As we prepare for yet another Indianapolis Colts' football season, it is just about time to close the books on the 2020 season. Training Camp starts on July 28th, and the focus will completely shift to the upcoming season for the team.
Before we get into camp/preseason content, it is time to make some predictions and rankings for the site. So today, I have prepared my personal rankings of the Colts' top trench players.
The "trench" players include both the offensive line and defensive line. For this list, I will be ranking the five offensive line starters and 11 defensive linemen (not including rookies).
This ranking is completely based off of my own film study along with statistical input inserted. These rankings are based off of what I currently think of each player compared to the rest of the league, not including any projection going forward. The list will be in the following tiers:
- Elite/Top Tier Player(s)
- Very Good/Nearing Elite
- Ascending Player(s)
- Above Average
- Young Player(s) on the Rise
- Role Player(s)/Depth
- Unknown at the Moment
- Poor/Fringe Roster Player(s)
So let's jump into how I would rank the Colts' trenches going into the season.
Elite/Top Tier Player(s)
1.) Quenton Nelson, LG
No surprise at the top of the list, as Quenton Nelson has established himself as a top tier player in the league in just three short seasons. Last season was arguably Nelson's best, as he allowed just one sack and five quarterback hits in 16 games played.
In the run game, Nelson is a bulldozer that sets the tone for the entire offensive line. He is a superb athlete with top tier power who likes to finish blocks. Here is what Brandon Thorn of Trench Warfare (who inspired this article with one of his own on the entire league) had to say about Nelson:
"Nelson has been elite since his rookie season with a rare combination of physical tools and mental acuity that has resulted in some of the most impressive highlights for an offensive lineman that we’ve ever seen."
2.) DeForest Buckner, DT
Coming in at a very close second is All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Buckner was acquired by the Colts prior to the 2020 season, and the trade proved to be a major success in year one.
Buckner finished the year with eight sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and 22 hurries last season. His 13 quarterback hits were more than the rest of the Colts' defensive line combined on the year. His elite size/stature combined with great power and athleticism make him an absolute pain to block.
Buckner is a top tier defensive tackle in the league and one of the premier pass rushers from the interior. His club-swim move is one of the most unblockable moves in football. Here is what Thorn had to say about the superstar defensive tackle:
"Buckner wins with tremendous use of hands and premier length, with as freaky of physical dimensions as any player in the NFL at 6’7” 295 with 34 3/8 arm length and 11 3/4 hand size."
Very Good/Nearing Elite
3.) Ryan Kelly, OC
One of the league's best centers was finally rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection in 2020. Ryan Kelly has been a mainstay on the Colts' roster since the Chuck Pagano years and doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Kelly is a physically elite player who excels in the run game. With the Colts' multiple attack rushing game, Kelly fits well in both zone and power blocking schemes. In pass protection, he is a cerebral player who can hold his own against the top players in the league.
In order to get to the next step and be an elite player, Kelly just has to be a bit more consistent in the pass game. He had a great year in 2020, just two sacks and three quarterback hits allowed, and needs to build on that going into 2021.
4.) Grover Stewart, DT
The most welcomed surprise for the Colts in 2020 was the emergence of Grover Stewart. While he may still not be a top pass rusher, Stewart was one of the league's best one-technique defensive tackles in 2020.
Stewart's 27 stops in the run game ranked eighth in the NFL among defensive linemen. He has elite size on the interior and is one of the best athletes at that position league wide, which bodes well with the spread-out style the league is trending towards.
For Stewart to take that next step, he has to take more positive strides as a pass rusher. Even if that never becomes a part of his game, Stewart is well worth the big contract the Colts handed him last season.
5.) Braden Smith, RT
I was tempted to put Smith in the category above, but I don't think he's there quite yet. Smith had an outstanding 2020 season where he allowed zero sacks and just one quarterback hit throughout the season. He also maintained his high level of play as a run blocker, paving the way for rookie running back Jonathan Taylor.
My one concern is just consistency with Smith. While he was great in 2020, he did still allow 23 hurries in the passing game. If he can get that number down and eliminate the occasional poor rep late in games, he can ascend into being one of the top right tackles in the league in short time.
