Even though the season is still a few weeks away, I think it's never too early to begin discussing the offseason and the impending(ish) draft. I've decided to list the top 10 picks I covet most. Here are the guidelines. First, I'm only listing players the Colts have a reasonable shot at. The earliest the Colts can pick is 25th in the second round. No matter how awesome it would be to have Anthony Barr or Jadaveon Clowney, I'm not listing them. (Actually because of maturity and work ethic issues, any team that drafts Clowney in the first round will be sorely disappointed--think Jarvis Jones to the Steelers). I'm also not considering absolute talent, meaning this won't be a list of players the Colts could target in the 2nd round and the 2nd round only. This list is compiled based on talent relative to projected draft position (i.e. it's a list based on draft value). Finally, this list is based on needs; there are tons of great values at quarterback and tight end, but I'm not listing them because, well, duh. With that said, ON TO THE COUNTDOWN!
10. Bruce Gaston, DE/DT, 6-2, 303, Purdue, projected: 5-7
Bruce Gaston has been a productive pass rusher and run stuffer for the Boilermakers. Fellow Purdue-loyals will know that there was little to smile about this season. Bruce Gaston was one of them. He can quickly become a solid rotational player who could step in if injuries knock out a starter. He projects as a better Fili Moala with the potential to be an outstanding back up, good rotational player, and mediocre starter. Even if the Colts take a DE/DT earlier in the draft, if Gaston is around in the 7th the front office would be insane if they didn't pull the trigger.
9. Jordan Matthews, WR, 6-3, 205, Vanderbilt, projected: 1-2
Jordan Matthews has elite size and a high floor. He's been hyper productive despite having no other receiving threat opposite him. In any other draft he'd be my top choice for the Colts' second-round pick. However, he's expected to go between the late-first and and late-second round. While he's a great talent, there are other players I'd prefer the Colts to take with their first pick. Still, he'd be a heck of a choice.
8. Dee Ford, OLB, 6-2, 238, Auburn, projected: 2-4
Mathis is (probably eventually maybe sometime going to be) on the decline, so the Colts will soon need his replacement. Werner has flashed some potential, and though he's been mediocre at best this season I have no doubt he'll emerge as a great pass rusher. There are two problems, though. First, the Colts will still need a second pass rusher, and second odds are Werner isn't going to become a transcendent talent like Mathis (which isn't a knock against him--Mathis is a rare beast). The result is that we need a quality third pass rusher right now to develop alongside Werner. Dee Ford is quick and has been the best pass rusher for a high-quality front seven. He doesn't have the insane upside of some of the better pass rushers in this draft, but he'd be a tremendous mid-round pick.
7. Denzel Perryman, ILB/OLB, 6-0, 240, Miami, projected: 3-5
The Colts need help all over the defense. Given that the Colts struggle stopping the run AND stopping short and intermediate passes, finding an upgrade at ILB to play along Jerrell Freeman ought to be a top priority. None of the other options are able to cover crossing receivers or TEs, and none of them are quality, consistent run stuffers (except maybe a healthy Pat Angerer--which never happens). Freeman's ability to blitz is one of his biggest strengths, but he hasn't been able to do that because the second ILB hasn't been good enough to cover the center of the field. Perryman has the versatility to play either ILB or OLB, which alone would make him a great choice. However, his speed allows him to cover an entire half of the field, and he's been great at both run support and pass coverage this entire season, meaning he'd be an incredible choice.
6. Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, 6-5, 315, UCLA, projected: 1-3
Interior offensive line is arguably the biggest need the Colts have. Su'a-Filo is young, big, and has a history of success at UCLA. He's been a major factor in keeping Brent Hundley clean enough to get first round consideration. He's number three on my wish list for the third round pick behind the next two players on this list.
5. Zack Martin, G/OT, 6-4, 304, Notre Dame, projected: 1-3
Again, the Colts need interior line help. Martin would fit incredibly well as he has solid athleticism, allowing him to both stuff interior defensive linemen and pick up edge blitzers. I don't know that he should be taken in the second round over other options, but its hard to imagine a better third round pick. The only player I'd take over him in the third round is my #4 player on this list.
4. Jared Abbrederis, WR, 6-2, 188, Wisconsin, projected: 2-4
There's no denying that receiver is one of our biggest needs. If Whalen, Rogers, and Brazill all pan out, we can safely pass on a receiver during the upcoming draft. However, we won't know that until well afterward. Abbrederis has first round talent (he's big, fast, runs great routes, and has been terrific in college), but has been flying under the radar due to sub-par quarterbacking. If Abbrederis can put on another ten pounds, he'll become a mismatch for most DBs. He should receive strong consideration in the second round, and if he's available in the third round the Colts should pounce on the opportunity.
3. Marcus Roberson, CB, 6-0, 184, Florida, projected: 1-2
There are growing calls for the Colts to move on from Groin Toler. He started the season strong, and when healthy he's certainly our second best corner, but he still isn't that good. The Colts need a true CB2. Opposite Vontae Davis, Roberson could thrive. His build is nearly ideal (perhaps if he were an inch or two taller and maybe five pounds heavier he'd have elite size), and he has a lot of upside in terms of his man coverage ability. With a second quality man corner, the Colts secondary can hopefully get back on track.
2. T.J. Jones, WR, 6-0, 195, Notre Dame, projected: 5-7
As I mentioned, this list is not ordered by absolute talent. It's ordered by talent relative to projected draft position. T.J. Jones reminds me a lot of a young Reggie Wayne. He's tough, quick, and runs good routes. He's produced at a high level without having a good quarterback. The only major knock is that he hasn't seen elite competition, but with this guy's athleticism and hands, he should be a pretty quick project. Reports I've read project him as a back up, but he clearly has the upside to be a quality starting receiver, and he's just big enough to play reliably on the outside--he's a inch taller and 15 pounds heavier than Griff Whalen. He's also faster. If Jones is available in the 5th round, the Colts should strongly consider him. If he's still around in the 6th, it should be a no-brainer.
1. Timmy Jernigan, DT/DE, 6-2, 298, Florida State, projected: 1-2
My most coveted draft pick is Timmy Jernigan from Florida State. Jernigan is a defensive lineman with the instincts of a linebacker. He can play tackle in a 4-3 base or end in a 3-4 base, and even nose tackle in a 3-4 if the situation calls for it. I've been high on this guy for a while, but anyone who watched the BCS National Championship saw how good this guy is. Though he was occasionally jammed by a single blocker, the vast majority of snaps he blew through single blockers and was able to stuff runs against double teams. I would argue that the Colts defense's success turns on the play of the defensive line, specifically of Cory Redding. When Redding is on fire, the defense follows. Drafting Jernigan while we still have Redding and RJF would allow him to spend at least a year being a rotational player learning the ropes. He appears to be a natural leader and he had a relentless motor in the championship game. This guy has tons of upside and could eventually replace (and maybe upgrade) Redding. The ONLY issue here is that after his performance in the BCS Championship he's poised to shoot up draft boards and wind up out of reach.
Honorable Mention: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford; Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut; DeAndre Coleman, DE/DT, California; Anthony Steen, G, Alabama; Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
So there you have it: my top ten most coveted draft picks. Did I miss anyone? Would you make any changes? Any other thoughts?