Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Braden Smith’s value showed in a big way during the regular season.
Indianapolis Colts veteran offensive tackle Braden Smith has been with the franchise for six years and usually flies under the radar for recognition.
While Smith may not have any All-Pro or Pro Bowl accolades, he’s been one of the most consistently good linemen for the team when he’s on the field.
But, in 2023, the former Auburn Tiger struggled with injuries (mostly knee-related) and missed seven total games. Interestingly enough, Smith showed his value by not being on the field.
In his absence, rookie and fourth-round selection Blake Freeland filled in for 568 snaps at right tackle, per Pro Football Focus. While Freeland also had 131 snaps on the left side, he primarily was in place for Smith on the right.
What ensued was a rough experience for the first-year lineman, more often than not.
Freeland struggled against some of the best pass-rushers the league had to offer while replacing Smith. He faced names like Josh Allen (Jacksonville Jaguars), Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns), Cam Jordan (New Orleans Saints), Trey Hendrickson (Cincinnati Bengals), and T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers).
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While it’s fair that Freeland matched up against brutally great competition, he also allowed more hurries (37) and pressures (45) on the quarterback than any other offensive lineman on Indy’s roster.
Freeland will look to be far better if he plays in 2024; Smith will do everything possible to be healthier
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When Smith was on the field it was a completely different outcome. Smith, in 329 pass-blocking snaps, allowed 0 sacks and often kept defenders in check.
The best example was against Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders. Smith handled the top-level talents of Crosby, allowing just one hurry and pressure on quarterback Gardner Minshew during their Week 17 contest.
Smith only logged 575 offensive snaps in 10 games. Despite the limited action, Smith still finished the year as the top-graded lineman in overall (83.3) and run blocking (90.1) on the Colts. These metrics were with nine possible candidates on the season for Indianapolis.
The issue was availability for Smith. If he can work out his knee setbacks and other injuries in 2024, he’ll likely continue to be one of the most consistently reliable blockers in year two of Shane Steichen.
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