Above Average Player(s)
6.) Mark Glowinski, RG
The unfortunate part of playing on a top tier offensive line is a player like Mark Glowinski gets pegged as the "weak" link. In reality, Glowinski has been anything but poor in his time in Indy. He is a great run blocker and a mostly strong pass blocker, with the occasional miscue.
In a league where offensive line play is so vital, having a player like Glowinski (who isn't a liability at all) being your weak link is a testament to how good this group has been. I expect yet another solid season from this steady veteran in 2021.
7.) Eric Fisher, LT
Colts fans were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief when the team signed Fisher late in the offseason. While Fisher is still recovering from an achilles injury, and coming off a season where he allowed three sacks and eight quarterback hits, he is still a very solid left tackle in the NFL.
Fisher may be a slight downgrade in the passing game from Anthony Castonzo but his ability in the run game should help the team immensely. As long as Fisher can play off of the elite play of Nelson right next to him, this signing should be a successful one.
Young Player(s) on the Rise
8.) Tyquan Lewis, DE
Unfortunately, there is only one player in this section for the Colts. Lewis is a player who had an up and down career until 2020. He had a career season last year, as he finished with five sacks and 16 hurries as a pass rusher.
Lewis is the expected starter on the left side of the defense heading into 2021. If he can build off of his mini breakout from a year ago, he can establish himself as a must-keep going into 2022 free agency. He has great get-off and power, he just needs to build consistency with playing time.
9. Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE
The Zach Pascal of the Colts' defense, Al-Quadin Muhammad is a perfectly average player in the NFL. He's a good run defender with the occasional flash as a pass rusher. For him to truly become anything more than a role player, he has to build off those occasional flashes and become a true threat off of the edge in the pass game.
10.) Antwaun Woods, DT
The Colts quickly scooped up veteran defensive tackle Antwaun Woods when he became available in free agency this offseason. Woods may not be a a pass rusher but he is an athletic and energetic run defender who can hold his own at the point of attack. While he will likely never add anything in the passing game, his ability as a run defender makes him a quality depth piece on this defense.
11.) Taylor Stallworth, DT
A bit of an unknown going into 2020, Stallworth stepped up as a key depth piece for the Colts last year. I don't see him ever being a starting-caliber player but he is an athletic one-technique who is disruptive in the Colts' one gap scheme. He is in a bit of a battle for a roster spot this year with the signing of Woods, but with his ability he should be able to make the team.
Unknown at the Moment
12.) Kemoko Turay, DE
This low ranking may be a surprise to some but I don't know what to think with Kemoko Turay. After an inconsistent rookie year, Turay exploded early in his second season. He was absolutely dominant, and that breakout came to a complete stop when he broke his ankle in week five.
Turay did manage to return late in 2020, over a year and a half removed from the injury. Upon his return, Turay looked like a much different player. He didn't have the same speed or bend and was mostly ineffective in the few games he played. Now, going into year four, it is hard to say what truly is left with Turay.
13.) Ben Banogu, DE
It's hard to say what Ben Banogu is as an NFL player. As a rookie, Banogu played sparingly but flashed quite a few times. For whatever reason, Banogu saw even less playing time in his second year and wasn't able to make positive progressions on the field.
Going into his third year, Banogu has simply not been able to get on the field. The reasons for that are unknown but it is hard to truly know what is there if he is never going to get on the field.
Poor/Fringe Roster Player(s)
14.) Kameron Cline, DE
I know that I am on an island with this, but I believe in the ability of Kam Cline. The former UDFA out of South Dakota, Cline spent most of last season on the Colts' practice squad. At 6'4" 280 pounds, I love the combination of athleticism and size in Cline. I can't say too much more about him, but I expect good things come preseason.
15.) Isaac Rochell, DE
I simply don't see it with Rochell. Pro Football Focus had Rochell as one of the worst pass rushers in the NFL last season, only winning 7.3% of his rushes which was sixth worst in the league among edge rushers. In the run game, I see an average player who is adequate at holding the edge. Overall, I don't see too many positives in Rochell's game and I hope the Colts opt to keep younger, more promising players over him on the roster.
16.) Robert Windsor, DT
A sixth round selection in 2020, Windsor spent most of this past season on the practice squad. An elite athlete, Windsor simply needed to add more size and power in his game to last in the NFL. This offseason will be a big one for Windsor, as he looks to make the opening day roster for the team.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.