5 Frontline Free Agents for Colts

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October 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati (77) lines up during the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi

Number 3: Mike Iupati, Offensive Guard

Player: Mike Iupati

Age: 27

Ht/Wt: 6’5″, 331 pounds

Positional Overview: There’s no question that Jack Mewhort is both the now and future as the Colts starting left guard, following an impressive rookie season. However, the other starting guard is a major question mark. The Colts 2013 3rd round pick, Hugh Thornton, has been marred by injury and ineffectiveness, and it’s unclear whether he’s the long-term answer. After a season in which 5th-year journeyman Lance Louis made 7 starts for the Colts among other replacements, it’s clearly a position that is due for a considerable upgrade going forward. The team’s former prominent free agent veteran signing at the position, Donald Thomas, hasn’t played in the better of two seasons due to season-ending injuries, and it appears he may be a salary cap casualty.

Show Me The Money: Another San Francisco 49er, only this time it isn’t Frank Gore, but one of the men who normally blocks for him…and quite well at that. Since being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Iupati has made 3 consecutive Pro Bowls and was a 1st-team All-Pro in 2012.

He plays “with a little bit of nasty” in the inside as a starting offensive guard and is one of the most dominant run blockers in the game, even if his pass blocking can be a bit “iffy” at times. As testament, his +11.2 grade overall by ProFootballFocus (subscription) ranks him as the 14th best offensive guard overall, but his run blocking grade of +18.5 was the 2nd best in run blocking on the season for all guards. He’s incredibly durable too, having only missed 5 regular season starts in his 5-year NFL career for a position that is normally subjected to a lot of wear-and-tear and injury in the trenches.

Buyers Remorse: While offensive guards are important, it’s offensive tackles that are normally paid at a premium in today’s free agent market. With all of their holes, it may not be the wisest position to invest heavily in a position that a team can often get by with just having an average starter.

Also, even if jumpstarting the Colts rushing game is an important goal, so is protecting Andrew Luck. While Iupati is a certified road grader in the ground game, he has often struggled in pass protection. In fact, per ProFootballFocus, his -7.5 grade in pass protection was just 2 spots ahead of Hugh Thornton, yikes indeed. If protecting Luck is the primary goal, then it’s not certain that Iupati actually satisfies this objective.

Outlook: For a team looking to “get tougher” and have a stronger running game, the Colts could do a lot worse than signing one of the best young offensive guards in the NFL. Iupati isn’t expected to return to the 49ers, and he’ll likely have a new home in 2015. Still, Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson made it sound like he’d rather “build” an offensive line through the draft, rather than “buy it” through free agency, specifically mentioning, finding “More Mewhorts” in his year-end press conference.