Two years later, drafting Anthony Castonzo still seems like the smart move in the 2011 NFL draft.
Desperately needing to fill holes after a disappointing 2010 season, the Colts' biggest need was agreed to be (by most) left tackle. Charlie Johnson simply wasn't cutting it, and the Colts allowed him to sign with Minnesota that summer (which, we knew then and we know now, was a bad idea for Minny, Johnson simply isn't a left tackle).
When it came to the 22nd pick, the Colts had several options to choose from, including several potential left tackles. Castonzo was the pick, and has started at left tackle for the past two years. He's been much more reliable than Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod, or James Carpenter, the next three tackles taken and his competition for the Colts' pick. You could argue that Muhammed Wilkerson would have been a better pick, especially in hindsight after the Colts switched to the 3-4, but that's the only realistic greivance.
Castonzo was labeled as the most "pro-ready" tackle in the draft, and started his rookie year well before injuries knocked him out in Week 4. He never looked the same on a bad ankle all season, but came back in 2012 completely healed and ready to go. After a rough start to the season, Castonzo settled down and began to play very well after Week 8.
One of the most surprising elements to Castonzo's game in 2012 was his run blocking. He was described as a solid pass protector when coming out in 2012, as scouts questioned his ability to maul in the run game. While Castonzo isn't a bulldozing lineman by any means, he's athletic enough to block well, and finished the season as the Colts' best run blocker, and ranked 15th out of 80 tackles according to Pro Football Focus.
In pass protection a couple of bad games in the first half of the season (Against Green Bay and Tennessee) made his overall season look worse than it was, as he as generally more than competent in that department. In the second half of the season, Castonzo's pass protection only struggled in the two games against Houston, facing J.J. Watt. Overall in the second half of the season, Castonzo finished with a +6.8 grade from PFF in pass protection. Extrapolated over the season, this would have put him at 16th among tackles in pass protection.
Now, I don't want to make excuses for Castonzo. When playing against elite pass rushers like Clay Matthews, Jared Allen, or even Kamerion Wimbley in Tennessee, Castonzo struggled. He'll need to cut down on those lows in the future if he wants to continue at left tackle. Yes, those are premier rushers who most left tackles struggle to contain, but that's what you ask for when you play left tackle.
But, Castonzo played very well against Tennessee the second time around, had great games against Jacksonville, New England, and Buffao, and completely shut down Terrell Suggs in the playoffs. He has the ability to be a solid left tackle, and is a building block on a poor offensive line.
Castonzo also rebounded from that injury-plagued rookie season to play every snap in 2012, the only non-QB offensive player to do so. In fact, Castonzo played the 3rd most snaps of any tackle this season, as his health and the Colts' up-tempo style leading to nearly 1200 snaps for the second-year tackle.
As the Colts move forward, there has been a lot of people suggesting the Colts acquire a left tackle through the draft or free agency and move Castonzo to the right side. While this would likely be the ideal tackle situation, I think a lot more improvement can come by either finding guards/centers to improve a horrific interior line or finding a much better right tackle to upgrade from Winston Justice. While Castonzo certainly can be upgraded upon, he's still a solid left tackle, with room to grow.
No matter where the Colts choose to go with Castonzo, this is one lineman that Colts fans can be proud to watch in 2013.
I still remember how psyched we all were to grab him, most mocks had him as a top-15 pick, maybe even the best tackle in the draft. I remember NE grabbed Solder ahead of him, has Solder been as good as Castonzo over these two seasons?
@Coltsheadben Solder has been slightly better, especially this past season.
Why is moving Castonzo to the right side attractive at all? I can think of three reasons why it's not, and the only reason I can come up with in favor of it is basically wishful thinking. 1. LT and RT are not the same. It's a different skill set and while RT is generally considered easier to play, it's not as simple as just doing everything in reverse. There'd almost certainly be an adjustment period. 2. LTs are more expensive than RTs. This is especially an issue in free agency, where a LT like Branden Albert or Ryan Clady will command more salary than an RT like Andre Smith. Why waste the money when there's a serviceable LT on the roster? Castonzo may not have been perfect, or even great, but he was good, he'll get better, and he's cheap. Why spend extra money on one position when there's a lot of holes that need addressing? 3. I wonder how much of Castonzo's struggles were due to the rest of the line. There were times where he was out on an island and got beaten for sure, but I also wonder how much of that is scheme related. If you have one starter quality lineman, you single him against a rusher and pray the other four can block three. Upgrades at the interior positions could make Castonzo look a lot better.
@Lvl9LightSpell I really agree with your money argument -- go out and get a RT for cheaper.
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Finally, the Colts did absolutely the best they could with an offensive lineman pick. Where they picked with the 22nd pick, not only did they get the best offensive lineman available with Castonzo, they got arguably the best football player available.
Are there better left tackles than Castonzo... sure. But in the draft it is all about availability and timing. (Just ask the Chiefs sitting there with this year's #1 pick and a desperate need for a QB and no Andrew Luck.) The Colts did the best they could with Castonzo.