Now that the deadline to franchise players has passed, we have a much clearer idea of which FA will be available when FA bidding starts on March 9. There are a myriad of posts suggesting how the Colts should approach FA and the draft, so I wanted to take a slightly different approach. I wanted to create a plan that, based on what we know, would predict who the Colts would acquire through FA and the draft, slightly influenced by who I would like to see them acquire (obviously).
When considering who the Colts might target in FA and the draft, we have to first consider the obvious holes on the roster, but also the overall goal of the roster construction, aside from winning the Superbowl. From what we have been told, the Colts are looking to create a big, physical, punishing, fast defense in the form of a hybrid scheme, which includes a physical man-cover secondary and a quick, powerful front 7, anchored by a gap-filling and block-eating NT. On offense, the Colts are implementing a West Coast offense with pass-catching TEs, a versatile WR corp and a power running game, all supported by big OL in a man-blocking scheme (MBS).
Next, we have to look at the coaches who will be utilizing the roster to fit their schemes. For defense and head coach, Chuck Pagano was hired to implement a top-tier defense, similar to the one described above and similar to the one he worked with in BAL. His expertise in building this type of defense comes from his ability to develop the necessary players. He was not brought in to assemble this defense from expensive, developed parts, but instead to develop it from young talent, with the help of Manusky, who also has similar experience/expertise. On offense, Bruce Arian was hired for his expertise in developing franchise QBs. Since he has moved on to ARI, the Colts have hired the next best person to develop their franchise QB, his old college head coach, Pep Hamilton. Pep brings with him the offense described above, with roots in the WCO and power run game.
So once we have established those parameters, we have to look at the actual value (contract and long-term), impact and upside/potential of each player. By the sheer nature of FA, many of the better players will be overpaid, however, there is value to be had. Likewise, we can be willing to sacrifice some value in favor of impact. Grigson has also said that he does not want to pay for past performance, so those players who have upside/potential, either from being poorly/under utilized or bad coaching, are especially attractive targets.
After considering all of these things, it would appear that the Colts are going to focus their FA efforts on building the OL with high-level FA, because this is the position that offers the most impact, while also finding value signings with upside/potential for the defense. To compliment this approach, they will focus on finding young defensive talent to develop through the draft.
Re-sign Winston Justice, OT (Depth is the name of the game here.)
Louis Vasquez, OG (Like Vollmer, impact supercedes value. Vasquez has connections to the Colts and fits perfectly as a building block for the OL for years to come.)
Re-sign Darius Butler, CB (Butler provides solid depth as a CB4.)
Re-sign Jerraud Powers, CB (I am not at all a fan of this move, but all signs seem to point to this.)
Mike Jenkins, CB (Upside/potential signing and fit. The Colts can't preach about upgrading the defense and building a monster and then not bring in any additional vet talent to one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.)
Antwan Barnes, OLB (Upside/potential signing to create competition and provide depth. Also has several connections to the front office and coaching staff.)
Re-sign Fili Moala, DT (Already re-signed for depth purposes, but might not be ready for the season opener and could be cut.)
Alan Branch, DT (Value signing to plug a hole on the DL.)
You will notice the lack of "impact" signings on the defensive side of the ball. I want to reiterate that the Colts hired Pagano to build and develop a defense, so I expect to see several defensive players targeted in this draft. Because the Colts will be targeting these players in the draft, it does not make sense to commit heavily to a defensive player before the draft, unless that player is an All-Pro level player (see Brian Orakpo in 2014). The worst thing that can happen, especially in round 1, is that the Colts commit to Kruger for his inflated contract, and then a BPA OLB becomes available. In that scenario, the Colts likely wouldn't pick that player because he would have to sit for a couple of years, and the Colts need starters now.
Last year, I was able to correctly mock 3 out of the first 4 picks for the Colts (my 4th pick being Casey Heyward, who we now know the Colts were targeting heavily). However, this was much closer to the draft. And ss with last year, who the Colts invite to workout are likely on their short list for players they will target in the draft, especially in the later rounds. So, until those workouts happen, it's difficult to predict, but I will give it a shot.
1st round) Traded back to early 2nd round (pick up an additional early 3rd rounder) Jaime Collins, OLB - Based on who I think will be available, I believe will the Colts will trade back. Grigson, while in Philadelphia and even during his 1st year in IND, has shown a propensity to trade both up and back in the draft. Because the Colts do not have a 2nd or 5th round pick this year, it makes sense to trade back and pick up an extra pick, especially since the talent pool is wide open. Collins would immediately challenge to start opposite Mathis and hopefully develop into the Colts' own version of Kruger/Spencer.
3rd round) Phillip Thomas, S - Thomas is a hard-hitting ballhawk who could develop into a great FS to take over for Bethea after next season.
3rd round) Quentin Patton, WR - Physical WR (though not big) with great hands and route-running, tailor-made for the WCO. Though he might not have the upside of a true WR1, learning from Wayne will allow him to develop into a great WR2.
4th round) - Shamarko Thomas, S - In his short time as GM, Grigson has shown that he is willing to double down on positions of need, especially if the value is there. What better position to do this than S, which is arguably the deepest position in the draft? Shamarko would immediately challenge Zibs (who is hopefully cut, but probably won't be) and Phillip Thomas for the starting S spot opposite Bethea and could develop into the enforcer this defense needs long-term.
I am not going to mock the later round picks, because those would be much less educated guesses. I do believe a late-round CB will be drafted to be developed, as well as an OL or a speed RB. Obviously, this mock is subject to change based on FA and workout invites, but this is how I see the Colts approaching it; acquiring young talent that can be developed by those paid to do so.
So there you have it. Feel free to comment below and tell me what you think. Please also remember that this is what I think the Colts WILL do, not necessarily what I would do. For instance, I would sign McKelvin over Powers and I would look at possibly picking up a S in FA. But I wanted to approach this from what we know about our fearless leaders, so this is the end result. Enjoy.