With the draft finished, the NFL offseason (frequently defined by teams releasing and acquiring players, coaches, front offices people, etc.) comes to an end. For the most part, the players the Colts hold the rights to now are the ones who will show up and play in the first preseason game in August. Thus, we take this time to evaluate and examine the moves made by Jim Irsay and his first year general manager, Ryan Grigson. This series will breakdown the player loses, the free agent signings, the draft, and the undrafted rookie signings.
The 2012 NFL Draft
With key reserve spots and a few starting positions filled via free agency, the draft was about rebuilding Indianapolis' identity. The true identify for over a decade had been QB Peyton Manning. Despite strong personalities like Tony Dungy, Jim Mora Sr., and Bill Polian walking the halls of the West 56th Street complex since 1998, the man truly in charge of the Colts was always Peyton. Everything that was done for the team (draft, free agency, coaches, facilities, stadium, you name it) was done specifically with Peyton in mind.
With Peyton gone, this year's draft was about finding a new person to build the team around.
On Thursday, April 26th, 2012, Andrew Luck became the new identity for the "new era" Colts. Luck was drafted first overall, and despite what many thought was a close race between Luck and Baylor's Robert Girffin III, the reality was the Colts never really considered RG3. Owner Jim Irsay apparently made up his mind on Luck as far back as January. It didn't matter if RG3 or anyone else in the draft could fly. Irsay wanted Luck, and Irsay got him.
The draft board after Luck was where things got interesting. Despite inheriting a secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 71% of their passes for 25 TDs and only 8 INTs in 2011, Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson did nothing in the draft to address the problem area. Outside of Jerraud Powers (a solid but injury prone player), the Colts have little to feel good about at the corner position.
Reports are that Indy very much wanted to trade back into the second round and grab Vanderbilt CB Casey Hayward. However, they couldn't swing a deal, and the Packers selected Hayward two spots ahead of the Colts. When the Hayward deal failed, they reportedly tried to grab Oklahoma corner Jamell Fleming in the third round, but he was taken at pick No. 80 by the Cardinals.
Chuck Pagano during his third draft day presser:
We had a guy that we coveted and we felt really, really good about, and he fell off the board. We got into position to grab the guy, and I think it was a couple of picks right before we were slated to pick and were going to pull him off the board, another team took him.
Ryan Grigson, at the same presser:
Like Chuck said, we got into position and were trying to trade up. There was a guy there we had pegged for a while, and right before we picked, there he went.
Failing to land Hayward or Fleming reportedly had Colts new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky seeing red. Tasked with overhauling a putrid defense from last season, Manusky is now stuck with a secondary that is actually worse than the one former Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer had to work with. Coyer was fired during the season last year, and much of the same defensive principles that Manusky wants to run in 2012 were attempted by Coyer (and failed).
With ten picks in the draft, only two were dedicated to defensive players. Of those two, one is recovering from an ACL injury (NT Josh Chapman) while the other is a seventh round project player (LB Tim Fugger). No matter how the draft is defended, excused, or apologized for, selecting only two defensive players out of ten picks is going to generate criticism. No way around that, and if the defense plays poorly, it will be the decision not to take defensive players that many will point to.
Indianapolis spent seven of its first eight draft picks on offense and eight of its 10 overall, which makes sense when you make your rookie quarterback the foundation of the franchise. But what about the league's 25th-ranked defense? The Colts are going to a 3-4 after playing the Tampa-2 for years, they're moving Dwight Freeney to a position (outside linebacker) he's never played and they made no appreciable moves to help themselves on that side of the ball. Somebody call a plumber.
Despite failing to help Manusky and the defensive coaches, Grigson did find some very good players in this draft. Having Coby Fleener (pick No. 34), Dwayne Allen (pick No. 64), and Chapman (pick No. 136) fall where they did was a minor coup. Fleener should have gone in the first round, and Allen was viewed by many as a lock in the second. Chapman fell because he is recovering from an ACL injury (one that he played with nearly all last season for the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide), but many saw him as a third or fourth round guy despite the injury.
It was curious for Grigson to trade back into the third round at the end of Day Two in order to land receiver T.Y. Hilton, mainly because Hilton was the fourth offensive player taken in two days. Still, there is no denying Hilton's speed and playmaking ability both as a receiver and as a returner.
I feel great about our picks. I feel that we were disciplined. Like, that was our plan. Stay disciplined to our board, take the best football players we could, and build this thing the right way. And that's what we did.
Contrary to what many have written, it was not in Indianapolis' plan to surround Luck with five offensive weapons using their first six picks. They tried (and failed) to trade for defensive players. The excuse is, "That's how the draft works," and there is truth in that. However, in the end, excuses won't help anyone. If the defense plays poorly next year, Grigson, Pagano, and Manusky will feel the pressure. How they react to it will make for interesting theatre.
Some of the other selections worth noting were WR LaVon Brazill and "Mr. Irrelevant" Chandler Harnish, QB. Brazill is another speedy receiver (4.45 40) who provides Andrew Luck and the offense with another potential deep threat. He also has reliable hands (unlike, say, Pierre Garcon). Harnish is an excellent value pick in that he can be groomed as the back-up QB and, if he plays well, traded away down the line. He's a big kid with a good arm and fantastic mobility.
Vick Ballard was selected at No. 170 to be the team's third down back.
The draft order for 2012 was as follows:
Rd. 1, Pick 1: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Rd. 2, Pick 34: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Rd. 3, Pick 64: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
Rd. 3, Pick 92: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International
Rd. 5, Pick 136: Josh Chapman, NT, Alabama
Rd. 5, Pick 170: Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State
Rd. 6, Pick 206: LaVon Brazill, WR, Ohio
Rd. 7, Pick 208: Justin Anderson, OT, Georgia
Rd. 7, Pick 214: Tim Fugger, LB, Vanderbilt
Rd. 7, Pick 253: Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois
Brad's final take:
I've written and talked A LOT about the Colts draft the last few weeks. Apologies if a few lines read as if you've heard them before from me. There's only so many ways I can write, "I liked the draft, BUT..." The Colts came into the 2012 NFL Draft desperate for two things: A quarterback and a nose tackle. They got two QBs and one quality NT. The reason this is not a resounding "A" is because with the team having so many holes on defense, using just two of ten picks to address that side of the ball warrants criticism. However, for a first year G.M. like Grigson to land the players he did, that is impressive. The Andrew Luck pick alone is enough to make Colts fans smile. If I gave minus grades, this would be an "A-", which is consistent with the grades other folks gave this draft. I just think minus grades are weak sauce. Thus, this is a "B," but it was very close to being an "A."