INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are often recognized as one of the National Football League's bright, up-and-coming teams, but there are still players on their roster who may not get the recognition they deserve on the national landscape.
In an effort to shine a light on these unsung heroes across the league, Pro Football Focus has picked out each team's most underrated player:
"Every season, the influencing forces in football media always talk about the big-name players—regardless of whether they are playing well or not—while shunning the small-name players who are exceeding expectations and playing above most at their position. The beauty of PFF, though, is that we can identify those who aren't getting enough attention for their performance on the field through the power of advanced data and unique play-by-play grading."
Coming in as the Indianapolis Colts' representative was their ever-reliable blindside protector, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who has been a rock for the Colts' offensive line that has seen nothing but change during his career up until last season. Per PFF:
"The season Anthony Castonzo is producing at age 31 is quite impressive — he is on pace for the third-highest-graded season of his career and one that ranks second among left tackles in 2019. Castonzo is in a similar spot as Ronnie Stanley — he has always been known as a good tackle, but he's not quite been recognized as one of the best in the NFL. Castonzo has been a key piece in opening up holes for the Colts' run game, and he's also done a great job of keeping Jacoby Brissett free from pressure. Castonzo is set to hit the open market at season's end, but it'd be hard not to make this guy a Colt for life, considering he's been one of the best in the business over recent years."
Castonzo's excellent season started out on the right path during the offseason with help by the Colts' Director of Sports Performance, Rusty Jones. Jones worked with Castonzo to find an issue in the tackle's hips, an imbalance that was causing knee pain for much of his career. After the issue was found an corrected, Castonzo told reporters he felt as good as he had since his rookie season, and it's shown on the field.
The nine-year veteran is having one of the better seasons of his career, as his current PFF grade of 82.8 would be the third-highest since being drafted by the Colts in 2011.
That grade ranks fourth among all NFL offensive tackles to this point of the season, and seventh among offensive linemen overall. His pass-blocking grade of 84.6 is third among tackles, and his run-blocking grade of 73.2 is eighth. It's the second-highest pass-blocking grade of his career and his fifth-highest run-blocking grade.
PFF has charted Castonzo with allowing 22 pressures this season (three sacks, two quarterback hits and 17 hurries) — on pace for the fifth-fewest of his career — as well as just one penalty. He is one of only four full-time tackles and one of 20 offensive linemen with one or fewer penalties, and he is on pace for the fewest in his career.
According to PFF's grades, Castonzo has gone through a natural progression in his game, increasing his grades each year from 2011-14 (68.9 in 2011, 77.6 in 2012, 77.9 in 2013, 84.0 in 2014). He then averaged a grade of 79.6 between 2015-2018, which is above average, before a sharp incline again in 2019.
Castonzo is just one man, but the offensive line lives and dies as a unit about as much as any position group in football. With Castonzo holding down the left side, the Colts have been excellent once again this season, especially in the run game.
They currently rank third in the league in rushing at 144.2 yards per game, which includes eight games with at least 100 yards rushing. In five of those games, they had 150 yards, in four they had at least 175, and they hit 200 yards twice in Weeks 1 and 11.
With the help of the line, starting running back Marlon Mack is having a career year as he currently ranks fifth in total rushing yards (862) and yards per game (86.2), as well as near the top of the league in numerous other rushing categories. With Mack nursing an injured hand for the last game-and-a-half, his backup, Jonathan Williams, has posted back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances.
When it comes to pass protection, the Colts have been solid as well. Going into Week 9, they were tied for fourth in sacks allowed (11) before hitting a bit of a rocky patch with quarterback Jacoby Brissett out with an MCL sprain. With Brissett back on the field, the pass protection is moving back on the right track. Overall, the Colts rank 11th in the league in pass protection (72.5) according to PFF.
With a rejuvenated Castonzo as their leader and elder statesman, the Colts' offensive line has transformed from one of the league's most unstable units to the polar opposite and arguably the strongest group on the roster.