Last offseason, new general manager Ryan Grigson used free agency to fill holes in the Colts’ roster. Grigson filled some of the starting spots with players with previous experiences with people on the Colts’ staff. Grigson signed players like Tom Zbikowski, Mike McGlynn, and Cory Redding to short, vet contracts to play for the Colts, filling voids with vets for the 2012 season.
One such veteran was the Philadelphia Eagles’ second round pick in 2006: offensive tackle Winston Justice.
Justice started for the Eagles in 2009 and 2010 (played 16 and 13 games), but was benched for Todd Herremans in 2011, and struggled with knee injuries throughout the season. Grigson, a former personnel man for Philadelphia, thought Justice could regain his poise in 2012 as a starter at right tackle, and traded for Justice (swapping 6th round picks in the 2012 draft).
Now, with the 2012 season finished with the Colts’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it’s time to review anybody and everybody. We looked at impending free agent Donnie Avery last week, now we move to Winston Justice.
First, let’s take a look at how Justice played in 2009 and 2010 seasons, to visualize what Grigson was looking for. Let’s take a look at Pro Football Focus’ game grades for the two years.
In 2009, Justice’s season grade overall was far better than in 2010 (+18.1 vs. 0.6), and that generally matches how fans and analysts felt about Justice’s career. Justice was ranked 18th in 2009, but dropped to just 35th in 2010 (looking at all games). In that 2010 season, it was two really poor games that brought his final grade down so bad. Overall, both seasons were still pretty good for Justice, who ranked 8th in pressures per snap for tackles in 2009, and 22nd in 2010 (It actually was the exact same rating as Anthony Castonzo’s in 2011).
Nevertheless, Grigson traded for Justice hoping that he could regain 2009 form. Unfortunately, that hope never took shape in 2012.
Here are Justice’s game grades for 2012:
As Greg Cowan and I talked about all season on our Monday Night Breakdown show, Justice started out the season really strong, grading out as one of the top five tackles in the league through five weeks. But he got worse as the season went along, and so did the Colts’ offensive efficiency.
As for Justice’s pass blocking efficiency, he finished with the worst rating of his career as a starter, and finished just 31st in the league. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s not a viable starter, but what’s worrying is that pass blocking is Justice’s M.O. Justice has gotten through his career with above average pass blocking skills, and below average to average run blocking skills. If Justice isn’t going to pass protect well, he’s more than replaceable.
This season, Justice graded out as 45th in run blocking, and the Colts ranked 26th in the league in Adjusted Line Yards when running around the right end. The Colts were ranked 14th behind the right tackle, but their ALY was still below average (3.98, vs. average of 3.99 behind right tackle).
With that in consideration, it’s fair to consider the season as a rough year for the right tackle. Justice wasn’t the worst Colts’ lineman; in fact, he was in the top three in my opinion. However, the Colts’ line was awful this season, so it’s hardly an accomplishment.
Of course, we’ll review Jeff Linkenbach’s year later (the second string right tackle), but it’s fair to say that the drop off from Justice to Linkenbach was huge. For next season, Justice is a viable replacement level player, and should be kept around if he can be signed for a reasonable price. The Colts should look to replace him in the starting lineup, but it likely would be bigger improvement to sign a few interior linemen.
I believe I made the comment during preseason that Justice was worse than just having an orange cone out there on the right side. (After that start, anything he did was going to be an improvement.)
I also believe at the time, Justice was so bad during preseason, that it actually led me to question Grigson for thinking this guy was a viable option.
Happy to report that I now feel that while I hope the Colts can find an upgrade over Justice, they could have definately done much worse.
As you said, the drop-off from Justice to Linkenbach was huge. But I think Justice was also a victim of "the fall-out" in pass blocking from his mediocre linemates. Sure, he got beat on some straight speed rushes but any time the defense ran a stunt, there was at least one other Colt OL missing his assignment.
I think he got worse as those concussions piled up. He's a major health risk long-term, wouldn't mind him as depth but we've gotta get somebody solid at the position (Vollmer?).