2011 Roster Projections – OT Anthony Castonzo

The draft is over, and with the lockout back in place the only thing to do is study draft picks. This is one of the few drafts where almost every pick gives the Colts a player who looks like he could see significant time in the coming year — sans injuries. From Anthony Castonzo to Delone Carter, each of the Colts top four selections shows something that either has been missing from the team, or a new wrinkle that could have a significant impact on how the team operates in 2011. First, let’s take a look at the Colts first round selection, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo out of Boston College.

Castonzo was not my favorite OT in this draft, but he was not someone I felt would be a liability either. Unlike Gabe Carimi, who I felt would be dominant but could have some trouble adjusting to a pass heavy responsibility, Castonzo had the build and experience to fit right in with the Colts. The only other tackle I saw as a better prospect was Nate Solder, but he was drafted ahead of the Colts.

Castonzo is a pro-ready pass protector who fits the mold and style of a dream left tackle for Indy. He isn’t an elite pass protector, as his performance in the Senior Bowl shows, but he is an obvious step up from current LT Charlie Johnson. Johnson hasn’t been horrible — he’s played about as well as a true guard can at left tackle — but Castonzo has an edge.

As a run blocker, Castonzo is not dominant either. He does not have noteworthy power or brute strength, but he utilizes his balance to get into a desirable position and attempts outsmart the defender to open a running lane. In this regard, the comparison between Johnson and Castonzo is not as favorable. CJ shows more natural strength and plays smart, giving him an edge in the running game. Actually, Johnson was a big reason for much of Indy’s rushing success last year. The Colts averaged over five yards-per-carry, with few stuffs, and a high occurrence of first downs on runs off of the left end on stretch plays, as well in the left “B” gap (the gap between the left tackle and left guard). This was also due in part to the play of Jamey Richard and Kyle DeVan at left guard, but Johnson played an important role in making rushing attempts to the left very effective.

Regardless, Bill Polian has indicated that the plan for Castonzo is to play left tackle. He was the most pro-ready LT prospect in the draft, but has a relatively low ceiling, which may not make him one of the best long-term LT prospects. Still, the Colts need someone who can immediately upgrade the offensive line and help to protect Peyton Manning. Castonzo offers that — and with the obvious need to replace both Mike Pollak and Ryan Diem on the right side, the odds are good that current Johnson will be moved to RG or RT to fill the void. As has already been indicated by numerous insiders who cover the Colts, like Phil B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star and Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com’s AFC South Blog, it would be a monumental upset to see anyone but Castonzo starting at left tackle on opening day.

Ultimately, Castonzo is a guy who should be capable of starting for four or five years and be exactly what he’s needed to be — a solid left tackle who doesn’t make too many mistakes, does his job well, and protects Peyton Manning for the rest of his career. What may be interesting in the long run though, is that the Colts second round pick, Benjamin Ijalana could be a much better offensive tackle down the road and may challenge Castonzo. While this would require Ijalana to overcome some of the technical issues that did not hurt him badly in college, fans might find that the Colts second rounder is actually their “franchise left tackle,” while the first rounder is merely a stop gap. Only time will tell.

In either case, fans should take away one certainty from Castonzo’s selection in the first round — he was selected with the intention of being the Colts starting left tackle in 2011.