One of the most overlooked units on the 2012 Colts' team was their defensive line.
As we get closer and closer to free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft, there are several key positions that many Colts' fans are focusing on, specifically cornerback, outside linebacker, offensive line, safety, and (to a lesser extent) wide receiver.
For some reason, the defensive line has been glossed over, despite the fact that it was one of the team's worst units in 2012, a big reason why the Colts were terrible against the run and failed to generate a consistent pass rush.
Why is this?
Several reasons come to mind. First, it's not a sexy position. OLB/DE is the traditional pass rushers, who get both the flashy sack numbers and the big contracts. Cornerback, a skill position, has a spot light on them every time the ball is thrown their way, as are wide receivers. Safeties can get lost in the shuffle, but with the rise of players like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, the position has gotten much more focus over the last decade.
Offensive line is the one area that the Colts have holes in that is not a "sexy" position, but with Andrew Luck being hit so often last season, it's a position that has every Colts fan is watching closely this offseason.
Second, there are no big names available in free agency. At outside linebacker Paul Kruger and Anthony Spencer, while not Grade A stars yet, had very good seasons that put them on national news' radar. At safety, big names like Ed Reed and Jairus Byrd (who likely won't leave Buffalo, but has still been discussed) have been the topic of discussion.
Even offensive line has a few big names out there, like Sebastian Vollmer and Andy Levitre.
Defensive line? Not so much. Henry Melton of Chicago is the closest thing to a big name, and everybody expects him to be back with the Bears in 2013.
So, because the position has been overlooked by most, I'd like to establish where exactly the Colts are for 2013 at the position.
To start, I look back at my detailed look at the Colts' cap in 2013 from a couple weeks ago. Here are the defensive linemen currently on the roster (and their cost against the cap in 2013):
DE Cory Redding- $4,391,667
NT Brandon McKinney- $1,150,000
DE Drake Nevis- $717,278
DE Clifton Geathers- $630,000
DE Kellen Heard- $630,000
DE Ricardo Mathews- $540,000
NT Josh Chapman- $533,878
DE Lawrence Guy- $480,000
In 2012, injuries were a huge part of the defensive line's rotating door, as all of the above names got significant snaps throughout the season (minus, to some extent, Kellen Heard), or were injured.
Redding was the most consistent starters, getting 648 snaps throughout the season, missing two complete games, and being limited in at least three or four others. Next comes Ricardo Mathews, who was the fourth DE in training camp behind Redding, Nevis and Moala. Then there's Nevis, then Guy, Geathers, and Heard.
Meanwhile, Brandon McKinnie and Josh Chapman, both of whom figured to be in the Colts' plans for nose tackle, sat the entire season out with injuries.
For 2013, the roster as stands would likely result in Redding and Nevis starting with Chapman and McKinnie sharing some kind of rotation at nose tackle. Guy and Geathers would be the first backups.
The problem with this group is that one, it's not that talented, and two, there are a lot of unknowns.
The first issue is the biggest one, obviously. Redding, as he gets older and no longer plays next to Haloti Ngata, is declining. PFF ranked him second to last in run defense in 2012, and 19th out of 34 3-4 ends in pass rush. McKinnie has never been more than a backup, and Guy, Geathers and Heard are all young, inexperienced depth players (although Guy is the most promising of the three).
On the other hand, Nevis was the sole Colts' defensive linemen to earn a total positive grade from PFF, with great work against the run. He did however, struggle to consistently get to the pass rusher (Moala was the only DL that didn't).
But, regardless, questions remain about whether Nevis, who has played in just 14 games over the last two seasons, will be able to last the 17-week season.
Similarly, Josh Chapman's long-term health (not to mention his ability at the NFL level) is a complete unknown at this point.
The Colts need some kind of talent to infuse the line with, both for depth and on a starting level. The question, is how to do that.
One option is to get established talent in free agency. While there isn't any huge names available, there is some solid talent.
One option would be PFF's number one rated free agent interior linemen, Desmond Bryant. Bryant was arrested on a "criminal mischief" charge, but it's not expected to hurt his FA stock much. Bryant was a little inconsistent against the run, but was a very good pass rusher after getting a starting spot midway through the season.
Another top-level option is Mike DeVito, from the Jets. Originally an undrafted free agent, the 27-year old Devito is a very good run defender at the 3-4 end position.
You can find the complete list of interior linemen free agents here, ranked by PFF's 2012 grade.
I would guess that more likely would be smaller deals from that list, as I expect the Colts to spend their "big money" on the offensive line and pass rushers, possibly in the defensive back field.
There's also always the draft, although that certainly wouldn't give the Colts any more answers to their already question-riddled lineup. However, it would give them some talent to develop long-term.
So what do you think? Should the defensive line be a target for an offseason filled with holes (but also the cap room to fill some of them)? Should the Colts look for veteran talent in free agency, or pick up some developmental picks through the draft?
Quite frankly, I don't know. It's one of the issues when the team has as many holes as the Colts do.
One thing is sure: I don't want to see a defensive line made up of backups and bench warmers come playoff time again.