Stampede Blue Draft Grades: Colts Beef Up With Trench Players

USA TODAY Sports

One week after Ryan Grigson told the media that the 2013 NFL Draft was "a great trench draft," he drafted three BIG interior linemen to help fill his team's trenches.

At some point, I’ll stop reading between the lines and start taking Colts general manager Ryan Grigson at his word.

I can’t do it at present because I’m still a cold-hearted, cynical bastard, but eventually I might get there.

When the second-year Colts general manager and 2012 NFL Executive of the Year told the media in his pre-draft press conference that the 2013 NFL Draft was a "great trench draft," he wasn’t kidding. He also wasn’t pulling anyone’s plonker when he said he didn’t find smoke screens a productive use of his time.

Basically, one week before the actual draft, Grigson told us all exactly what he was going to do.

I also found it refreshing that, after the first round was completed and the Colts got the pass rusher they had targeted early in the process, head coach Chuck Pagano acknowledged at a post-draft presser that the position was critical for them to fill.

Pagano: Obviously, we knew we needed to address that.

Before we move on into breaking down the picks, let me just say that the whole notion of drafting "the best player available" is a farce, folks. It’s a simplistic, lazy phrase meant to keep you stupid. I’ve covered drafts for five years. ALL general managers draft for need. Every single one. The difference between the good ones and the ones who typically work for the New York Jets is the degree in which they reach for need.

In the case of the Indianapolis Colts, they simply could not exit the 2013 draft without a quality pass rusher to replace Dwight Freeney. Fortunately, they didn’t need to reach far to get a good speed rusher along with the other the critical position players required to contend in 2013.

Yes, that’s right. Contend. That’s the expectation now.

A team doesn’t spend $40 million dollars in free agency just to make the playoffs and hopefully win a game or two once there. It’s about winning it all now, and Indianapolis might have the talent to do it after this most recent draft haul.

Needs Entering Draft: Pass Rusher, Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Runningback Cornerback, Safety

1st Round, No. 24 Overall: Bjoern Werner, DE-LB, Florida State

Colts started things off by taking Bjoern Werner, a 266 lb. defensive end at Florida State that Chuck Pagano plans to move to linebacker. Fair or unfair, Werner is the team’s replacement for Dwight Freeney, who was not re-signed when his contract expired at the close of the 2012 league year.

Werner was the named the top defensive player in the ACC last year, earning 13 sacks and 42 tackles.

Born in Germany, Werner developed a love for American Football watching NFL Europe, which was once overseen by Andrew Luck’s father, Oliver Luck. In fact, like Werner, Andrew Luck grew up in Germany and speaks Deutsch.

With only the 33-year-old Robert Mathis, it was imperative that Grigson find someone else to rush the passer. Free agent acquisition Erik Walden has no pass rushing ability, and was signed mostly to set the edge on run downs. Think of Walden as more of a "run-stopping" defensive end who just happens to play outside linebacker. No one has any clue how good free agent Lawrence Sidbury can be transitioning from a 4-3 DE to an outside linebacker. Rookie free agency Josh McNary is a project player.

It's also worth noting that Pagano praised Werner's ability to set the edge on run downs and to drop into coverage. In fact, Pagano said he half-joked to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton about using Werner as a fullback or tight end on goal-line situations because he's so good catching the football.

Need fulfilled: Pass Rusher

3rd Round, No. 86 Overall: Hugh Thornton, OG, Illinois

The second day saw Indianapolis begin to focus on interior linemen. With players like OLB Corey Lemonier, Nico Johnson, and Alex Okafor still on the board, the Colts went with Illinois offensive guard High Thornton.

This caused more than a few Colts fans to sit up and go, "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa?"

The 6’3, 320 lb. Thornton figures to push Mike McGlynn at the starting right guard spot. Free agent Donald Thomas was signed to play left guard. Grigson called Thornton the most dominant guard he saw at the Senior Bowl. Drafting Thornton reunites him with the coach that recruited him at Illinois, Colts offensive line coach Joe Gilbert.

Need Fulfilled: Offensive Line

4th Round, No. 121 Overall: Khaled Holmes, OC, USC

The third day was when things got interesting, especially with the Colts first pick in the fourth round, No. 121 overall. With LA Tech WR Quinton Patton, UConn outside linebacker Trevardo Williams, and UCLA running back Jonathan Franklin still on the board, Grigson continued to focus on his offensive line.

He took USC center Khaled Holmes, a player they’d shown a great deal of interest in prior to the draft.

Holmes is versatile enough to play both guard spots and center, and just as the Thornton pick put McGlynn and Joe Reitz on notice, Samson Satele and A.Q. Shipley should not feel particularly secure in their jobs as we inch closer to training camp in August.

Of all the picks, the Holmes pick seemed to upset Colts fans the most. I know fellow Stampede Blue editor Matt Grecco wasn’t happy with it.

Passing on Patton? For another lineman? And of all the linemen… Holmes?

Cue necessary draft reaction GIF:

Dwvirv7_medium

This pick was about Grigson fulfilling the very public edict of owner Jim Irsay: Fix the offensive line.

Also, let's say the Colts had drafted a wide receiver here. Someone like Quinton Patton, for instance. Consider that Indianapolis invested two draft picks last year in wide receivers: T.Y. Hilton (3rd round) and LaVon Brazill (6th round). Reggie Wayne is still going strong at age 33 34, coming off one of the best seasons of his thirteen-year career, and Darrius Heyward-Bey was signed as an unrestricted free agent. There’s also pass catching tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, both drafted in rounds two and three last year, respectively.

