Through various trades Colts general manager Chris Ballard has acquired the following draft picks: 34th, 44th, 75th, 122nd, 160th, 193rd and 197th. In his first three drafts Ballard has made a killing in rounds two through five with nine out of twenty two starters in 2019 being Ballard picks in that range. This confidence on day two of the draft prompted the Colts to trade 13th overall for a difference maker in his prime in DeForest Buckner. After making a few splashy free agency moves the Colts are looking to add more talent to fill out the roster.
T.Y Hilton has been a great number one option for the Colts since breaking out in 2012. However, at thirty-years-old, he is starting to show signs of regression. Zach Pascal has made a name for himself as a strong third or fourth option, but right now he projects as the clear number 2 option.
Parris Campbell, the former second round pick was hindered by injuries all year. Even so, he showed nothing in his limited time to prove he is more than a gadget guy. However, the coaching staff has shown belief in the speedster: “We saw a guy who could develop into a legit wide receiver – inside, outside, has the skills and the footwork to run all the routes,” Head coach Frank Reich commented. Hopefully, a big sophomore jump is in store from the former Buckeye. In Ballard’s most recent Zoom press conference, these three are the only names mentioned when asked about the wide receiver position group going into the draft.
Good news for Colts fans, this is one of the deepest WR classes in recent memory. An impact receiver will likely be available at pick 34 and even pick 44. Dating back to 2005, the most wide receivers taken in the first round was six; which occurred in 2005 and 2007 per NFL.com. Taking this maximum as a worst case scenario, which is realistic, that still leaves between four and six viable options with either of the second rounder selections.
Barring a Tunsil-esque draft day fall, Ruggs, Jeudy, and Lamb are a lock to go in round one. This leaves around six players on the bubble between rounds one and two; Justin Jefferson, Denzel Mims, Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault Jr., Jalen Raegor, and Brandon Aiyuk that could provide a much needed boost to the receiver room.
My personal favorite from the bunch is Denzel Mims. He’s extremely long and powerful and while he lacks a developed route tree, so do most college receivers. However, Jalen Reagor and Laviska Shenault Jr. make more sense in the quick throw offense deployed in 2019. These two have excellent run after the catch ability, with Shenault Jr in particular showing running back like skills.
Despite PFF ranking the Colts as the third best offensive line in the league, I still see the position as a top need going into this Thursday’s draft. Anthony Castonzo was resigned for the next two years, but his thoughts of retirement made Colts fans think about what the line would look like without him. Mark Glowinski has been better than advertised and as the “worst” player in the five man group, it speaks volumes of the group’s strength.
However, both of these players could be candidates for replacement in the long term, therefore it is important to utilize an early selection on the line. Some options in the second and third rounds include Ezra Cleveland, Lucas Niang, Jonah Jackson, Damien Lewis, and Netane Muti. All of these players can benefit from not having to start day one and taking time to adjust to the NFL. Selecting one of these players invests into the Colts best position group to keep them at the top.
The Indianapolis Colts already invested heavily in the defensive line when trading the number 13 overall pick in the 2020 draft for Deforest Buckner. At first glance, the defensive tackle position looks to have good depth. Due to this, I would not count out the possibility of taking a mid to late round interior player and cutting the now thirty-year-old Denico Autry. Yes, Autry has been a contributor but similar to former Colt Pierre Desir, he is relatively expensive and beginning to show signs of regression.
Ballard has used multiple high round selections at the edge rusher position in the past few drafts. He is adamant about the strategy of using a deep rotation with several key contributors, in contrast to the normal route of having two bonafide starters and capable backups behind them. Kemoko Turay has shown flashes of brilliance but struggled to stay healthy. Ben Banogu was not drafted as a traditional edge rusher but during an inconsistent rookie season, he did show signs of promise. The Colts do have a stud in Justin Houston, albeit not for long as he recently turned thirty-one. Al-Quadin Muhammad has definitely out-performed the undrafted free agent label, but he is a depth piece at best. This, along with the positional value of edge rushers warrants a high selection in the Colts draft this year.
It is very possible that the best player available at pick 34 will be an edge rusher. Both Yetur Gross-Matos and A.J Epenesa have a chance to fall out of the first for different reasons. Epenesa is one of my favorite players in this year’s draft. He is great against the run and has a mean streak to him, which would place him as the perfect replacement in the Jabaal Sheard role. The combine workout really dropped his stock, despite coaches awareness that athleticism was not the key to his success.
Curtis Weaver is a name to watch for a little later on in the Colts draft. Similar to Epenesa, he is not an athletic beast, but you cannot deny his outstanding production at Boise St. Kendall Coleman is another pass rusher with great production despite not having the typical traits. Coleman has also earned the respect of former Colt great Robert Mathis. Coleman is an Indianapolis native who idolized Mathis, so watch out for this hometown story.
The Colts let Eric Ebron walk for cultural reasons. This leaves do-it-all Jack Doyle and former VCU basketball player Mo Alie-Cox as the main options on the roster. Mo is still developing but is a strong blocker. Doyle is a great security blanket for whoever is under center for the Colts. Reich has shown he likes to use multiple tight end sets and the position group lacks a downfield option.
This year’s tight end class is weak compared to the last few years. With O.J Howard rumoured to be on the trade block it will be interesting to see what his value is, as he would be the clear TE 1 in this class. Some downfield options in the mid to late rounds are Cheyenne O’Grady, Harrison Bryant, or Jacob Breeland. All of these prospects lack polish but can grow into vertical threats for the future. A recent release from the Chicago Bears, Trey Burton could also be a legitimate option. He has experience with Reich in Philadelphia and with the Bears still paying him four million dollars this year, he could be acquired relatively cheaply.
Minor Offensive needs
The Colts have done a good job of building a solid roster. I believe that WR, O-line, edge rusher and TE should be Ballard’s focus in this draft. The Colts front office really likes Jacoby Brisset. Although there is not a signal caller under contract for 2021 as of right now, I do not see the Colts selecting a QB. With the team already paying two starting quarterback contracts it does not make sense financially without offloading Brisset’s contract this season.
With Marlon Mack in a contract year, it could make sense that running back could be a need. Unless Mack wants a below market value contract, I do not think the Colts will or should resign him. I really think Hines and Wilkins have what it takes to form a strong one-two punch.
Minor Defensive needs
Our linebacking core of Leonard, Walker, and future hall-of-famer Okereke are all performing well and have plenty of time to keep growing. Barring injuries, this group has a chance to become among the NFL’s best in the coming years. Safeties Malik Hooker and rookie Khari Willis began to form a strong partnership towards the end of the year. Given Hooker’s injury tendencies it could be wise to draft a late round safety for depth as well as injury cover. The Colts have not picked up Hooker’s fifth year option yet, so watch out for a curveball from Ballard here.
The cornerback position is more up in the air. Rock Ya-Sin had a strong end of the year and Kenny Moore is one of the most underrated slot corners out there, while Xavier Rhodes will reportedly play with a chip on his shoulder as he looks to reignite his career. Quincy Wilson looks to be a strong rotational player but nothing more than that. I think a corner has a very high positional value and no one on the roster has proven outside corner ability. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe the Colts draft could include taking a corner relatively high.
Things to keep in mind
Chris Ballard has shown his preference to trading back and gaining more picks in the last two out of three drafts. In Ballard’s pre-draft press conference he hints at the possibility of gaining more picks in the Colts draft this year. Trading up is not out of the question either. If a blue chip prospect is falling and Ballard sees an opportunity to go and get him in the back of the first I think he will.
The draft day always has surprises around every corner!