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Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
Statistically, the Colts' defense was all over the place in 2022. They allowed the second-highest completion percentage but the twelfth fewest yards through the air. The run defense was good in ranking fourth at 4.1 yards per carry, but only six teams allowed more rushing scores. Just five teams intercepted fewer passes, while only three recovered more opponent's fumbles. And finally, Indianapolis recorded the tenth most sacks at 44, but only five teams surrendered more points on the season. Falling right in line with the theme, the 2023 Colts have a lot of good players on defense, but they have some big questions with injury situations and not much depth at key positions.
The Colts made a coaching change after last season's struggles, but they kept Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator. Thus the scheme will remain the same while the organization is hopeful of better, more consistent results.
The Indianapolis defensive line includes one of the best tackle tandems in the league. Grover Stewart mans the one technique position. At six foot four and 315 pounds, he is not the biggest to play the position, but he is one of the most productive. Stewart is a hard-to-move rock in the middle of the run defense. He holds up well against double teams and does a great job of getting off blocks to make plays. He is a big man without much wiggle as a pass rusher but will contribute by bull-rushing blockers and forcing the passer out of the pocket.
Stewart turned in career-best numbers across the board in 2022. His 44 solo tackles tied Washington's Jonathan Allen and Colts teammate DeForest Buckner for the second most by an interior lineman. Add career-highs in assists at 25 and sacks with 4, plus two batted passes and a fumble recovery, and Stewart was number eleven at the position. The big question for IDP managers is, will he repeat? I'm going to say probably not.
Stewart has six seasons under his belt. Over the first five, he never reached 40 solo stops and totaled more than 20 assists once. He had three sacks in 2019, giving him a career total of four heading into last season, and his fumble recovery last year marks the second takeaway of his career. Maybe this was a case of scheme fit, as 2022 was the first year for Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator, but there is no denying that Stewart's big numbers are an outlier at this point. I see him as a good DT2 target with upside.
There is no such concern with Buckner, who is a perennial tier-one elite. In seven seasons as a pro, he has never totaled fewer than 35 solo or 59 combined stops. Buckner is one of the league's premier inside pass rushers with 60 career sacks, a personal best of 12 in 2018, and at least seven in each of the last five seasons. He has six forced fumbles and six recoveries over the last four years and consistently knocks down three passes a season. Most importantly for IDP managers, since 2018 he has not finished outside the top five with back-to-back number ones in 2019 and 2020. In leagues that break out the defensive line positions, Buckner should be the first tackle off the board. In leagues that lump the positions together, he is a solid DL1 or excellent second starter.
The 2022 Colts got virtually nothing from the rest of the interior linemen on their roster, with that group combining for seven tackles and eleven assists. The signing of Taven Bryan in free agency gives them a quality veteran backup and a third man to contribute to the rotation. Keep an eye on rookie fourth-round pick Adetomiwa Adebawore. At six foot two and 282 pounds, his stature is that of a tweener, but this young man has long-term potential. He totaled 74 combined stops and 9.5 sacks over his final two years at Northwestern and can play end or three-technique tackle in the Colts 4-3.
With the departure of Yannick Ngakoue, who was not invited back, the Colts look very thin on the edge, at least at a glance, but I suggest digging a little deeper. In a 2021 draft that was thin at the top on pass rushers, the Colts used their first two picks on defensive ends Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, respectively. Paye was a test monster, moving up draft boards after showing off his quickness, agility, and athleticism in workouts. The traits and potential were there, but on film and in the box scores, Paye was a work in progress when he entered the league. Going into year two, nothing had changed, and he was still no more than a breakout hopeful. In his third season, however, Paye had a breakout of sorts.
His overall numbers of 32-12-6, with a fumble recovery, are not eye-catching. At least not until we take into consideration that he missed five games and most of two others with a high ankle sprain. He came out of the gate strong with 16 combined tackles and 3 sacks over the first four games. The ankle injury ended his week five early. He returned for a 7-1-1 performance against the Patriots in week nine but aggravated the injury early in week ten. He was back in week thirteen, posting 11-4-2 over two games.
Paye was bothered by the ankle all season and didn't do much over the final three contests, but he showed us what he is capable of. With the injury now behind him, 2023 should be the season that he finally lives up to expectations.
At this time last year, I was pimping Dayo Odeyingbo as a great sleeper target. As it turns out, I was a year early on that. Odeyingbo was a first-round talent. Had it not been for an Achilles injury in his final season at Vanderbilt, he would never have been available when the Colts picked him in round two. The organization knew their early returns would be limited but were willing to invest the early pick and be patient.
Odeyingbo played a few snaps as a rookie but for the most part, the team treated his 2021 season as a redshirt year. He was ready to contribute in 2022 but was stuck as the third man behind Paye and Ngakoue. Odeyingbo ended up starting several games when Paye, and later Ngakoue, missed time with injuries. In all, he got on the field for 518 plays. That was enough for him to show his value. Odeyingbo finished the year with 31 combined tackles and was fourth on the team with five sacks. He is healthy now and is set to take over the starting job opposite Paye.
With an outstanding cast around him, Odeyingbo is going not going to get a lot of attention from blocking schemes. That means a lot of one-on-one opportunities. He is a relatively unknown commodity to most IDP managers, making him a great late-round target as a third or even fourth man with a lot of upside.
No future stars are waiting in the wings behind Paye and Odeyingbo, but the Colts do have a pair of quality veteran backups in Samson Ebukam and Tyquan Lewis. Both of these guys have starting experience and can hold down the fort if called upon, but they are not going to provide much IDP value if forced into starting jobs.
- DE Kwity Paye – Target as a late DL2 with a lot of upside
- DE Dayo Odeyingbo – Target as depth, but don't be surprised if he becomes your starter
- DE Tyquan Lewis – No impact
- DE Titus Leo – Developmental rookie
- DE Samson Ebukam – Marginal value at best
- DT DeForest Buckner – Elite DT1 or quality DL1
- DT Grover Stewart – Target as a solid second starter with a little upside
- DT Taven Bryan – Injury sleeper with a limited ceiling
- DT Adetomiwa Adebawore – Watchlist rookie with dynasty potential
- DT Eric Johnson - No impact
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