Greetings, all! My previous iterations of these have gone over pretty well, so here's another installment. I've decided I may update this the week of the draft as a sort of last minute thing, especially because this one features a ton of changes. I've watched a lot more tape of a lot more prospects--most suggested by people in these and other threads. The biggest change you'll see comes in round 3--I have a new man crush. I'm so into this guy, he's also on the list for the second round. Who is this man? Who is this Adonis? Who is this God-Among-Men? His name is Marcus Smith, and he's here to destroy you. Okay maybe not destroy you, but he's here to have a surprisingly high floor due to extensive experience playing 3-4 OLB in college. Same thing, right?
Before I get to the picks, I think it's worth briefly revisiting my draft strategy. A few posters on here recently seem to have inferred from my opposition to some proposed selections that I'm a fan of drafting purely for need. Those of you who were unfortunate enough to read my post about my value-over-alternative draft strategy will know that isn't true. Certainly need should factor into the decision-making process, but need is absolutely not the only (nor even the most important) consideration. However, I don't believe that the Colts have the luxury of drafting purely BPA. I understand the best way to build a team over the long-haul is to draft BPA with almost no regard to position (save for things like franchise quarterbacks, kickers, punters, and maybe certain offensive linemen), but I don't believe the Colts are in a position to employ that particular strategy. For a team with a stacked roster or a team in the middle of a rebuild, it's absolutely the way to go. The Colts, however, are in the middle of a rapidly-closing championship window. The Colts only have two years to win a championship with guys like Luck, Hilton, Allen, and Fleener on their rookie deals. In addition, Robert Mathis is going to decline very soon. As a result, the Colts need to consider need far more than a team that has the luxury of drafting pure BPA.
With that said, let's get to the picks.
ROUND 2, PICK #59
1. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State: No change here. Gabe Jackson has the tools necessary to lock down the position for the next ten years. A lot of people have soured on the idea of drafting a guard for a few reasons, but most commonly because they believe Thornton will improve. While I'm not saying it's impossible, I simply think it is highly unlikely that Thornton makes the kind of strides necessary to convert him from one of the worst starting guards in the league into someone who actually helps the offense. Players make that kind of leap all the time, but almost invariably they all seem to show some manner of improvement as the season wears on. If anything, Thornton got worse down the stretch. Even back at his Senior Bowl, Thornton struggled to block high-level pass rushers. Jackson, meanwhile, has both a higher ceiling and a higher floor than Thornton. Even if Thornton turns the corner, though, there's still no guarantee Donald Thomas will A) be 100% ever again and B) won't get re-injured. He's an enormous guy trying to recover from two terrible injuries.
2. Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville: One of the tough things about running a 3-4 is that very few college teams also run a 3-4. The result is that most of the time, 3-4 teams have to rely on converting 4-3 DEs into OLBs. It's what the Colts are trying to do with Bjoern Werner right now. While I think Bjoern Werner has the upside to become a solid starter (unlike Thornton, Werner got better as the season wore on), a 3-4 can never have enough OLBs. Enter Marcus Smith. Smith played DE in college, but actually saw an enormous amount of time as a 3-4 OLB because Louisville frequently lined up in a 3-4. He has experience rushing from all over the field (much like Robert Mathis) and routinely goes for the strip-sack when he gets to the QB (also much like Robert Mathis). In addition, Smith actually has extensive experience covering slot receivers and TEs. While he doesn't have the athleticism or coverage abilities to match up one-on-one against NFL receivers and TEs, he offers way more in terms of coverage than anyone the Colts currently have at OLB. Smith right now is slightly better than Werner right now, so he'd be a great addition. He may be around in the third, but I'd have no problem with the Colts drafting him in the second because he's that much of a must have. If the Colts decide that Smith will not be around in the third, they will have to take a long, hard look at drafting him at #59 even if Gabe Jackson is available. For the longest time, I've argued that if Jackson is available he should be the pick, hands down. Marcus Smith is so well suited to the Colts's defense that I think that rule might have to be broken if the Colts think he won't last to #90.
3. Christian Jones, ILB/OLB/DE, Florida State: For the longest time, Cyril Richardson occupied this spot. There's no denying that Richardson is a strong blocker, but there's also no denying that he's a dreadfully slow blocker. As I've watched more of his tape, I've realized what others have known for a long time: the guy gets burned by speed rushers. As a result, I don't think he's worth a second round pick. Christian Jones, however, is the most versatile backer in this draft. As I've said for ages, he has the athleticism and tackling skills to play three different positions. Moving on.
4. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska: Tall, fast, athletic, physical, etc. etc.
ROUND 3, PICK #90
1. Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville: If he is around at #90, he absolutely has to be the pick. There is no other option who matches Smith's talent and who fills the need Smith fills.
2. DaQuan Jones, NT, Penn State: Something something something, nose tackles make a huge difference and DaQuan Jones would be great at it, something something. Moving on.
3. Jaylen Watkins, CB/S, Florida: Jaylen Watkins is a bit of a puzzle. On the one hand, he played behind his two draft-elligble teammates Louchiez Purifoy and Marcus Robison. On the other hand, he's considered a much better prospect. I have to agree. Not only is he a physical press corner, he also has significant experience playing safety. This coaching staff has become notorious for refusing to bench starters in favor of better-performing back ups, so his ability to play either CB or S will give him more opportunities to get on the field. Further, his coverage abilities make him a better FS prospect in my opinion than Terrence Brooks or any of the other safeties who may be available even at #59.
4. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana: With his combination of size, speed, and hands, Latimer has the second highest ceiling of any receiver in this draft. I have concerns about Latimer's game speed, but there's no doubting his straight-line speed. He would be a great addition to the Colts receiving corps; he could eventually become a #1 receiver, even if the odds are against him reaching his ceiling (as they are for most players). However, he's definitely a #2, which when paired with a #1 would allow Hilton to do what Hilton does in the slot. If the Colts want a receiver, it would probably be unwise to draft one in the 2nd given all the players who could be available, but it would make way more sense here.
5. Dion Bailey, S/ILB/OLB, USC: Dion Bailey doesn't have a tremendous set of coverage skills, but he can certainly get the job done. He has experience playing safety and both linebacking positions. He also happens to be the best tackler of all the safeties in this draft, at least in my opinion.
6. Bryan Stork, C, Florida State: From my previous posting: "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." With the retirement of Phil Costa, center becomes a slightly more pressing need. However, there is a better value available later in James Stone.
ROUND 5, PICK #~166
1. Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty: Aikens has the physical tools and immense upside to become a very high-quality starter. As I pointed out in my previous update, he's 6'1", 203 lbs and runs a high 4.4. More importantly, he routinely chucks receivers in press-man coverage which is, you know, the point of press-man coverage. With Toler as the entrenched starter, drafting Aikens will let him red-shirt for a year and hone his skills.
2. Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State: The Colts don't have an immediate need at running back, but they will when Bradshaw inevitably goes down. If Bradshaw stays healthy, Ballard returns to pre-gross-knee-injury form, and Richardson suddenly learns how to be a running back, the Colts will be stacked. However, based purely on probability alone, at least one of those won't happen. Freeman is hard, one-cut runner that would thrive in a power running scheme. However, I'm not sure what kind of blocking scheme FSU runs, so if anyone knows, please inform me. Furthermore, Devonta Freeman is a beastly pass protector. He picks up blitzes tremendously well, though he does have a tendency to go for the cut block rather than squaring up against the blitzer. For an example of how well he picks up blitzes, watch his performance against Auburn in the BCS Championship. He gets the nod over everyone else despite them playing at positions of greater need because he has a much higher ceiling.
3. Vinnie Sunseri, SS, Alabama: Sunseri isn't particularly good in coverage, but he is a tremendous tackler and is great in pursuit and run support. That's why he's much more of a strong safety prospect. He's very smart, so I would not be surprised if he could eventually become a defensive field general. He has the upside to be a quality strong safety, which the Colts will need once the Glass Bicep goes down for a month after getting a hang nail. He gets the nod over Kenny Ladler because he has a higher ceiling.
4. Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt: As I've said in previous updates, Ladler covers well, takes good angles, and tackles well. He can play centerfield and has some ballhawking ability. He falls behind the others, though, because while they have the upside to be a very quality starter, I don't see Ladler (or any safety the Colts would be able to draft) being a long term solution at the position. Ladler's ceiling is probably at "above average starter". Aikens, on the other hand, could eventually sniff the Pro Bowl, Freeman could be a great starter, and Sunseri could be a good starter.
5. Adrian Hubbard, ILB/OLB/DE: Hubbard falls to fourth on this list because of his lack of upside. He could be a tremendous rotational guy and back up player, but with needs at several positions and starter-quality players available at those positions, he wouldn't make sense to draft.
ROUND 6, PICK #~203
1. Ricardo Allen, CB/FS, Purdue: Allen has tremendous ball skills and zone coverage awareness, but at 5'9" is too small to be an effective corner. You know who else has tremendous ball skills and zone coverage awareness, but was too small to be an effective corner? Jarius Byrd. Converted corners make great coverage safeties. Allen's only limited by his size--he is tenacious and physical, and routinely puts himself in the right place in man coverage. Further, despite his limited size, he enjoyed tremendous success against elite competition in the Big 10.
2. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU: As I've said before, Hoffman is a giraffe with glue hands. He runs great routes, but isn't particularly fast. He also doesn't have the type of body control you'd like to see out of really tall receiver. He has tons of potential and would contribute immediately on intermediate and short routes, but would take a lot of time to develop into a bigger threat.
3. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: One of the top CB prospects before injuring himself at the Senior Bowl. He will likely miss the entire season, given that he'd be out for the pre-season and first part of the regular season. However, he's more of a zone corner, so, you know, there's that.
4. Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Gaffney isn't a spectacular runner, but he has enjoyed a lot of success running behind the same blocking scheme the Colts use. He'd be a solid addition, but I wouldn't expect him to become anything but a quality back up and rotational back.
5. Brandon Linder, G, Miami: Linder is an athletic guard who doesn't do anything particularly well, but likely wouldn't be a liability in anything either. He'd be a great swing lineman.
ROUND 7, PICK #~WHATEVER
1. James Stone, C, Tennessee: Barring an early round prospect falling to the 7th, there is no excuse for the Colts not taking James Stone here. He's my third-rated center (behind Swanson and Stork). He's great as a single blocker against interior rushers, and he led one of college's most effective offensive lines. He has as much upside as Khaled Holmes, so he would drastically increase the chance that we will have a quality center come September. He's needed now more than ever because of the retirement of Phil Costa.
2. Zach Fulton, G, Tennessee: He's a quality blocker who will likely be available as a UDFA, but why roll the dice? I'm not sure why he isn't higher on draft boards. He is a powerful blocker both in the pass and run game. See my previous post for a bit more detailed explanation.
3. Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB, University of South Florida: He was an animal as a freshman, transferred to Florida, and then played like garbage last year. He's definitely worth a 7th round flyer.