Colts Defensive Line Falls Short of Top 10 on New Rankings

DeForest Buckner

Getty Pro Football Focus ranked defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, Dayo Odeyingbo and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts defensive line outside the NFL's top 10.

The Indianapolis Colts finished outside of the three-quarters of the NFL in sacks with 33 last season. But with the addition of edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, Indianapolis could feature one of the better pass rushes in the league during 2022.

NFL analyst Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus tempered those expectations a little, as he ranked the Colts defensive line outside the NFL’s top 10 on his defensive line rankings. But Linsey still had the Indianapolis defensive front ranked well above average, slotting the Colts at No. 11.

“The Colts have the players up front to get pressure with four rushers, especially after Yannick Ngakoue’s reunion with [Gus] Bradley in Indianapolis,” Linsey wrote. “DeForest Buckner ranks fourth among interior defensive linemen in combined sacks and quarterback hits (45) since joining the Colts in 2020, and 2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye is looking for a breakout second season as the favorite for the LEO role in Bradley’s defense.”

Among AFC teams, Linsey ranked the Colts defensive line fourth-best, including second in the AFC South behind only the Tennessee Titans, who Linsey rated as having the No. 10 defensive line in the NFL.

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Arrival of Ngakoue, Development of Paye

The success of the Colts defensive line, especially at generating a more consistent pass rush this season, will largely depend on two things — Ngakoue’s impact in his first year with the team and Paye’s development during his second season.

Indianapolis acquired Ngakoue for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders during March. Ngakoue has recorded at least 8.0 sacks in all six of his NFL seasons. Last year, he posted 10.0 sacks. He had a career-high 12.0 sacks on his way to the Pro Bowl team in 2017.

No Colts defender had more than 7.0 sacks last season.

Opposite Ngakoue, Indianapolis has high expectations for Paye, who posted 4.0 sacks in 15 games as a rookie. He also recorded 3 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits.

2020 All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner led the Colts with 7.0 sacks as he made his second straight Pro Bowl in 2021. Buckner should again provide great push in the middle of the defensive line, but consistently getting to the quarterback will be a responsibility for Ngakoue and Paye.

In addition to a lack of sacks, the Colts were 25th in quarterback hits and 30th in tackles for loss during 2021.

New Defensive System Under Gus Bradley

The Colts rarely blitzed, as they finished 27th in blitz percentage (20.2%) last season. That percentage should only drop with Bradley as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

“Indianapolis is going to rely on its front four to generate pressure in Gus Bradley’s new scheme, as no defense blitzed less than Bradley’s Chargers when he was defensive coordinator from 2017 to 2020 (16%), and the same was true for the Las Vegas Raiders under Bradley last season (11%),” wrote Linsey.

With Bradley calling the defensive plays, the Raiders were the only team in the NFL with a blitz percentage below 16% last season.

Without blitzing, the front four of the defensive line will have to beat opposing offensive linemen to generate pressure. That makes Ngakoue, Paye, Buckner and the rest of the Colts defensive line rotation all that more important.

If they can’t generate pressure on the pocket, then the Colts simply won’t have any.

But Linsey expects the unit to create pressure. He ranked Indianapolis among six teams in the second tier on his defensive line rankings list.

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