If Patton was drafted, when and where was he going to play?

Now, if fans want to get on Grigson because they think Patton is better than Holmes, that’s fair. I happen to agree with some that Quinton Patton is a better overall prospect. "Best player available," remember? However, Grigson seems to feel that Holmes fit a greater need. At his post-draft press conference, Grigson described Holmes as intelligent (already has his Master’s at USC) and said that when the Colts brass met Holmes they came away very impressed.

Need Fulfilled: Offensive Line

5th Round, No. 139 Overall (Following A Trade With Cleveland): Montori Hughes, NT, Tennessee-Martin

In the fifth round, the Colts originally did not have a draft selection, having traded it last year in order to move up and take T.Y. Hilton out of Florida International. However, Grigson and company felt strongly about Tennessee-Martin nose guard Montori Hughes, who was still sitting there at pick No. 121. Indianapolis traded a 4th round pick in next year’s draft to Cleveland, and used the 139th overall pick this year to select Hughes.

"He’s 6’4 and change, 340 pounds, and moves like a cat," Grigson said of Hughes during his day-three press conference following the conclusion of the draft. Chuck Pagano compared Hughes to Ravens DE-NT Haloti Ngata.

The question as we get closer to training camp: What does the drafting of Hughes mean for 2012 pick Josh Chapman? Chapman was drafted at nearly the same spot in 2012 as Hughes was in 2013. Unlike Chapman, Hughes is not coming to Indianapolis with a severe knee injury.

It is possible that Hughes could be considered for one of the rotating spots at defensive end. However, coordinator Greg Manusky already has Cory Redding, Drake Nevis, Fili Moala, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Ricardo Mathews at that position.

Need Fulfilled: None

Rounds 6 and 7, Nos. 192, 230, And 254 Overall: John Boyett, S, Oregon; Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State; Justice Cunningham, TE, South Carolina

By the time the sixth and seventh rounds rolled in, the Colts were done upgrading their lines and turned their attention to smaller, speedier players.

Kerwynn Williams is a very intriguing pick in at No. 230 overall. He was a tiny, compact dynamo in 2012 for Utah State, rushing for 1,512 yards and scoring 15 rushing TDs. He also caught 45 passes for 697 yards and 5 scores. In the Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl (god, please stop with these soul-sucking corporate bowl game names), Williams had 235 rushing yards, three touchdowns, and averaged 13.1 yards-per-carry.

Whether or not his 5’8, 190 pound frame will hold up at the NFL level is probably the reason he fell all that way to the seventh round. Aside from running and catching the football, Williams also has experience as a kick returner, averaging over 20 yards a return.

Oregon’s John Boyett, taken in the sixth round at pick No. 192 overall, is essentially a project player.

He’s recovering from two surgically repaired knees, and part of the reason why he needed both knees fixed back in September of 2012 is because he was dumb enough to play on a knee he knew was injured. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll never question this dude’s toughness, but you have to be smarter than that. Fortunately for him, he’s on a defense that doesn’t have an immediate need at safety. He has time to get healthy, play some special teams, and learn a few tricks from Antoine Bethea, Joe Lefeged, and LaRon Landry.

The Mr. Irrelevant pick - the second time in as many years that the Colts have owned this selection - in 2013 was South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham. If he makes it to the practice squad, he might be a good player. Grigson described him as "fearless," and a good receiver in traffic. However, it seems evident that Cunningham was taken for his blocking ability. Tight end is completely loaded for Indianapolis, and with the team needing a fullback in 2013, look for only three tight ends to remain on the active roster.

Needs Fulfilled: Runningback, Safety

Summation

All-in-all, I find it hard to find many flaws with this year’s draft haul. Maybe the Khaled Holmes pick deserves some scrutiny, but it’s not like Grigson picked someone who abjectly stunk at that spot. Holmes has ability, and it is now obvious that, going forward, the front office and ownership will not permit the o-line to allow the sacks and hits that Luck had to endure last season.

It’s simply not acceptable anymore.

The "cauldron of competition" that Grigson wants to boil and bubble is effectively a sweeping "you’re on notice" message delivered to Satele, Shipley, Reitz, Linkenbach, and Ben Ijalana. There’s also a bit of "show me" missive directed at Chapman and McKinney on the d-line as well. This is not to say all these players SUCK and must be cut immediately. It’s just that when a G.M. uses quality picks on players at a certain position, he’s not really doing that solely to create competition.

He’s doing it to serve notice to the guys already at that position.

Overall Grade: A-

Need Fulfilled: Pass rusher, offensive line, safety, running back

Needs Missed: Wide receiver, cornerback

For someone like me whose covered the Colts since 2006, it is refreshing and fun to see the franchise invest significantly in trench players. I’m sure all of you were sick of me for screaming about the need for nose tackles and interior offensive linemen last year, but now I hope you see why I was so vocal about it.

Another element that also has to get factored into this draft are the collegiate free agents that were signed immediately following along with the trading of 2010 draft bust Jerry Hughes to the Buffalo Bills for Kelvin Sheppard. Several readers asked throughout the draft if the Colts had plans to take an inside backer. Personally, I didn't think it was necessary, but you almost have to view Sheppard as another draft pick. Hughes was next to useless for this team going forward. Sheppard is expected to fill the void left by the departure of the surprisingly solid Moise Fokou.

If you still care what I think, I’m excited about this draft, and about this team in general.

Then again, take that for what it’s worth. I once wrote that the 2007 draft class was the best of Bill Polian’s career, and I thought the selection of Jerry Hughes in the first round of the 2010 draft was genius.

Yeah. I iz the smartz ones.

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