Colts Nate Irving Could Be An Upgrade at Linebacker

The Indianapolis Colts were headliners in free agency this offseason, but one of their moves hasn’t gotten a ton of attention. They signed injured linebacker Nate Irving after the Denver Broncos let him go.

Irving is heading into his fifth season but was a rising star for the Broncos. His knee injury made it easier for the team to walk away and it could be a huge gain for the Colts.

He has been with the team for over three months now, but Irving hasn’t been able to get on the field. He has yet to be cleared by the team doctors. Irving recently spoke with Stephen Holder from the Indy Star about his frustrations.

“It’s been hard for me just from a competitive standpoint,” Irving said as his new teammates took the field without him for a three-day minicamp last week.

“You just want to be out there.”

Coach Chuck Pagano said there is a good chance that Irving will be back by the start of training camp and also praised the type of player he is.

Said Colts coach Chuck Pagano of Irving: “He’s ahead of schedule as far as the rehab goes. He’ll stay here the entire time (before training camp) and continue his rehabilitation process. The docs and the trainers are optimistic that there’s a possibility that by Aug. 1 he might be ready to get back in the fold and do some things, but it’s not 100 percent.”

“From a competitive standpoint,” Pagano said, “we got a good football player. He’s played quality downs in this league. When he does get back, he’s just going to add to that.”

Holder believes that Irving’s signing has been overshadowed by the other big name free agents, which is very true. Assuming Irving gets healthy, he should press for snaps and, given the history of the Colts’ linebackers health, there’s a good chance he’ll have a start or two this season. 

According to Pro Football Focus‘ grading, Irving finished his 2013 season with a +4.9, including the playoffs. He bounced between starting and coming off the bench but was a full time starter in the playoffs. Irving started eight games last season before his injury and finished with a +1.1 grade.

Where Irving really excels is against the run. He had a +5.9 grade last season and +4.1 in 2013.

Compare him to the Colts current starting linebackers Jerrell Freeman and D’Qwell Jackson. Freeman had a -8.3 grade last season in 15 games (including the playoffs) and an abysmal -19.7 against the run. Freeman is a good coverage linebacker and had a +10.3 in that category.

Jackson was even worse last season. His overall grade was -14.0, but he fared better against the run with a -2.3 and -8.4 in coverage.

Irving might not offer much in terms of coverage, but he’s a clear run stopper. If he returns to form, Irving won’t just be a solid addition he’ll be an upgrade at the inside linebacker positions. Whether or not the coaches decide to give him the snaps he deserves remains to be seen.