With the draft finished, the NFL offseason (frequently defined by teams releasing and acquiring players, coaches, front offices people, etc.) comes to an end. For the most part, the players the Colts hold the rights to now are the ones who will show up and play in the first preseason game in August. Thus, we take this time to evaluate and examine the moves made by Jim Irsay and his first year general manager, Ryan Grigson. This series will breakdown the player loses, the free agent signings, the draft, and the undrafted rookie signings.
Rookie Free Agents
Grading or evaluating rookie free agents at this stage of the game is virtually impossible. In fact, it's just plain dumb to do it. Thus, for this recap-evaluation-summary-whatever, it's more about grading the front office and how they used the rookie free agent market to fill needs that they did not address during veteran free agency and the NFL Draft.
It's important to note that I'm not at these camps and OTAs. I'm not seeing these kids run, and even if I was there, it wouldn't be fair or accurate to evaluate their skills at this time. One evaluation that is fair is that these guys are rookie free agents because they weren't good enough to get drafted. So, already, they are inferior prospects to guys who were drafted, or the veteran free agents signed pre-draft. Anyone who tells you that drafted players and undrafted players are on even footing is lying to your face. If an undrafted player beats out a drafted guy for a roster spot, it makes the G.M. look moronic for burning a pick on the guy who lost out.
So, right off the bat, players like WR Griff Whalen, WR Jabin Sambrano, and RB Matt Merlettim are long shots to make the 53-man roster. However, guys like Buddy Jackson, Cameron Chism, and Antonio Fenelus are almost guaranteed to make the team for no reason other than the Colts did virtually nothing this offseason to address the team's near total lack of talent at the cornerback position.
The list of undrafted free agents signed is as follows:
- Micah Pellerin CB, Hampton
- Jabin Sambrano, WR, Montana
- Jason Foster, OG, Rhode Island
- Steven Baker, OT, East Carolina
- Cameron Chism, CB, Maryland
- Chris Galippo, LB, USC
- Hayworth Hick, OG, Iowa
- Griff Whalen, WR, Stanford
- Kevin Eagan, DE, Endicott
- Buddy Jackson, DB, Pittsburgh
- Antonio Fenelus, CB, Wisconsin
- Matt Merlettim, RB, Ignatious
- Brian Stahovich, P, San Diego State
- James Aiono, DT-DE, Utah
- Chigbo Anunoby, NT, Morehouse College
Of the fifteen signed, four were corners (the position most heavily represented in the rookie FA crop). This gives us a strong indication that the Colts front office viewed the corner position needed help. They failed twice during the draft to grab a starting-caliber corner, and by the time the third day rolled around, there weren't many quality players left at that position. Overall, it was a thin draft at corner, a position that has renewed emphasis now that safeties can no longer bash and spear receivers over the middle. Teams must cover, and this means teams need three or four quality corners to compete.
The Colts have zero.
NFL.com's Gil Brandt really likes Steven Baker, OT out of East Carolina and Hayworth Hicks, OG, Iowa State. Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson described this draft as being deep for offensive line talent, and it seems Brandt agrees:
Baker lacks extensive game experience, but his length at 6-8 makes him a very enticing tackle prospect. In fact, Baker was an extremely hot commodity right after the draft, receiving one of the largest undrafted rookie signing bonuses at $15,000. He reminds me a little of Jason Peters, who went undrafted out of Arkansas in 2004. There are probably 100 more proven line prospects coming out of college than Baker, but you don't find too many bodies like this.
Again, much of the RFA evaluation is based on need positions, and right now o-line isn't one. The Colts have Anthony Castonzo, Ben Ijalana, and Winston Justice on the roster. All are under the age of 28, and all are costly prospects. The team also burned a pick on OT Justin Anderson. With so much invested in those four players, how can Baker or Hicks hope to contribute or develop? Castonzo and Ijalana have to become starters (if not, the Colts are in deep dung along the o-line), and the team didn't trade with Philly just to have Justice play as a back-up.
However, based on the amount of money the Colts invested in Baker, it's clear they wanted him. It's also clear (at least, to me) that the team doesn't have much faith in Ijalana developing into the starting right tackle. He might be better suited for guard.
Chigbo Anunoby, NT out of Morehouse College, is very intriguing to me. Between him, Josh Chapman, and Brandon McKinney, the Colts might have a strong group of nose tackle to anchor their new 3-4 defense.
It's worth noting that, at the rookie mincamp immediately following the NFL Draft, WRs Griff Whalen and Jabin Sambrano opened some eyes as they displayed a special knack for catching virtually everything thrown to them. Unless there are injuries, they stand no chance to make the 53-man roster (unless Ryan Grigson wants to walk into Jim Irsay's office and explain why two free agent rookies managed to win roster spots over players who were drafted), but they have shown ability. Ideal practice squad players, if they are available.
Brad's final take:
The Colts needed corners, and corners they got. In the end, that's all anyone can really demand out of rookie free agents. I like the idea of getting more quality depth on the o-line, but I just don't see how players like Baker and Hicks can develop unless some pretty important prospects bust up or go down with injuries. Of all of them, Chigbo Anunoby interests me the most. This team can't have enough depth along the defensive line or the secondary. One area that didn't get enough attention was linebacker, but it's unrealistic to expect every roster position to get addressed. Overall, this is a solid group of rookies that address needs and have shown early promise.