none higher than the fourth round. In their history, they’ve used a first-round pick on a center once – Auburn’s Jackie Burkett in 1959, and he eventually played linebacker, not center. They’ve taken only two in the second round: Dick Szymanski in 1955 and Ray Donaldson in 1980.
In grander terms, a Kelly-to-the-Colts scenario would represent something of a draft aberration.
Over the past 25 years, just 11 centers have been taken in round 1. Eleven, as opposed to 104 tackles.
However, when center-needy teams have gone against conventional wisdom, they’ve been rewarded. The six centers taken in the first round over the past decade have combined for 22 Pro Bowl appearances. Each has been selected at least twice.
That group: Dallas’ Travis Frederick (31st overall in 2013), Miami’s Mike Pouncey (15th in ’11), Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey (18th in ’10), Cleveland’s Alex Mack (21st in ’09), Buffalo’s Eric Wood (28th in ’09) and the New York Jets’ Nick Mangold (29th in ’06).
NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock has Kelly listed as his 15th best player in the draft, and believes the Bama standout would be a perfect fit for the Colts.
“Ryan Kelly’s a top-tier offensive lineman in this draft,’’ he said. “He could play center or guard, but he’s the top center in this draft.
“I think he could be an interesting guy at 18.’’
It’s imperative the Colts strengthen the interior of their offensive line. Pressure up the middle is every quarterback’s worst nightmare. Quarterbacks like to step up in the pocket to avoid edge rushers, but can’t if the interior is compromised.
We’re not anointing Ryan Kelly the second coming of Jeff Saturday.
But we’d love to find out.