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Will Colts land a left tackle or ever-elusive premier pass-rusher in the draft?

The Colts have struggled to land an impact edge rusher in the draft in recent years. One potential option this year is Kwity Paye, who has intriguing upside despite not putting up huge numbers at Michigan. AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL free-agency buzz has come and gone.

There are still some big-name players available, like wide receiver Antonio Brown and cornerback Richard Sherman, but the excitement has definitely died.

The Colts have made very little impact during free agency. That could come as a surprise to some when you consider the need for a starting left tackle, following Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, and an improved pass rush.

But the reality is, it shouldn’t be surprising. This isn’t anything new.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard has made no secret of his roster-building approach.

And now Ballard and his staff could attempt to find the franchise’s left tackle of the future and a pass-rush specialist in the draft later this month, if they don’t believe those players are already on the roster.

That approach hasn’t been perfect for the Colts, but in the past few years they have managed to select players such as Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson, Bobby Okereke and Jonathan Taylor who are all part of the team’s foundation.

Ballard has a history of stockpiling draft picks in order to build the roster. That’s not the case this year -- at least not as of yet. Indianapolis currently has six total picks. And its first pick isn’t until 21st overall.

Don’t be alarmed, though. Yes, the Colts would ideally have a higher pick to address left tackle or defensive end. Finishing with an 11-5 record and making the playoffs doesn’t allow that, unless they trade up.

But it doesn’t mean they won’t be able to find a quality left tackle late in the first round or even in the second round. Castonzo was selected 22nd overall in 2011. All he did was start every game he played in during his career. Right tackle Braden Smith was selected in the second round in 2018. So there’s reason to have hope.

Mock drafts are flying around with the draft three weeks away. And the positions that are talked about most with the Colts? Yep, pass-rusher and offensive tackle.

The Colts lost Denico Autry and his 7.5 sacks from last season to AFC South rival Tennessee during free agency and Justin Houston, who had 19 sacks in his two seasons in Indianapolis, remains unsigned.

For as good as Ballard has been overall in the draft, he’s had some misses when it comes to pass-rushers. Tarell Basham, a third-round pick in 2017, comes to mind. Meanwhile, the verdict is still out on a pair of second-rounders, Kemoko Turay (2018) and Ben Banogu (2019). Ballard will have to hit on that position at some point in the draft to address what’s arguably the second-most important position on the roster outside of quarterback.

Here's a look at some offensive tackles and pass-rushers who could be available when the Colts pick at No. 21:

Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech: He started all 35 games during his three seasons at Virginia Tech. The Colts would have to feel fortunate if Darrisaw is still on the board when they pick. His addition would ensure that Quenton Nelson doesn’t have to attempt to slide over one spot from guard to protect new starting quarterback Carson Wentz’s blindside. Darrisaw also received a lot of positive remarks for his run-blocking ability, which is a must in coach Frank Reich’s offense.

Teven Jenkins, OT/G, Oklahoma State: Jenkins didn’t become a full-time starter until his second year in Stillwater. He started only seven games at left tackle for the Cowboys, while getting 26 starts at right tackle and two at right guard. The Colts would have to really think Jenkins could make the transition to left tackle full time in order to select him at No. 21, especially if there are some pass-rushers still on the board.

Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami: Rousseau opted out of playing last season at Miami, but he dominated in 2019, recording 15.5 sacks in just 13 games. You wouldn’t think that Rousseau is still learning how to play defensive end after being mainly a receiver in high school.

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami: Phillips, who started his college career at UCLA before transferring to Miami, came on late to help his draft stock. He closed the season by getting 5.5 of his 8 sacks in the final three games of the season. There are concerns about Phillips’ health, though, because he stepped away from football momentarily following a third concussion.

Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan: Raw is probably the best way to describe the explosive Paye. His stats don't scream late-first-round pick, because he had only 11.5 sacks in his four seasons at Michigan. This could be a case where Paye’s production is still playing catchup to his skills.