As the Indianapolis Colts celebrated the 2021 NFL draft class Saturday night, much of the focus remained on what was missing.
Despite landing a pair of coveted edge rushers with their first two picks in Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo, the Colts failed to find a replacement for retired left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The only offensive lineman selected by Indianapolis was Penn State’s Will Fries, a utility man taken with the 248th overall pick in the seventh round.
That leaves veteran free agent addition Sam Tevi as the current front runner to start at left tackle for a team with championship aspirations.
“We’ve signed some offensive linemen, with Tevi, who have played a lot of games in this league, and we’ll continue to scour the market,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “We knew it was going to be hard – all the things that we needed to fill (this offseason). I mean, those were big shoes that needed to be filled, and we’re happy with the work that we’ve done up to this point. But we still have a long way to go before the season.”
Indianapolis will look much different than the team that finished 11-5 and lost to the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round last season. Quarterback Philip Rivers joined Castonzo in retirement, and both starting defensive ends no longer are on the roster. Denico Autry signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent, and Justin Houston remains on the open market.
The Colts believe they’ve filled three of those four holes with their first three picks – taking Paye at No. 21 overall, Odeyingbo at No. 54 and trading the third-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles along with a first- or second-rounder next year for quarterback Carson Wentz.
The impact of those three players could go a long way toward determining the 2021 season’s result.
“I think it’s stunning and in the future will prove to be quite epic when you see that we’ve gotten a quarterback and two edge rushers like we have all within the context of this draft, the first three picks,” Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said. “… But when you can get your franchise quarterback and what we feel are two outstanding edge rushers – I mean, special guys – it’s very hard to do, particularly when you’re not even drafting in the top 20 picks of the draft. So I couldn’t be more excited.”
The Colts made five picks on Day 3 of the draft Saturday, selecting SMU tight end Kylen Granson in the fourth round and Florida safety Shawn Davis in the fifth before trading back for Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the sixth and adding Charleston wide receiver Mike Strachan and Fries in the seventh.
But the board didn’t fall precisely as Indianapolis might have hoped. Irsay admitted there were a couple of offensive tackles the team liked in the fourth and fifth round that were taken before their pick.
The only tackle taken before the Colts’ pick in the fourth round was Cincinnati’s James Hudson at No. 110 overall by the Cleveland Browns – 17 picks before Indianapolis went on the clock. In Round 5, there were three tackles taken in the 10 picks before the Colts’ selection at No. 165 – Western Michigan’s Jaylon Moore (No. 155 to the San Francisco 49ers), Nebraska’s Brenden Jaimes (159, Los Angeles Chargers) and Miami of Ohio’s Tommy Doyle (161, Buffalo Bills).
“We’re excited about what we were able to do,” Ballard said. “There are positions that we would have liked to address. It just didn’t work out that way. Either a player was taken in front of us, or it just didn’t line up at the time. But we’re excited about what we got done in the draft. We’ve got some really good football players here. There is no question in my mind we made our defensive front better.”
The focus on the edge was apparent.
Ballard determined early on in the process there were not enough prototypical left tackles available to take with one of the first two picks. So he shifted his focus to the pass rush and landed a pair of players with talent that might have made them much higher picks under different circumstances.
There are questions about Paye’s production (he had just two sacks in 2020 and 11.5 for his college career), but the early run on quarterbacks, wide receivers and corners also pushed him down the draft board. Odeyingbo might have been a first-round pick as well, if not for an Achilles tendon injury in late January while he was preparing for the Senior Bowl.
It’s unclear when Odeyingbo will be able to take the field, but the chance to pair this duo of edge rushers together is one that has the franchise owner dreaming big.
“These guys are special guys coming in,” Irsay said. “You can make an argument that they could have been much, much higher picks for various reasons. I have never, in my 50 years, sat there in a 24-hour period and got two edge rushers like this back-to-back.”
In fact, Irsay is so excited about the pair he believes this draft might one day be looked back upon as one that sent Indianapolis back to the Super Bowl.
Throughout his 20-minute media availability, Irsay repeatedly praised Paye, Odeyingbo and Wentz.
The trio is at the heart of his belief the Colts will be an even better football team this year than last.
“We are a completely different football team with these two edge rushers and Carson Wentz at quarterback,” Irsay said. “That changes everything.”