7. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
This was a relatively down year for the Colts’ offensive line, given some late-season injuries at the tackle position and middling performances from several players on the interior, but the fact that they remain at No. 7 speaks to what we have come to expect from this unit.
Quenton Nelson’s first two seasons in the NFL were so remarkable that an 86.1 overall grade in 2020 — third among qualifying left guards — feels like a bit of a letdown. We can’t be that quick to normalize greatness, though. Nelson’s 90.6 PFF grade over the first three seasons of his career ranks first among all guards since 2018, and it is neck and neck with the grade Zack Martin produced over the first three seasons of his career in Dallas (90.8). Nelson has given no reason to believe that he won’t be one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL for the next decade-plus.
For team highlights, in pass protection, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers was only sacked 19 times (tied for 28th fewest) and hit 32 times (21st fewest) during all 16 starts in 2020. Now, some of that can be attributed to Rivers’ unorthodox fast release, ability to sense pocket pressure, and Indianapolis’ quick passing attack—but it’s still impressive nevertheless.
Meanwhile, in run blocking, the Colts averaged 124.8 rushing yards per game, good for 11th most in the NFL. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for the league’s third most rushing yards (1,169), as well as 11 rushing touchdowns—averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The Colts backfield as a whole, also including Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, helped Indianapolis rush for 1,996 rushing yards during 2020 (4.3 ypc. avg. and 20 rushing TD’s).
Per ESPN analytics, the Colts ranked 12th in team pass block win rate (60%) and 8th in team run block win rate (72%) on the season respectively.
Rest assured, the Colts probably would’ve ranked higher in any final ranking, had veteran blindside anchor Anthony Castonzo not had to miss 4 games with injuries (and emerging star right tackle Braden Smith with two missed starts as well). The Colts lack of reliable/proven backup offensive tackle depth behind them has been tested in their respective absences (although Smith is back now)—with largely underwhelming results (however veteran Jared Veldheer held his own in his debut start in the season finale).
Despite the backup issues at offensive tackle, the offensive line collectively continues to be the strength and calling card of the Colts offensively—also featuring 2x All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, 2x Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly, and solid veteran guard Mark Glowinski in the interior—even in a down season, because of injuries/COVID-19.
However, the Colts finding their long-term left tackle of the future would go a long way toward solving some of their recent tackle depth issues—at least for a season or two.