UPDATE: I've moved some players around on the list, including one major jump from a late round to an early round. I've also added a couple new players. Moves are denoted with an asterisk.
So, the Colts season has officially ended. It was a sour final note for what was, on the whole, a tremendous season. I've been angry at the coaches just as much as anyone else on here, but at the end of the day to advance to the divisional round with roughly 684 players on IR is pretty impressive. That said, there are still holes all over this roster, so Grigson and company will have to make the most out of each of the five picks we're slated to have. That said, let's delve into the picks. No one has any idea how free agency is going to pan out, so I've made this list assuming no outside free agent starters are brought in. That is obviously not going to be the case (there are some pretty mediocre back ups hitting the market that I'm sure Grigson is itching to hand a bunch of money to), but it makes this list a whole lot less speculative.
IMPORTANT NOTE: before you get all angry at me (or, in some cases, pleased with me): the shot at Grigson was just for fun. I supported a lot of Grigson's moves at the time and don't fault him at all for the money he handed out--I wrote a post shortly after free agency last off season defending the money he handed out, and I stand by it.
Any discussion of who should be drafted must start with a list of the Colts' needs. I'm assuming key players like Vontae Davis, Pat McAfee, and Adam Vinatieri will return. I'm hoping Donald Brown does, but I'll account for that possibility in my pick selections. That said, I see the Colts' biggest needs as follows:
First, the Colts need an improved interior offensive line. This absolutely has to be addressed, however I'm not sure it needs to be addressed in the draft. There area couple good, young free agent guards and centers available, and I also am really high on Xavier Nixon. I think the Colts could get an average line out of Castonzo-Thomas-McGlynn-Nixon-Cherilus. McGlynn is a serviceable center, and the best line combination the Colts had all season featured Nixon at guard. If we don't trust McGlynn at center, we can look to Brian De La Puente from New Orleans or Evan Dietrich-Smith from Green Bay if either hit the market.
Second, the Colts need another receiver. Right now there is tons of upside in our group of receivers, but that's all it currently is. Da'Rick Rogers (without a D) has the tools needed to become great, TY is TY, Reggie Wayne will be back, Brazill looks to be a solid #2 or #3, and Griff Whalen is, in my opinion, the third best receiver on the team. He runs great routes, has great hands, and fights for every possible yard. That said, the Colts still need to add someone.
Third, the Colts need an inside line backer. I've said this before and I'll say it again, I think ILB is the single biggest defensive need the Colts have. What killed them was the inability to stop the run and the inability to defend against short- to mid-range crossing patterns. An upgrade at ILB would help both of those issues. Freeman is solidified as the starter, but Angerer is a liability in coverage and is hurt all the time, Kelvin Shepard improved toward the end of the season but was seriously inconsistent and, to be frank, abjectly terrible for most of the season, and finally, for whatever reason the coaches don't seem to like Kavell Conner. Even if Conner were recognized for what he is--the second best ILB on the team--an upgrade would still be in order. The only thing keeping this from being higher on the list is Josh McNary. I think he's a huge x-factor. With another full off-season he might emerge as a quality player. On the other hand, he might not. He's a question mark, and so going forward I'm going to assume he won't emerge as a stud.
Fourth, the Colts need a defensive lineman. I wrote in a previous fan post that the defense seems to live and die by the play of Cory Redding. I know it's hard to untangle the causal relationship, but it seems that when Redding is on fire, the defense is on fire. Right now, Redding and RJF have the position pretty well locked down, but Redding is injury-prone and getting old, and RJF isn't exactly a game changer. Don't get me wrong, I like RJF and I think he's a quality player; he just isn't the type of difference maker that Redding is. It could be that Montori Hughes will emerge as a stud, but I'm not holding out too much hope. I don't have any real reason to be pessimistic about him; in all honesty it's just a gut feeling. Either way, if the Colts can get somebody to compete with him as Redding's heir-apparent, that'll be good for the team.
Fifth, the Colts need a pass rusher. This is not an indictment of Bjoern Werner. I repeat: this is not an indictment of Bjoern Werner. Pass rushers develop slower than other positions, and Bjoern seemed to get better every game. I think he'll be a quality pass rusher in a year or two. However, Robert Mathis isn't getting any younger, and we can't rely on just one guy to do all our pass rushing for us. Even if Bjoern is the second coming of Reggie White, we'd still need another pass rusher on the team. Mathis accounted for roughly half of this team's total sack production this past season; that's unacceptable.
