Since Jake Scott and Ryan Lilja both departed Indianapolis, the Colts have been searching to find some consistency at the guard position. In 2008, Vice Chairman Bill Polian brought in three offensive linemen, all who played center in college, hoping to develop them into NFL caliber players who would become successor to five-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. To this point, Jamey Richard, Mike Pollak, and Steve Justice have disappointed in their own ways.
Justice failed to stay on the roster in 2009. Richard spent time at center when Saturday was injured in 2009, and moved to guard in 2010 only to be replaced. Former second round pick Pollak has won the starting job at right guard two seasons in a row only to lose it at some point during the season. Undrafted free agent acquisition, and former Arena II league center, Kyle DeVan was acquired in 2009 and has become one of the team’s most steady contributors at guard. Still, many believe that while DeVan is steady and not necessarily a liability, he is not dominant in any one phase of the game and is lighter than ideal.
In order to bulk up, the Colts added players like Jaimie Thomas (7th Round 2009) and Jacques McClendon (4th round 2010), but neither have become starters and are still in a developmental phase of their careers. While the position would improve drastically if one of McClendon or Thomas can develop prior to the 2011 season, and if left tackle Charlie Johnson can move inside due to draft or trade acquisitions at his position, there will still be long-term uncertainty if the team lacks meaningful depth — particularly if Pollak or McClendon move over to center to replace Saturday.
Round 1 – Pick 22
Mike Pouncey - Florida – Pouncey, like his brother, will lead the draft pack at guard and center. He is the kind of player who can step in right away and have an immediate impact at either position, although he spent much of his college career at guard, while Maurkice played center. Pouncey is a blue chip prospect who will likely not fall all the way to the Colts at pick 22, but if he does he would bring a great deal of value. The problem is, offensive tackle is clearly the position that could use upgrading most and would allow movement on the line to solidify the guard position. High value.
Round 2 – Pick 53
Danny Watkins - Baylor – Watkins projects to be a successful guard, with the ability to potentially move outside for a team that would need him to play a Charlie Johnson-like role. The Colts love players who are dynamic enough to play multiple positions so this increases his value on the team’s draft board. The down side for Watkins is that he will be a 27 year old rookie. Indianapolis does not necessarily shy away from older players and, frankly, his age increases the likelihood that he could make meaningful contributions right away. High value.
Rodney Hudson - Florida State – Hudson won accolades in college as a player capable of playing both guard positions, and possibly center, with excellent run blocking skills. He is smallish, weighing in just under 300 pounds, which could make him less than ideal for a team who already has players with difficulty maintaining an effective NFL weight at the position. On the other hand, if Polian and the Colts draft room are still enamored by small prospects, Hudson may get a very close look in the second. Moderate value.
Round 3 – Pick 87
Marcus Cannon - TCU – Cannon is a bit of an enigma for a guard prospect. He is 6-foot 6-inches tall and has a bit of difficulty keeping weight on. He weighed in at 358 pounds for the combine only to lose 9 pounds prior to his Pro Day. For a player who is extremely athletic, was dominant in college, and who appears to have the agility to compete in the NFL, one has to wonder why he does not enter the draft with a primary focus at offensive tackle. Either way, a potential right tackle is what he would likely be in the Colts system. A 6-foot 6-inch guard would severely differ from Indy’s norm. Moderate value.
Orlando Franklin - Miami – Franklin is another 6-foot 6-inch guard prospects that seemingly does not fit the mold of a Colts guard. The team may consider him as another player capable of playing and developing at multiple positions but it seems unlikely that a player his size would be a steady contributor at guard in Indianapolis. Low to moderate value.
Will Rackley - Lehigh – Guard is one of those fun positions where talented players can come from just about anywhere, and they often do. Rackley fits in the mold of a Colts guard, except that he played in a power offensive line in college. This may give him value as a run blocking upgrade, but it could also make him take a while to develop in the Colts zone based blocking scheme. Low to moderate value.
Round 4 – Pick 119
John Moffitt - Wisconsin – Moffitt seems like the kind of player the Colts may be looking for to not only help solidify guard depth but for another prospect to take over for Jeff Saturday when he retires. He is 6-foot 4-inches tall, 315 pounds, and has experience at both guard and center for one of college’s toughest offensive lines. Moderate to high value.
Lee Ziemba – Auburn – Ziemba is a college tackle who may have to move inside in the NFL. Some analysts are really high on Ziemba, and he seems to be respected by his college teammates and opponents. He could be a high value pick in the fourth round but one would still have to question whether he is a truly dynamic player in the Colts specific scheme because he is 6-foot 6-inches tall. Again, no Colts guard is taller than 6-foot 5-inches tall (Jamey Richard) and this could place Ziemba in a right tackle or bust kind of position. Moderate value.
Clint Boling - Georgia – Boling seems like the kind of player Indianapolis might show some interest in. He played left tackle at Georgia when called upon to fill in for injuries, and he did a fair job. A player with that kind of trial-by-fire experience may pique the team’s interest. He offers good value in the fourth round and could probably develop at multiple positions. Moderate value.
Round 5- Pick 152
Darius Morris - Temple – There is a real chance that Morris will not be available in the fifth round, but if he is, he would be an excellent draft pick. Morris has the 6-foot 4-inch frame and 319 pound body that make him a potentially versatile offensive line acquisition who should be able to play either guard position, or could slide out to right tackle. As has been discussed in assessing positional value, the problem with picks once you get past the marquee players at a position is not to strike too soon to waste value later in the draft and not to strike too late to miss a player that would be a great benefit to your team. Morris has the potential upside of players like Rackley and Moffitt, but could be a steal in the fifth round. Moderate to high value.
Round 6 – Pick 188
Justin Boren - Ohio State – Boren is another player who fits the mold of a Colts guard. He is 6-foot 3-inches tall and weighs 309 pounds. As with most late-round picks he is the kind of player who projects well, and has potential. With a sixth round selection the team would not be investing a great deal and could find a gem. If Indy has been unable to adequately address their offensive line this late in the draft, Boren is worth a look. Moderate value.
Mike Pouncey, Danny Watkins, John Moffitt, and Darius Morris are the most exciting guard prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft in terms of potential value. The problem with Pouncey and Watkins could be that they are rated so high as guards that any team who needs defensive and offensive tackle help will be in a position to pass on these excellent prospects to capitalize on the elite talent available at other positions. This leaves players like Moffitt and Morris as guys who may be more likely to end up on the Colts roster as the team heads into the summer. Feel free to discuss other guard prospects who have not been included.