It is known by now that the Indianapolis Colts have arguably the best offensive line in the league from All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson to the ever-steady left tackle in Anthony Castonzo. But there’s another name in Braden Smith who could emerge in 2020.
Entering his third season as the starting right tackle for the Colts, Smith is one of the more underrated players at his position. He’s quietly building a resume as one of the top young tackles in the game, and he continues to get better.
In fact, Pro Football Focus listed Smith as a dark-horse candidate to be the highest-graded offensive tackle in the NFL by the end of 2020.
Heading into his third season out of Auburn, Smith is an integral part of a Colts’ offensive line that enters the 2020 season as PFF’s top unit in the NFL. He improved his overall grade from 72.2 as a rookie in 2018 to 79.8 this past season (12th among all qualifying tackles) thanks to a big bump in his run-blocking grade. It rose over 15 points to 86.3 in 2019, and he helped pave the way for a Colts’ run game that led the league in expected points added (EPA) per play on runs to the right of the center. If Smith can make a similar jump in pass protection next season, we could be looking at him as a surprise atop our tackle grades.
Smith was drafted as a guard but was forced to start at right tackle during the Week 5 primetime game against the New England Patriots in 2018. It was an ugly game for the Colts, but it was the start of Smith’s tenure on the edge. He’s been the starter ever since and a solid one at that.
Smith will need to continue his consistency in pass protection, specifically with his initial punch and hand placement. But those are all improvements that come with reps.
The Colts already have the best guard in the NFL in the aforementioned Nelson. They could get another top lineman if Smith continues his progression on the edge.