The Indianapolis Colts will be without both Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson to start the 2021 NFL season. Nelson is expected to undergo foot surgery today to address a similar injury to the one that Wentz suffered last week. The initial time frame for recovery is 5 to 12 weeks.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) August 3, 2021
The Colts are amid extension talks with Darius Leonard while he recovers from an ankle surgery that took place in June. Now, they may be negotiating with two star players from the 2018 NFL Draft while they’re on the mend.
The All-Pro guard’s foot injury doesn’t sound as if it will have any lingering effects and therefore should have no impact on the value his camp is seeking. However, with the Colts exercising the fifth-year option on Nelson for 2022, they’ve bought themselves some time in negotiations.
The Colts extended DI Grover Stewart in the middle of the 2020 season last November, so perhaps the two sides can get something done before the 2022 offseason if Nelson returns to form. The fourth-year pro has no reason to accept a multi-year deal that doesn’t make him the highest-paid guard in the NFL by a considerable margin, well above Kansas City Chiefs guard Joe Thuney’s $16 million average per year. Nothing about this news changes that reality, with Nelson likely looking for a deal in the $18-$20 million per year range.
If any interior offensive lineman moves the betting needle it is Quenton Nelson. The Colts have been devastated by injuries to the offensive side of the football, and though the injured players don’t play in the same unit, we could still see a chained collapse of the Colts’ offense as a whole.
The Indianapolis win total already dropped to 9 on the Carson Wentz injury timeframe and should see added juice to the under on the reaction to Nelson. Expect a number of low-scoring games to start the regular season, with the Colts’ facing off against four 2020 playoff teams in their opening five-game stretch.
Obviously the loss of Nelson isn't ideal, but volume still trumps situation in fantasy land. In 2020, the five highest-graded run-blocking offensive lines produced four top-24 PPR RBs. PFF's bottom-five offensive lines … also produced four top-24 PPR RBs.
Taylor's path to an RB1 finish has more to do with whether he can again see a solid target share as opposed to the Colts' performance at the line of scrimmage.
It took no time for Nelson to establish himself as one of the league’s best at his position. He has been the most valuable offensive lineman in the NFL since Indianapolis made him the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, according to PFF’s Wins Above Replacement (PFF WAR) metric. There is no simply replacing what Nelson brings to their offensive line.
Veteran guard Chris Reed will be among the favorites to fill in for Nelson while he is sidelined. The former undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State started a career-high 14 games at left guard for the Carolina Panthers in 2020, finishing the season with a 63.0 PFF grade (22nd at the position). Seventh-round draft pick Will Fries will also compete for snaps.
Nelson’s expected absence to start the season is the latest in a growing list of key contributors. Carson Wentz’s expected replacement, Jacob Eason, likely won’t have free-agent signing Eric Fisher and Nelson protecting his blindside to start the year. Instead, it will be Sam Tevi (37th among 39 qualifying left tackles in PFF grade since 2018) and whoever steps up at left guard holding down the left side of the offensive line. That only makes an already difficult transition for Eason more challenging.
The Colts’ hopes of an AFC South title largely ride on whether the timeline for Wentz and Nelson’s return trends toward the low (five weeks) or high estimate (12 weeks).