Entering free agency, the Colts had needs--true needs--all over the roster. They did not have anyone who could competently start at corner, running back, receiver, inside line backer, kicker, and punter. They needed depth at guard, center, safety, corner, running back, inside line backer, outside line backer, tackle, and defensive line. Just about the only position the Colts were set at was tight end (and quarterback if you trust that Andrew Luck scrub).
Now that the dust has settled, the Colts do not have any "true" needs; there are players capable of starting competently all over the roster. Depth is still a problem, and starters can certainly be upgraded (I'm looking at you, LaRon Landry), but if this team had to play tomorrow, they would be competitive. That's saying ga lot, and regardless of whether you think Grigson should have signed more FAs, he should be commended for it--especially given the healthy amount of cap space left that can roll over to next season. That said, it's time to turn to our attention to the draft. In case you were wondering, the draft is, objectively, the best part of the entire football year.
I just wrote a FanPost explaining both my draft strategy as well as my view of the Colts' needs. Check it out for a detailed explanation, but here are my need rankings: guard, free safety, center, nose tackle, corner, strong safety, inside linebacker, and outside linebacker. With that said, let's get it to it!
ROUND 2, PICK #59
1. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State: For the longest time, I've slotted either Christian Jones or Stanley Jean-Baptiste as my top choice for the Colts in the 2nd round. With the signing of D'Qwell Jackson, it makes significantly less sense to draft an ILB this high. It's still certainly a need, but there are more pressing needs, and the Colts can find someone with a similar skill set later in the draft. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is still a great corner prospect, but as I've watched more tape on other corner prospects, I've found that there are decent prospects later on. Further, the current CB2 on the Colts' roster is light years ahead of the current RG on the Colts' roster. That leaves me with Gabe Jackson. Never mind the fact that he is the best player available, he is someone who could lock down RG for the next fifteen years. He's an incredible run blocker, and has improved greatly in pass protection this season. He isn't the quickest guard on the planet, so speed rushers will find more success against him than we might like, but there's time to make up for that. He's powerful enough to stonewall bull rushers, which he did all throughout this season (watch his game against LSU).
2. Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor: This is a consolation prize if Jackson is off the board. Richardson is as powerful a blocker as Jackson, but is not quite as polished as a run blocker, and significantly less polished as a pass protector. That isn't to say he isn't good--he's really, really good. In fact, he was one of the best offensive linemen in the country. There are reports that he was burned by speed rushers at the Senior Bowl which caused his stock to fall, but I try not to put much stock into the Senior Bowl. Let me be clear: Cyril Richardson would be a massive upgrade over Hugh Thornton. Massive.
3. Christian Jones, ILB/OLB/DE, Florida State: Inside linebacker is one of the weakest positions in this draft. There are only two other players who could conceivably even be roster worthy in this draft--Adrian Hubbard and Greg Blair. If Gabe Jackson is off the board, even if Richardson is still there, the Colts should give Christian Jones significant consideration. His versatility, instincts, and, most of all, tackling are all fantastic. Because of the lack of available alternatives, Jones get the very slight edge over my #4 pick.
4a. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas: I'm not as high on Travis Swanson as most people are. If he's here, though, he'd be a quality choice. The Colts need a center, and Swanson is generally considered the best one in the draft. However, he's only here because center is such a big need. If the Colts had a proven, serviceable center I wouldn't consider drafting him.
4b. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska: I won't bore you with the sales pitch for SJB again. His physical tools are insane, he's fast enough to get the job done, and he's physical. However, I'm less high on him as I have been because of other CB prospects I've seen. Regardless, drafting him would still be a slam dunk.
ROUND 3, PICK #90
1. DaQuan Jones, DT/NT/DE, Penn State: This is the single most important pick the Colts can make in this draft. The Colts absolutely need a better nose tackle--consider the difference players like Vince Wilfork make on a defense. When he's been double teamed in the past, he gets stonewalled about half the time and completely blasts through it the other half of the time. Right now, we're lucky if our nose tackle isn't pancaked off the line. With a nose tackle who has some serious pass rushing chops, the entire defensive line will improve drastically. More importantly, it will free up the pass rushers and edge-setters to make plays, which will in turn take pressure off the secondary. As I said in my previous article, there is no more influential single move that the Colts can make to improve their defense. Further, there's only one other quality nose tackle prospect in this draft, who happens to be my second choice here.
2. Will Sutton, DT/NT/DE, Arizona: Will Sutton is the better pass rusher of the two prospects, but he's the smaller of the two. If it weren't for his immense speed off the line, he'd be routinely stuffed by double teams. However, that quickness, combined with his high motor, make him a huge upgrade over what the Colts currently have. In fact, Sutton is only at risk of falling this far because of a poor senior season wherein he put on some weight to bulk up and wound up slower and less productive as a result. His stock has been steadily rising, though, so don't be surprised if he's gone before pick
3. Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida: Corner is a big need for the Colts, and Watkins would be a great fit. He plays tough, and is really versatile--he often lined up at safety for the Gators. This versatility would get him on the field quicker than other rookie CBs who might have to beat out Toler for the job (or just wait until he inevitably stubs his toe and winds up on IR). Watkins has some ball skills to go with solid coverage skills, and he would be a quality back up safety.
4. EJ Gaines, CB, Missouri: If you watch EJ Gaines's tape, one NFL comparison jumps out: Alterraun Verner. Gaines seems to have the exact same style of play. He plays a lot of off-man, and he uses the same bail technique that Verner does. He seems like a better zone corner, but one who could play in a largely man coverage scheme. However, I don't think he is cut out to be a full-time press-man corner, but as pure coverage ability goes, he would be a quality choice and someone who could compete for a starting position (not that this coaching staff is particularly willing to give starting jobs to players who are better than the entrenched starters. Ugh).
