The Colts appear to have a really nice problem on the defensive line. When evaluating the roster, they have 12 guys who play down in a three-man defensive front, and it’s hard to see them cutting any of about 10 of those players.
Not a bad problem to have for a team that really could use a jolt up front defensively.
The Colts don’t have any stars up front, but they have a lot of ‘guys’ who fit their scheme. Guys like Cory Redding, formerly of the Ravens and Ricky Jean-Francois, formerly of the 49ers will likely be starters in a rotation that includes a couple of high draft picks (Fili Moala, Drake Nevis) and two fifth round picks with a lot of upside (Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes).
Then you have ‘the other guys’ on the Colts’ defensive line. Players like Ricardo Matthews, Aubrayo Franklin, Brandon McKinney, and Lawrence Guy are competing for roster spots as well. Here is a look at all the guys competing for the Colts on the defensive line.
Cory Redding, 32
Redding got pretty banged up last year, and ended up missing two games because of injury. At 32 years old, it’s fair to wonder what he has left in the tank, and how much longer he can play at a high level even in a defense he is really comfortable with. He had 32 tackles and two sacks last year for the Colts in his first season with the team, and he’s expected to be a starter again this season.
While Redding isn’t an elite pass rusher or anything like that, he is a veteran presence for the Indy defensive line, a good leader on and off the field, and he fits Chuck Pagano’s scheme really well. At least for those facts alone, he should be assured a roster spot.
Unless Redding is severely hurt before week one, he should start the season as the #1 DE on the Colts’ depth chart.
Ricky Jean-Francois, 26
Ricky Jean-Francois is only 26 years old, and is coming from one of the best defenses in the NFL, but he’s never played in more than 27 percent of his team’s snaps over the course of a season and the Colts signed him to a pretty big contract. GM Ryan Grigson has a great eye for talent, at least his 2012 haul of players would indicate as much, but signing Jean-Francois is a bit of a head scratcher.
Nevertheless, he will play an instrumental role in the defense, something he has never done before. Even with San Francisco, Jean-Francois never was a starter and has just 49 career tackles in four NFL seasons.
The Colts picked him up purely on what they believe to be his upside, so you can pencil him in as a starter at DE opposite Cory Redding. He has good versatility and can line up wherever the Colts ask him to, so we might see some of that this season as well.
Josh Chapman, 24
As good as the Colts’ class of 2012 was all-around, we may still have yet to unearth one of the gems of the class. Former Alabama nose tackle Josh Chapman missed the 2012 season due to injury, but is back in 2013 and is completely healed and ready to compete at training camp.
Chapman is a wide body who will start at nose tackle for the Colts in all likelihood, and he can provide the Colts with a serious boost in defending the run if he is fully healthy. Colts players are already starting to take note of Chapman’s raw ability. He was a fifth round pick, but I had seen him projected as high as the second or third round. Robert Mathis is calling Chapman “TNT” or “Thug in the Trenches”.
I think Chapman–even if he is just in rotation–can be an effective big man for the Colts for a long time.
Aubrayo Franklin, 32
Franklin is on his fourth team in four seasons, and it may be that his career is finally on the downside. After being a franchise player for the 49ers, Franklin has bounced around to the Saints, Chargers, and now the Colts. If he is going to contribute for the Colts, it’s going to be as a run stuffer.
He didn’t play a lot of snaps for the Chargers last season in 12 games, but he can still be a decent player against the run. Second year pro Josh Chapman offers the Colts a lot more upside at the nose tackle position, but Franklin was a nice veteran pickup that the Colts didn’t have to spend a lot of money on to add some depth.
Franklin was a bit banged up last season for the Chargers, but he played well enough that they wanted him back. Solid pickup for depth for the Colts here, and a guy who has played a lot of games.
Ricardo Mathews, 25
Mathews has worked hard to get where he is now for the Colts, which is starting in place of the injured Fili Moala and seeing extensive snaps last season. The former seventh round pick out of Cincinnati worked his way from the practice squad to the active roster, then to seeing significant action in the DL rotation and eventually starting for the team.
