Analyzing the Colts Pre-Draft Offensive Line

As the NFL inches closer to the 2012 NFL Draft and final free agent acquisitions are made by teams around professional football, draft needs change. An area the Colts have adressed a lot this off-season is the offensive line.

Gone are long-time linemen Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem. New to the team are centers Samson Satele, A.Q. Shipley, guard Mike McGlynn, and tackle Winston Justice. How these players, along with those already on the roster, will mesh as a unit has a big impact on how Indianapolis will evaluate the value of offensive linemen in the upcoming draft. With so many needs at other positions, this could be a very good thing.

Consider a starting lineup of LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Joe Reitz, C Samson Satele, RG Benjamin Ijalana, RT Winston Justice. Behind these players are former starting RT Jeff Linkenbach, G Mike McGlynn, G/T Mike Tepper, G Seth Olsen, G Matt Murphy, C A.Q. Shipley and C Jake Kirkpatrick.

Consider that last year’s starting group consisted of an aging right tackle playing right guard, an aging center who was still the most cerebral player at his position in the league but was below average physically, a rookie starting left tackle, a first time starting left guard, and a backup tackle starting on the right side. The 2012 version of the Colts offensive line, in whatever form it finally takes, will be a more experienced, more physically imposing group with the players that are already on the roster.

In fact, an early prediction for the 2012 offensive line roster is Castonzo, Reitz, Satele, Ijalana, Justice, Linkenbach, Olsen, McGlynn, and Shipley. In my opinion, the talent level of this group of linemen is superior to that of the 2011 group day one.

Moreover, this group of linemen will be able to accomplish far superior run blocking, should hold up better against the beefier defensive linemen that tended to cause pressue up the middle on the quarterback, and is better-suited to support a Luck-style offense. Add to this that the new offensive scheme will likely place a lesser premium on a pure “pocket protection” standpoint because Luck is vastly more capable moving with the football and there appears to be little reason to fear what the line brings to the table in 2012.

When this is taken in context of dire needs at receiver, tight end, cornerback, nose tackle, and linebacker (with safety somewhere behind those), any emphasis on the offensive line in the 2012 NFL Draft — particularly early — seems unnecessary. It makes more sense to bring in a couple of undrafted free agent offensive linemen to develop, and sign any other offensive linemen for depth once final cuts are made prior to the season opener.

If this is not enough of a reason to feel relatively good about the offensive line and comfortable with the group protecting Luck as he enters the NFL, consider the studies Nate has completed explaining how offensive line strength does not often or always correlate to wins or playoff berths. The team needs skill-position players and defensive linemen far more than the offensive line. If I’m drafting for the Colts later this month, I’m only taking an offensive lineman if one drops that is simply too good to pass up.