Can Indianapolis find a starting OT in Round 3 of the 2022 NFL draft?

2022 NFL Draft Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis has one of the most athletic offensive lines in football, as recently reported by The Buffalo News.

Three days after that report came out, Indianapolis handed Buffalo its worst loss of the season, 41-15. Quarterback Carson Wentz had a statistically poor game by completing just 11-of-20 passes for 106 yards, but Wentz didn’t need to be Superman for that game. Instead, that was running back Jonathan Taylor, who blew through open holes en route to 185 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns along with 1 TD reception. And Wentz had a clean pocket for most of the game as the Colts’ line didn’t give up a sack for the first time all season.

Signs of life for the surprisingly bad Colts OL this season?

Maybe so.

Indianapolis has mostly righted the ship after a disastrous 0-3 and 1-4 start – but the Colts mainly feasted on average to bad teams to crawl back to .500. Otherwise, Indianapolis’ record against teams that were in the playoffs last season was 0-5 – accounting for all of the team’s losses – until hammering the Bills.

One trend during the recent hot streak? Improved protection for Wentz.

Indianapolis gave up 14 sacks the first six games, almost 2.5 per game. Since the 30-18 win over San Francisco on Oct. 24, the team has given up just 4 sacks the past five games, including none against Buffalo.

But rest assured: Indianapolis will look to improve its offensive line yet again in the upcoming draft – regardless of how the season plays out for the Colts, winners of six of their last eight games.

Take this as Exhibit A from Larry Holder of The Athletic: “There’s a reason why this team has one tackle (Eric Fisher), two guards (Mark Glowinski and Chris Reed) and one center (Ryan Kelly) among the 10 worst pressure stoppers at their position.”

You can start with offensive tackle, where left tackle Fisher will be a free agent at the end of the season. Same goes for right guard Glowinski.

The team will also address the secondary in the offseason, as it has underperformed this season and Xavier Rhodes will be an UFA.

But finding a left tackle has to be near the top of Indianapolis’ wish list.

Two problems: It’s looking less and less likely that Indianapolis will have its first-round pick this year thanks to the Wentz trade. And the dropoff at tackle after the first-round is fairly significant. The good news? They can find a guard in almost any round.

So let’s assume Indianapolis picks a cornerback with its pick in the second round. Some names who might be available include a pair of Alabama CBs in Josh Jobe (ranked No. 60 in the latest Jake Rigdon-Fanspeak big board) and Jalyn Armour-Davis (77), Georgia’s Derion Kendrick (76) and Tennessee’s Alontae Taylor (81).

That leaves the Colts with just two picks in the top 150 to find a potential starting left tackle.

Think it’s impossible to find a starter at such an important position? In PFF’s preseason ranking of the top 32 OTs, 12 of those tackles went after the first round, including two who were drafted in the third round, two who were drafted in the fourth round and two who were undrafted free agents. The other six were drafted in the second round.

That means almost 40 percent of the best tackles were drafted after Day 1.

In other words, finding a tackle who could potentially step in as a starter from Day 1 at one of the most important positions in football, left tackle, won’t be easy, but it’s doable. As many as six OTs could go in the first round in 2022 – but that’s actually good news for the Colts, as the next wave of tackles should start to go in the late second- to third-round, where Indianapolis should have a pick in the high-teens to mid-20s.

Here are three tackles who could be available in the third round for Colts’ fans to keep an eye on:

Round 3: OT Braxton Jones, Southern Utah

The 6-foot-7, 310-pound redshirt junior recently accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl and is a rising prospect. He’s the No. 10 OT in ESPN’s Todd McShay’s latest rankings and the No. 9 tackle and No. 69 overall prospect in Bleacher Report’s latest rankings.

The Windy City Gridiron’s Jacob Infante recently provided a short scouting report on Jones. From Infante: “Jones has a refined usage of his hands for a small-school tackle, showcasing good power and placement behind his initial strikes and a willingness and ability to reset if need be. (Jones) … works hard to churn his legs and generate movement from his lower half in the ground game. His athleticism is also an encouraging aspect of his game, as he accelerates well off the snap and has the lateral mobility needed to redirect in pass protection.”

Infante goes on to say that Jones may struggle with “pad level consistency and picking up exotic pass-rushing looks” but still lauds his physicality and “polished use of hands.”

Round 3: OT Jaxson Kirkland, Washington

Washington has only had one tackle drafted since 2007, when Kaleb McGary went in the first round in 2019 to Atlanta. The 6-foot-7, 310-pound redshirt junior figures to be the second, although he’s viewed as more of a Day 2 prospect.

Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network recently ranked Kirkland as the No. 10 overall OT prospect, ahead of names like Miami’s Zion Nelson and Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan.

Cummings says he doesn’t get the first-round hype Kirkland has received by some evaluators and publications. From Cummings: “I’m a big fan of Kirkland’s hands and his mauler mentality, but his lower body is unnaturally lean for his size. That lack of density visibly impacts his ability to absorb power, and he also has some lateral stiffness.”

As is often the case with young offensive lineman, Cummings says Kirkland could struggle with the “more athletic technicians in the NFL,” and Kirkland needs to work on his stiffness or else see a shift to guard. “However, while Kirkland’s upside is somewhat limited, the Washington offensive lineman has a high-floor projection. Thus, he could quickly earn a role at the professional level,” Cummings said.

Round 3: OT Zion Nelson, Miami

As has been pointed out, Indianapolis has a type when it comes to its offensive linemen: The Colts like athletic linemen.

And few are as athletic as Nelson, which is why he edges out Penn State’s Rasheed Walker in this space. The shine on the 6-foot-5, 315-pound true junior has gradually worn off as the season has progressed, with Nelson projected as a potential first-round prospect early in the season.

Now? Many evaluators say Nelson is more of a Day 2 or even Day 3 prospect, as he has struggled at times. This feature by The Athletic didn’t help his stock, either, with one scout saying Nelson was probably a fourth- or fifth-round prospect at that point in the season.

Here’s what The Athletic’s Dane Brugler said about Nelson in the feature on Miami’s talent level:

“The traits are impressive. 6-5, 315 pounds, 10 3/4-inch hands, 35-inch arms. He’s got a humongous wingspan over 84 inches. So just that alone and you factor in the athleticism, he’s a smooth mover, he’s got light feet. He can cover a lot of ground and pass protect with that slide quickness that he has. … But now the rest needs to catch up. Because everybody in the NFL is big, fast and strong. So now it comes down to the little things, the details, your leverage, your toughness in the run game. Your ability to stay centered, not get overextended. And these are the areas where Zion really struggles right now.”

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