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ESPN ranks Colts OL unit among best in NFL ahead of 2024 season

ESPN recently put together its ranking of all 32 offensive line units ahead of the 2024 season. And near the top of that list was the Indianapolis Colts’ starting five.

The Colts came in at No. 4 on ESPN’s rankings. Ahead of them were the Detroit Lions at No. 1, followed by the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons. Rounding out the top-five were the New York Jets.

The Colts are returning all five starters from a unit that last season was already among the best in football. As a collective unit, the Colts allowed the ninth-lowest pressure rate and ranked 10th in yards per carry. By PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric, the Colts were fifth.

The play from the Colts’ offensive line in 2023 was a bit of a renaissance for a unit that had a lot of talent but wasn’t able to quite put it all together consistently during the 2022 season.

“I think after the ’22 season, Tony came in, saw that room for what it was, and it was still a lot of great players but not a lot of confidence,” said Ryan Kelly, “and I think there’s a lot of multitude of reasons for that. So when he came in, the first day that we came in last year around this time, it was not even about football Xs and Os, it was about real personal stuff.

“Guys get into that because if you can’t build a relationship in there, then how can you build it out there? And I think that was a good part for us to trust Tony to trust us. And also, he just empowered us to go play. I think that starts with Shane, starts with Tony, starts with Jim Bob. Is to just go out there and play, and just trust our technique, trust that we’re great players and play together.”

In addition to the Colts’ starting five up front, this is a position group that GM Chris Ballard has continually invested heavily into during the draft, selecting Blake Freeland, Jake Witt, Matt Goncalves, and Tanor Bortolini over the last two years to help build out the depth of this unit.

Understandably so, much of the attention within the Colts’ offense is going to be on Anthony Richardson and the playmakers around him. However, success for any offense begins in the trenches by controlling the line of scrimmage.

When an offense is able to move the ball on the ground, it keeps them ahead of the sticks and in manageable down-and-distances, opening up the playbook for Shane Steichen and helping to keep opposing defenses off-balance. And we, of course, all know the importance of the quarterback having time to go through his reads and a clean pocket to throw from.

There is certainly plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Colts. Ultimately, the ceiling for this unit will be determined by Richardson’s play, but the offensive line can help facilitate that and shoulder some of that burden by again playing at a high level.

“Like I said, protect,” said GM Chris Ballard before the NFL Draft. “Block and protect. Just look through the league, just look through the playoff teams and they all can block and protect. I think that’s critical. So that’s one.

“I remember Andrew (Luck) used to tell me all the time, ‘Chris, let’s get me protected. Give me guys who can catch it and get to the right spot, and I’ll make the rest work.’ Most of the good ones that’s how they roll. Do you want the superstar out there? Absolutely. But protection, to me, is always first and foremost.”

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire