We're 10 days till the start of he 2014 NFL Draft and now is the time to do a review of what the Indianapolis Colts need to get out of this draft if they are to contend for a championship, which is what they say they expect to do in 2014.
Safety and Cornerback
The Colts are thin at the cornerback position and possess no clear-cut starter at safety next to LaRon Landry. Of the two, safety is the bigger priority. Landry himself was a huge disappointment last season. Veteran Antoine Bethea bolted to the 49ers via free agency, leaving Delano Howell, Corey Lynch, Sergio Brown, and Colt Anderson on the roster. Howell is a solid player, but relying on an undrafted player who ended last season on IR is not a smart idea. The rest of the "safeties" are really more special teams contributors.
At corner, the Colts gave $20 million in guaranteed money to Vontae Davis this offseason due, in part, to the team not having anyone else on the roster that can start consistency on the outside. Greg Toler was signed to a three-year, $14.25 million deal in 2013, and last season he did what he was known for doing during his years with the Cardinals: He got hurt. Toler is pretty much the definition of "injury prone," missing 33 games in his five-year career, including nine for the Colts last season. Outside of Toler and Davis, the Colts have veteran Josh Gordy and second-year players Sheldon Price out of UCLA and Marcus Burley from Delaware. Darius Butler is a fine nickel corner, but he struggles on the outside.
Basically, the Colts need to walk out of this draft with a corner and/or safety who could start at some point during the season. If they don't get one, their secondary could be a wreck in 2014, giving them little chance to contend with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and the other elite quarterbacks in the AFC.
Colt head coach Chuck Pagano needed 19.5 sacks from a 32-year-old Robert Mathis last season because Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, and Cam Johnson were near-useless at outside linebacker on passing downs. The Colts are hoping that Werner will bulk-up and contribute more, but the bigger concern is that they may have drafted a player who simply does not fit their scheme. Werner was a 4-3 defensive end in college, and when he rushed the passer with his hand on the ground for the Colts last year, he was effective. As a stand-up rusher, he was a punchline.
If Werner does not develop, there isn't anyone on the roster who can fill Mathis' void when he skills inevitably begin to erode. Thus, the Colts need to find someone who can hopefully develop into a strong rush linebacker.
Nose tackle is thin as well. Josh Chapman hasn't proven his knee can hold up to the NFL, and, without a quality nose guard, Pagano's entire defensive scheme implodes like a house of cards.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson himself said that the team must improve its nose guard play in 2014. Chapman is part of the solution there, but to rely solely on him is pure folly. Jeris Pendleton and 2013 5th round pick Montori Hughes could also play NT, but it's not been determined if either are comfortable at that position.
Also, we hope you've noticed the early trend here with needs. Despite spending $77.9 million in guaranteed money on key defensive talent in 2013 and 2014, the Colts are very much lacking in reliable players.
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The Colts only have one center on their roster that barely passes as a quality starter, and even that is being somewhat generous. Khaled Holmes was drafted out of USC last year specifically to, one day, snap the ball to Andrew Luck. Despite injuries last season to veteran center Samson Satele and his back-up, Mike McGlynn, the then-rookie Holmes hardly ever saw the field.
No, Holmes wasn't hurt. At least, the injury report didn't list him as such.
So, for Holmes to hardly get any snaps for a Colts team that was desperate for good interior line play in 2013 tells you something, and what it tells you isn't good.
Ryan Grigson told the media in March that he and his staff looked at all the free agent centers available and "didn't like any of them." He settled on Phil Costa, who abruptly retired a month after signing a two-year contract and was scheduled to report for offseason training.
The Colts must find a quality center in this draft, or luck out and land a solid one from the rookie free agency pool.
Grigson overpaid for veteran Donald Thomas last season, and 2013 third round pick Hugh Thornton struggled when he was pressed into duty as a replacement for Thomas when the veteran went down with a knee injury. Thomas is expected to return, but to what extent the knee injury will affect his play, we don't know. Lance Louis was also brought in for depth, but he too is still recovering from a knee injury. Joe Reitz was retained from last year, but he's more of a utility lineman. Not a starter.
The Colts might be able to get by with this mish-mash of talent, but this is assuming Thomas returns healthy and Thornton actually figures out WTH he's doing.
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The Colts are set at receiver in 2014, having added Hakeem Nicks in free agency. They're also expecting the return of 35-year-old franchise stalwart Reggie Wayne. However, Wayne is coming off a bad knee injury and Nicks is only signed to a one-year deal. While young players like Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen, and LaVon Brazill provide solid depth, they aren't people you build your franchise around. Andrew Luck needs talent to throw the ball to, and if a quality wide receiver falls into Grigson's lap, he must select him.
This would be a pick not just for the present, but for the future.