Colts: Grover Stewart is entering a pivotal 2021 season
The Indianapolis Colts defensive front will look a lot different next campaign following the departures of Justin Houston (who remains unsigned) and Denico Autry (who’s now with the Tennessee Titans).
Based on the rotations at OTAs, it’s looking like Tyquan Lewis and Kwity Paye are the clear frontrunners to nab to two defensive end spots. Given how little we know about that duo, the pressure will be on DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart to produce on the interior.
Speaking strictly in terms of Stewart, who’s coming off a breakout season for Indy, we’re interested to see how he’ll cope without Houston’s and Autry’s presence.
Stewart is obviously capable of dominating by himself, but it goes without saying he benefited from playing alongside a pair of grizzled veterans. For context, Houston and Autry combined to tally 58 tackles (19 for loss), 15.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, and 47 pressures last year.
Those numbers prove Stewart is entering a pivotal year now that he’s all by himself.
The Colts will need Grover Stewart to be dominant in 2021.
Stewart earned the rare mid-season extension (three years) during 2020 thanks to his sheer dominance against the run. That deal cemented the former fourth-round pick as a foundational piece of the Colts’ defense and they’ll need him to be at his best next season.
After all, you simply don’t know how Lewis and Paye are going to perform. While Paye has tremendous upside, he’s a rookie and might not hit the ground running. Lewis, meanwhile, has started 10 games over his first three seasons (31.3% of the defensive snaps), across which he’s contributed 42 tackles (12 for loss), four sacks, 15 QB hits and 32 pressures.
Those actually aren’t bad numbers for a player who couldn’t crack the starting lineup, but the premise remains the same: the inexperience along the Colts defensive line — behind Lewis and Paye you have Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Ben Banogu — means Stewart and Buckner will need to be as good as advertised, and then some, next season.
Stewart’s stats won’t show it — only on rare occasions, like Buckner, do interior DL post eye-popping numbers — but he was immense for Indy’s defense last season. In 16 games, he managed 53 tackles and six QB hits, but was virtually unstoppable against the run.
Even when Stewart wasn’t making backfield stops, his massive 6-foot-4, 315-pound frame commanded attention, which only created more gaps for Buckner, Houston and Autry.
On the flip side, however, his three running mates did the same for him, and you can’t assume Lewis and Paye will be able to do the same. Because of that, Stewart will have every opportunity to prove he was deserving of his $30.75 million extension.