The Indianapolis Colts defense lacked a consistent pass rush in 2019. Could defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw be the fix in the 2020 NFL Draft?
The Indianapolis Colts went into the 2019 season with high expectations. After losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in 2018, taking another step forward was what many were predicting for the Colts. Starting with the unexpected retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck during the preseason, the Colts had too many situations not go their way to take that next step.
Even after the loss of a franchise quarterback just before the season starts, head coach Frank Reich led his team off to a hot start in 2019, going 5-2. The second half of the season was brutal, as the team would lose seven of their last nine games. Injuries continued to pile up, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where nearly all of the playmakers missed extended periods. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett missed a couple of games and came back struggling.
The defensive side of the ball had it’s fair share of disappointment as well. While there were stretches that the defense looked great, inconsistent pass rush and miscommunication on the back end led to some terrible losses down the stretch. General manager Chris Ballard took the blame for the 2019 season in his end of the season press conference discussing his displeasure of how the season ended.
One of the main points of emphasis for Ballard was the lack of consistent pass rush from the interior of the defensive line. Ballard believes the blueprint in building a successful roster begins with the trenches. The defensive line has failed to meet the expectations, most of which come from the interior group.
Defensive tackles Denico Autry and Margus Hunt combined for 14 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 26 tackles for a loss in 2018. In 2019, Autry hauled in 3.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and four tackles for a loss while Hunt lost playing time to Grover Stewart. Stewart, who Ballard drafted in 2017 during the first draft under Ballard, stepped up for Indianapolis when given the opportunity. Still, his strong suit is plugging up the middle against the run more than rushing the passer.
The Colts have some decisions to make along the interior defensive line this offseason. Autry and Hunt are both aging veterans who are on the wrong side of 30 entering the final year of their current deals. Ballard could elect to cut one of them without having any dead CAP space. Stewart is entering the last year of his rookie deal.
Tyquan Lewis will enter his third year with the team, but has shown no sign of being a key player along the defensive front in his first two seasons. Ballard made it clear that year three would be critical for the former 2018 second-round draft pick as he was expected to be a cornerstone of this defensive line already.
Defensive end looks promising for 2020 as Justin Houston will return after an 11 sack season in 2019. Kemoko Turay should return after being placed on Injured Reserve following an ankle injury in Week 5 against the Chiefs. Turay looked to be having a breakout season before his injury. Jabaal Sheard played out the final year of his contract with the Colts in 2019, and while he was good over the three seasons he was there, staying on the field was an issue. Whether Ballard will bring him back for another year at age 31 is unknown.
As Ballard mentioned in his press conference, they have to help their edge rushers by getting more consistent along the interior. Indianapolis enters the offseason with the second most CAP space. Still, Ballard is not the kind of general manager that likes to throw out significant contracts to a couple of players. Instead, he wants to build the team through the draft. One player that makes a lot of sense for the Colts in the 2020 NFL Draft is South Carolina defensive tackle, Javon Kinlaw.