Colts Talk to Run-Stuffing Tackle

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The Colts met with a highly-touted defensive tackle this week at the NFL Combine. With a young, talented core of the defensive line, where could he fit in, and what might this mean for defensive tackle Anthony McFarland? Find out more about this top prospect and why the Colts are interested in him inside.

North Carolina's Kentwan Balmer is considered one the top defensive tackles in this year's draft. Scout.com has him ranked No. 3 among tackles and No. 29 overall. Scout.com's NFL Draft expert, Chris Steuber, predicts Balmer going 27th to the San Diego Chargers his latest Mock Draft.

Steuber writes, "The Chargers are in a situation to draft the best available player, and they can go in many directions. Do they add a running back to replace the departing Michael Turner? How about an offensive tackle to help protect Phillip Rivers? In the end, they add a versatile defensive lineman who can play inside and outside, UNC's Kentwan Balmer."

The Colts and possibly Chargers aren't the only ones taking notice of Balmer, however — AFC South rivals Jacksonville and Houston have also spoken with him this week. And if the Chargers, Jaguars or Texans like what they see, all three teams will have chances to take him before the Colts will make a pick in the draft. Houston drafts 18th, while Jacksonville will make their first selection 26th. The Colts don't have a first-round selection in this year's draft.


Balmer defends against Duke in 2007

It's easy to see why Balmer is such an attractive prospect. After moving from defensive end to defensive tackle as a junior, he emerged as an elite defender during his senior year as a Tar Heel, collecting 59 tackles, good for second on the team, 3 1/2 sacks and and 9 1/2 tackles for a loss. He was named to the All-ACC Second Team in 2007.

The 6 foot, 5 inch Balmer has added weight to his frame since the season ended, and that should only boost his prospects as a run stopper, something that be very attractive for the Colts. Indianapolis improved from dead last in the league against the league in 2006 to 15th in 2007, but there's still room for improvement, and another tackle to clog the middle couldn't hurt.

Steuber noted in his Combine preview that Balmer is "an intriguing prospect who defends the run extremely well, [and has] has caught the eye of many teams in the league. He performed well at the Senior Bowl the first day, but suffered a hamstring injury on the ensuing day. One positive from Mobile was his weight. He played this past season at 295, but weighed in at 308 pounds. That's promising, but scouts will observe Balmer's explosion off the line to see if the hamstring injury still lingers."

Balmer will work out for scouts today, and his performance this weekend will help dictate where he's selected — above, below or right at projections. His hamstring injury could effect his workout today, but he'll also have another chance at Carolina's Pro Day. If he doesn't perform up to expectations, there's a chance he could slip into the range where the Colts could grab him. But do the Colts really want to take a defensive tackle with their first selection?

History has shown that Bill Polian will take the best player available, and his track record speaks for itself: he rarely misses on a draft pick, particularly in the first couple of rounds.

But the Colts already have a young core at defensive tackle and used a pair of draft picks to select Quinn Pitcock (third round) and Keyunta Dawson (seventh round) last season. The team also signed undrafted free agent Ed Johnson, who ended up starting 16 games as a rookie in 2007.

The Colts could stand to get deeper at the position, however, as Anthony McFarland is entering his 10th year, missed all of last season with a knee injury, and is expected to cost the Colts $6.85 million against the cap in 2008. With the recent large contracts signed by other Colts free agents, the team may be forced to find some younger and cheaper talent, and releasing McFarland seems like a logical choice for the team to trim costs. Learn more about McFarland's situation in Brad Keller's analysis from earlier this month.

Unrestricted free agent Dan Klecko isn't expected to be re-signed, and Raheem Brock moonlighted at defensive end last season — something that could continue if the Colts don't add more depth to that injury-riddled position as well.

If Balmer would fall far enough for the Colts to select him, it will be difficult for the team to pass up a prospect with such upside. At this point, however, it seems like Indianapolis has greater needs elsewhere — even if McFarland is let go, the four-man rotation of Johnson, Brock, Pitcock and Dawson is plenty formidable for 2008.

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