5. Bryan Stork, C, Florida State: For most of the season, Stork was considered the top center prospect. He's fallen because of questions about his strength, but I think that's largely overblown. Pundits love to find problems with the top prospect at a position, so this seems really nitpick-y--remember when people said Luck didn't have adequate arm strength? At the end of the day, Stork played on one of the best offensive lines in the country, and was surprisingly polished in both run- and pass-blocking.
ROUND 5, PICK #~166 (by my count there are 12 compensatory picks before round 5)
1. Adrian Hubbard, ILB/OLB/DE, Alabama: Adrian Hubbard is essentially Christian Jones with a lower floor. He's one of the fastest LBs in the draft, and could easily play inside or out in a 3-4. He could also play DE in a 4-3 look. I don't think he will ever become a great player at any position, but he could be an okay starter at two positions, and would be a tremendous guy to have in rotation. As a starter, he'd be the kind of guy you'd like the luxury of upgrading, but wouldn't ever be a guy you'd need to upgrade. Combine his versatility and athleticism with the fact that there are really no other quality ILB prospects, and Hubbard gets the edge over my second choice.
2. Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty: There are two big knocks against Aikens. First, he got himself kicked off of Illinois's team for, ostensibly, being a knucklehead. That was ages ago, though, so I'm not concerned. Second, he played at Liberty, meaning he saw literally no quality competition. That said, he might be the most physically gifted CB in this draft. He's 6'1", 203 pounds and runs a high 4.4. He is immensely physical, and is a true press-man corner; when playing press man he routinely chucks receivers--something Toler doesn't do. As far as playing ability goes, the only major concern is that he is penalized a lot for interference, but that can be fixed. He would need a redshirt year, so in many ways drafting him now would be the best possible arrangement--Toler is still the starter, but Aikens could become the starter next year.
3. Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt: Ladler covers well and takes good angles. He has some ballhawking ability, and, much more importantly, he tackles well. He would compete with Howell for the starting job, but I'm not sure he would win it right away. I'm not sure he's strong enough to a box defender which is why I list him specifically as a free safety. However, there is a better alternative later in the draft.
4. Vinnie Sunseri, SS, Alabama: Sunseri was upstaged by his hilariously-named counterpart, HaHa Clinton-Dix. Sunseri isn't very good in coverage, but he takes great angles and pursues really well. He's more of a strong safety, where the Colts could use an upgrade. He's reportedly really smart, so I wouldn't be surprised if he could learn how to cover better and eventually be able to play FS. If the Colts draft Sunseri here, they will still need to find a quality FS (which they can find in the 7th round).
ROUND 6, PICK #~203 (by my count there are 15 compensatory picks before round 5)
1. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: Aaron Colvin might be more of a zone corner, but prior to his major injury at the Senior Bowl he was considered a round 1 or 2 choice, so getting him in the sixth round would be a steal. He won't be able to play at least for the first part of this year, but he could grow into a quality starter. Again, this would be a good opportunity to for him to have a redshirt year behind Toler and Gordy. Plus, he could do to add about 10 to 20 pounds on his frame.
2. Brandon Linder, G, Miami: Linder is an athletic guard who doesn't do anything particularly great but also wouldn't be much of a liability in any area either. He gets to the second level well and blocks effectively.
3. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU: He's a giraffe with glue for hands. He runs quality routes, but doesn't have the speed or body control needed to separate from CBs downfield. He's a match-up nightmare as a possession receiver, though.
4. Devon Kennard, OLB, USC: Kennard is not going to be a stud, but he can rush the passer and defend the run equally well. He'd be a quality rotational player, though I doubt he would ever grow into a capable starter. However, for a sixth round pick, "quality rotational player" is more than sufficient.
ROUND 7, PICKS #~231 and #~241 (by count there are 22 compensatory picks before round 7)
1. Ricardo Allen, CB/S, Purdue: This guy is a bit of a puzzle for me. He has the zone coverage ability, quickness, and ball skills to be a tremendous center fielder. Plus, he is tenacious in man coverage. However, he would be terrible matched up against bigger TEs because of his size--he's only 5'9". If he isn't put in man coverage against opposing TEs and is instead only put in deep zone or on opposing slot receivers, he would shine in a big way. He'd be the best ballhawk the Colts have had in a long, long time, and he'd be average to above-average in coverage.
2. James Stone, C, Tennessee: Stone is a quality blocker and was the play-caller for one of the best lines in college football. There might be some issues with his ability to snap the ball (he's left handed) but that can be fixed. He provides a tremendous amount of value, and has the same amount of potential as Khaled Holmes. Adding another competitor for the starting position increases the likelihood that at least one will display the potential the tape shows that they have. Note: if Stone is the top remaining center when the Colts choose in round six, it might be wise to select him then.
3. Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Tyler Gaffney is a power running back (note: I don't mean a "powerful" running back, I mean a back who runs in a power blocking scheme as opposed to a zone blocking scheme) with experience running behind the type of blocking Pep uses. Given Bradshaw's injury history and question marks surrounding Ballard's ability to recover from the knee injury, the Colts could use some insurance at RB. Gaffney is a runner who is rarely a risk to break off a big run (he isn't quite fast enough for that), but he is someone who consistently gets 4 yards on every carry.
4. Zach Fulton, G, Tennessee: I'm not sure why Zach Fulton isn't higher on draft boards. He is a powerful guard who is best as a pass blocker but could easily focus on run blocking as an RG. If the Colts fail to draft a guard earlier, he should absolutely get consideration. He could also be signed as a UDFA, and if he goes undrafted he absolutely should be signed.
So, what do you all think?