Doyel: The NFL draft is over, the Colts still don't have a LT, and I can't explain it either
Russell Okung is available. He’s 32 years old and has missed more games (19) over the last two seasons than he has played (13), but he's available. Why does that matter, today? Because the 2021 NFL Draft ended Saturday, and over the course of the three-day event the Indianapolis Colts did not fill their hole at left tackle.
However, Russell Okung is available.
So is Eric Fisher. He was released by Kansas City in March because the Chiefs feel Patrick Mahomes will need better protection than Fisher could offer. Mahomes is three times as quick as Colts quarterback Carson Wentz – literally, Mahomes could run the 40-yard dash, backpedal to the starting line, and run it again before Wentz covers the distance once – but he needs a better left tackle than Fisher. Makes you think Wentz needs a better left tackle than Fisher, too.
Who did the Colts draft?:Here are round-by-round selections from the 2021 NFL Draft
The Colts didn’t sign a tackle in the early days of 2021 NFL free agency, because that’s when the best available players get paid and the Colts rarely pay for a top free agent. Just not their philosophy. That leaves them rummaging through garage-sale free agency, sifting through bric-a-brac and a VHS tape of Sharkey’s Machine for tackles Sam Tevi and Juliên Davenport, and it will perhaps have them looking again soon among the faded cargo shorts and cassette tapes of Men Without Hats for Okung, Fisher or perhaps another unemployed 32-year-old tackle, Alejandro Villanueva.
The Colts locked down their third tight end, though.
Indianapolis drafted SMU tight end Kylen Granson in the fourth round on Saturday, and we’re going to like him around here. He started a book club at SMU, donating backpacks and books to local elementary schools, and the Twitter page of that club – KG’s Kids – has pictures of four different Dallas-area classrooms wishing Granson good luck in the 2021 NFL Draft. In one picture, the kids in Mrs. Muzek’s classroom have carved footballs from construction paper and written words of encouragement on those footballs. It’s adorable. And it worked.
The Colts need Mrs. Muzek’s mojo. Maybe her kids can wish Colts general manager Chris Ballard good luck in his search for a left tackle.
Ballard: LT won’t be Quenton Nelson or Braden Smith
It’s possible the Colts’ GM has been lying to us. At this point, he better be.
Look, it’s not a big deal when a professional sports executive offers, shall we say, counter intelligence to the media. Their job, and here I’m talking about execs in the NBA and MLB as well as the NFL, is to obfuscate. Can’t have other teams knowing your plans, know what I mean? President Joe Biden doesn’t publicly disclose his strategy for keeping the United States ahead of Russia in the global power rankings, either – and yes, I’m implying the jobs mentioned in this paragraph are of equal importance.
On Friday night, after the Colts drafted a defensive line project in Round 2, one night after drafting a defensive line project in Round 1, Ballard was asked about the hole on his roster he seems to be ignoring. He was asked about left tackle, and he was thrown a lifeline. Perhaps, the question delicately suggested, the Colts plan to move left guard Quenton Nelson or right tackle Braden Smith to left tackle?
“No,” Ballard said. “Right now, we’d probably leave the four (returning) guys alone.”
In a vacuum, of course that makes sense. Moving Nelson or Smith would give the Colts’ five-man offensive line a new starter at two positions, not one: left tackle, and whichever spot was just vacated. More than that, Nelson is a guard for a reason, and Smith is a right tackle for the same reason: Neither is a left tackle.
But here’s the thing: We’re not in a vacuum. We’re in Indianapolis, where the Colts need a left tackle.
Colts owner Jim Irsay, Mr. Bright Side himself, declared this draft – which the Colts entered with two massive holes, one of them at left tackle – a “stunning” and “epic” success.
“It’s stunning,” he said, “and in the future will prove to be quite epic when you see that we’ve gotten a quarterback (Wentz, via trade) and two edge rushers like we have, all within the context of this draft.”
"I know you guys will probably have questions about tackle," Irsay continued, "(but) I believe we may look back and say this (draft) put us in the Super Bowl."
One question: So who is the left tackle? Irsay says it could well be Sam Tevi, who with the Chargers was ranked No. 71 among 78 qualifying offensive tackles in 2020 by Pro Football Focus.
“We feel Tevi can do a very solid job there,” Irsay said.
I’m remembering what Chris Ballard said last week about replacing Castonzo, who retired in January after 10 seasons.
“That’s not going to be an easy replacement,” he said.
Who knew it would be this hard.
Shades of Ryan Grigson, 2015
We’ve seen this sort of weirdness before from the Colts. We saw it in 2018, when Ballard bucked NFL wisdom by choosing a guard with the No. 6 overall pick, then bucked it again by taking a guard 37th overall. It looked strange, but that turned out OK. One pick was Nelson, the best left guard in the game, and the other was Smith, who was moved to right tackle and has been excellent there.
We saw weirdness in 2015, too. Ryan Grigson was the GM then, and he used the 2015 NFL Draft to paint a masterpiece of confusion, selecting players at the same positions he’d addressed in free agency. As I wrote at the time: I don’t know what Ryan Grigson is doing.
This draft for the Colts has elements of 2015 and ‘18. It looks weird, the way Ballard picked a raw but athletically gifted pass-rusher in Round 1 (Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye) and then did something similar in Round 2, picking a raw (and injured) but athletically gifted pass-rusher in Round 2 (Vanderbilt defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo). It looks inefficient, the way the Colts’ biggest free-agent acquisition (former Charger Isaac Rochell) also plays on the defensive line.
Where’s the left tackle to protect Wentz? Where’s the receiver to bolster a decent corps? Where’s the cornerback to challenge Rock Ya-Sin? Where’s the safety?
No need to look for the third tight end. The Colts filled that dire need with Granson, who’s 6-2 and 240 pounds and runs the 40 in about 4.6 seconds. He’s an athlete in the Trey Burton mold, who thrilled Colts fans in 2020 with 28 catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Granson is said to be an ineffective blocker, and he dropped four passes in SMU’s only game against an elite opponent, Cincinnati, including one in the end zone. On a Zoom call with local reporters Saturday, Granson called that game “a fluke.” And maybe it was. He dropped just one pass in the season’s last four games, though he was credited with 11 drops in his first three college seasons.
The Colts added a safety in the fifth round, actually, Shawn Davis. He was productive at Florida – 10 passes broken up, five interceptions in 37 career games – and while injuries shortened two of his final three seasons, he made one of the best interceptions of the 2019 season, a running one-hander against Auburn that was reminiscent of Malik Hooker’s pick of then-Chargers QB Philip Rivers one month later. Davis was drafted in part because Hooker was a bust. Weird how things work.
The Colts traded their sixth-round pick, No. 206 overall, to New Orleans for No. 218 and No. 229. The Saints used that pick on a tackle, of course: Landon Young from Kentucky. Young was the 23rd offensive tackle selected in this year’s NFL Draft, none by the Colts. So who’s their left tackle in 2021? Ballard says it won’t be Quenton Nelson or Braden Smith. Compassion for Carson Wentz says it won’t be Sam Tevi or Julien Davenport.
That leaves … well, as I said, Russell Okung is available. And good news: He doesn’t turn 33 until October.
Maybe we’re focusing too much attention on the Colts’ starting left tackle. Maybe we should focus instead on their No. 3 tight end.
That seems to matter more.