Sixth, the Colts need at least one safety. I don't think Antoine Bethea will be back, and if he is he shouldn't be starting. Our safeties were putrid this season. Landry was one of the two signings I really loathed, but I held out a lot of hope that I would be exposed as the moron I really am, but unfortunately I was on target with this criticism. I hope he gets benched, but the only reason I'm not definitely listing two safeties here is that I think Delano Howell could be the starter moving forward. He won't be a game changer, but it's impossible to have game changers all over a defense.
Seventh, the Colts need a corner. Darius Butler is a serviceable nickel corner, Josh Gordy played admirably when filling in for Toler, and Cassius Vaughn is one of the better options for a back up, but we still need a legitimate CB2. Toler was the second signing I loathed, but happily I was at least somewhat wrong about him. I think he deserves to be cut, but he still played much better than I expected him to. He was clearly the second best corner on the team, but he remained a liability a lot of the time. He's a boom-or-bust player, either making a pick/highlight-reel swat or giving up a big play. He also seems to have a knack for interfering with passes. I could be wrong, but it felt like he was being called constantly for PI. The only reason this isn't higher on the list is that I think the Colts' inability to defend the pass was more due to failure to generate pass rush, poor play calling, and the linebackers thrown into coverage.
So, those are the needs as I seem them.
TL;DR NEEDS: OL, WR, ILB, OLB, DE, S, CB
ROUND 2, PICK #59
1. Christian Jones, ILB/DE, Florida State: This pick would have the potential to fill needs at both ILB and pass rusher. Christian Jones is a tremendous inside linebacker who was used as a defensive end for much of this past season (to fill the void left by Bjoern Werner). He can rush the passer and is fast enough to cover the middle of the field. More importantly, he takes great angles to the ball carrier. He would be a great fit for our defense--he could play inside backer, outside backer to set the edge, or defensive end in a 4-3 front if needed.
2. Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn: This pick might as well be listed as 1b, not 2. I go back and forth between these two because I'm so torn. Watching his tape against Missouri in this year's 2013 SEC championship shows a guy with blinding speed, a high motor, and a relentless instinct for the ball carrier--no matter if it's the quarterback, the running back, or a receiver who just caught a short slant. Watch the tape here (opens in a new window). Seriously, go watch it. He has the best get off I've seen of any pass rusher in this draft--including Clowney. He's slated to go in the early third right now, so as it stands he'd be kind of a reach, but I'm fine with it.
*3. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas (previously #4 in this round): If the Colts go interior offensive line and Swanson is available, he SHOULD be the pick. He's the best center in the draft, but I honestly don't expect him to be available. Another choice would be Bryan Stork from Florida State.
*4. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State (previously #3 in this round): He's a mauler of a guard, and is considered to be one of the best in this class. If the Colts decide to go interior OL first, Jackson will probably be the choice. I'm choosing a guard over a center because I think there is a higher likelihood of signing a center than a guard. I think the Colts should go defense with their first pick, though.
ROUND THREE, PICK #90
*1. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska (previously #1 in round 6): I've updated this list primarily to move Jean-Baptiste up to the third round. As it stands, he's projected to be taken in the late-fourth, early fifth round. If the Colts can trade back, great, if not, I have no problem reaching that far for him. Here's what I wrote in my previous post: If you're wondering why I haven't slated a CB until now, it's because I think Jean-Baptiste has the highest ceiling of all the CBs the Colts would have a shot at--including Aaron Colvin and Marcus Roberson. He's a big defensive back who tackles well and plays tight man coverage. He also has a nose for the ball. He's raw, but he has all the physical tools to be a great CB2 and even a good CB1. He won't be as good right away as, say, Marcus Roberson, but the drop off between them isn't very big. If you read my post about my top ten most coveted draft picks, you'll know my top pick was Timmy Jernigan, and my second one was TJ Jones. Now that Jernigan is way out of the Colts' range, Jones is my top but Stanley Jean-Baptiste has not only made the list, but has jumped all the way to second. I'm so high on this guy, that if I could make the Colts draft anyone, my second choice would be Jean-Baptiste in the
2. Dion Bailey, S, USC: This pick would be a reach here as he's currently slated to be picked in the early to mid fourth round pick, so if the Colts go with Bailey they should consider trading back a bit if they can find a buyer. Bailey is more risky than some of the other players I'm going to list here, but he also has the most upside. Outside of the first round and maybe the early second, I believe in going aggressive the draft--go for a higher ceiling even if that means a lower floor. That said, Bailey has some great ball skills and is a stout defender of the run. He actually only switched to safety this past season, prior to that he played linebacker. He was named all-Pac 12 at BOTH positions. I love his versatility, and I love his instincts. He takes good angles, tackles well, and can cover well. This guy won't be a game changer, but he could become an above average starter. I generally avoid USC players because I think they tend to be more overrated than players from other schools, however I think this guy might be the real deal.
3. Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut: This is a player many people are high on, and if the Colts take Dee Ford instead of Christian Jones in the first round, the Colts should probably take him as he'd be the best remaining ILB prospect. However, the tape I've seen shows a player who doesn't have a very high motor and someone who takes questionable angles. He could be a project player, and he could easily turn out to be good, but I don't see him becoming much better than, say, Conner.
4. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin: Jared Abbrederis measured in at a hair over 6 feet at the Senior Bowl, which is a tad disappointing as he was listed as 6'1". He has great speed, runs great routes, and has great hands. If the Colts want to take a receiver in the third, Abbrederis is the one. He didn't have tremendous production this past season, but that was because Wisconsin was a run-first team with a bad quarterback. Unfortunately, he's steadily been climbing draft boards and will likely be gone by the 90th pick.
5. Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA: There is about a 50-50 chance that he will be available when the Colts pick. He's a solid guard prospect who could be a massive upgrade. I think he has a higher floor than Bailey, but a lower ceiling. Besides, I think safety will ultimately be a more important pick.
6. Ed Stinson, DE/DT, Alabama: Ed Stinson could be a solid rotational defensive lineman. He hasn't been much of a pass rush threat, but he can stuff runs pretty well. He could be a good pick up. Think a better Fili Moala.
Honorable mention: Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State: Some people are pretty high on him, but I haven't had time to read up on him or watch any tape. I'd love it if someone who has had that chance could comment.
ROUND 5, PICK #154
1. TJ Jones, WR, Notre Dame: If you read my earlier post about my top ten most coveted draft picks, you'll know how high I am on TJ Jones. He runs great routes, has great hands, is fast enough to separate, and, most importantly, fights for every catch and every yard. He's only listed at 5'11.5", but he's probably going to measure in at 6'0" even and, more importantly, with his physicality it doesn't matter. He gets the job done. Think a faster, less crazy Steve Smith.
2. DeAnthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon: If the Colts don't resign Brown or Bradshaw, this should be the pick. Thomas is a speedy, elusive back--a perfect compliment to Trent and Ballard. He was productive in college and kept up a tremendous offensive pace. He'd be great out of the gun or if the Colts decide to run the pistol every now and then.
3. Cody Lattimer, WR, Indiana: He's tall and quick, with great hands. However, I don't think he is going to last this long. If he does, he should get strong consideration over TJ Jones, but I think I'd still prefer Jones.
4. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU: Cody Hoffman is a freaky giraffe. He's a hair under 6'4", but he doesn't seem to have the type of elite speed you'd want to see to match with his size. In the tape I've watched, he looks kind of gangly and less than quick.
ROUND 6, PICK #187:
*1. DeAndre Coleman, DE/DT, California (previously #4 in round 5): Pretty much everything I said about Ed Stinson applies here, but Coleman would provide way more value here than Stinson would earlier in the draft. Besides, I think Coleman will be the better player. He was stout along Cal's defensive line this past season and performed pretty well.
*2. Russell Bodine, C, UNC (previously not on this list): Russell Bodine isn't a spectacular player, but he's huge and solid. He can also play guard, which makes him more appealing. He projects as a solid back up who maybe--just maybe--could become a starter.
3. Spencer Long, G, Nebraska: Long would be an early round pick, but he recently tore an ACL. Buyer beware on the injury, but he could be a huge steal.
4. Chris Watt, G, Notre Dame: Chris Watt was outshined by Zack Martin, but was a solid guard in his own right. I'm not sure he ever becomes a starter, but he could become a good back up. He'd also be a huge reach, here, as he'll probably be available in round 7.
ROUND 7, PICK #209
1. Bruce Gaston, DE/DT, Purdue: Bruce Gaston has been a solid pass rusher and run stuffer for a Purdue defense that was otherwise super underwhelming. He'll provide solid depth at a position of need. He might even be able to break the starting line up.
2. Jon Halapio, G, Florida: Solid back up with the potential--the outside potential--to be a rotational player.
3. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue: This is literally the only other worthwhile playmaker on Purdue's defense. He started as a true freshman and was Purdue's best CB. He'll be a solid, if unspectacular, nickel and back up corner. Think of a Darius Butler clone but with a bit more upside given his history of being a number 1 CB against some decent number 1 Big 10 receivers. Actually he probably doesn't, but I can hope.
So there you go. Any thoughts or suggestions? Did I miss anyone?