The Colts felt like they could obviously upgrade the DE position this offseason, but Mathews should make the team and be able to contribute in a rotation. He will compete for a starting job with Ricky Jean-Francois, who signed a pretty rich contract but has never been a starter before.
Despite starting five games last year, he is in danger of potentially losing his roster spot if all the other players on the line return healthy.
Drake Nevis, 24
Nevis is a really talented player, but the problem is the Colts haven’t gotten a chance to see it. After being a third round pick in 2011, Nevis has played in 14 career games and ended each of his first two years in the NFL on injured reserve.
If he’s healthy, Nevis has a chance to be a really solid defensive lineman for the Colts. On the other hand, his propensity for injuries and the fact that this regime with the Colts didn’t use a high pick on him doesn’t bode well. Not to mention, Nevis is a much better fit–in my humble opinion–for a team that uses a four-man defensive front.
He should be ready to go for training camp, and if he is fully healthy, I think he will be a player that stands out and one that the Colts want to get on the field. If he proves he’s unable to make plays this pre-season, the Colts might let him go in favor of a player that better fits their scheme. Last year, Nevis started three games, the only three starts he has in his NFL career thus far.
Fili Moala, 28
Moala was re-signed by the Colts this offseason after missing half the season in 2012 with a torn ACL. He has started a lot of games for the Colts, and will be part of their rotation at the defensive end position this year. He will likely make the team because of his history and experience, and the fact that the new regime decided to bring him back for another year after he got hurt halfway through last season.
Moala started to show signs of improvement last year, but despite his vote of confidence from the organization, he is in danger of losing his roster spot. Other than Cory Redding and Aubrayo Franklin, Moala is the most experienced player on the Colts’ defensive line and because of that fact alone, I think he will eventually make the team.
The Colts can afford to ease Moala back into the lineup, and the former 2009 second round pick should be able to make an impact this season when he is back to 100 percent.
Brandon McKinney, 29
Because of age and injury concerns, I fear the 345 pound nose tackle might not be making the Colts’ final roster this season. McKinney was another player who followed Chuck Pagano to the Colts from their days in Baltimore, but he hasn’t played a down since 2011 and is on a one-year, $1 million contract this season.
With the Colts’ signing of Aubrayo Franklin and the expected emergence of Josh Chapman, there just simply may not be enough room for McKinney on the roster.
Lawrence Guy, 23
Guy was poached off the Packers’ practice squad last season, and he ended up playing some significant snaps for the Colts last year. He played in a total of nine games last year with 18 tackles and a sack, and is a sleeper to return to the active roster this season.
The Colts have a lot of players vying for spots at the DE positions, but Guy was obviously a player they evaluated last year and liked. They made some upgrades this offseason that could push him off the roster, but Guy has gained a considerable amount of weight in order to be a better fit for his position, and he should attract immediate attention if he hits the open market.
Montori Hughes, 22
Montori Hughes is a very talented but troubled young kid who might make the Colts’ roster for fear that he wouldn’t make it through waivers to get to the practice squad.
He is still really raw, but you can’t teach 6’4″ 329 pounds, and Hughes is a guy that the Colts felt like offered them upside and could potentially play a variety of positions. Hughes has the size to play nose tackle, but he could also be a run stuffing DE in a 3-4 defense.
The former Tennessee transfer failed two drug tests in college, so he comes into the NFL with some red flags after having transferred to UT-Martin.
Martin Tevaseu, 25
Tevaseu played in 13 games for the Colts last season, and finished with 12 tackles. He may be a long shot to make the roster last season, but he is still young at just 25 years of age, and has good size at 6’2″ 325 pounds.
If Tevaseu doesn’t make the Colts’ final roster, he could attract some attention on the open market.
Kellen Heard, 27
Kellen Heard was signed last season in the wake of some injuries, and is the biggest Colts defensive lineman at 6’6″ 345 pounds. He likely won’t make the roster, but after playing in 11 games with Indy last season, he is another potential roster cut that could get attention from other teams. He has played 26 NFL games with the Bills and Colts.