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Indianapolis Colts 2018 NFL Draft Big Board: Vol. 2

Who are the best first-round options for the Colts if the 2018 NFL Draft started tomorrow?

North Carolina v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We’re all ready for the 2018 NFL Draft at this point, right? As the fan base of the Indianapolis Colts, we’ve not had an easy go of it in 2017. The fan favorites can’t stay healthy, the same issues that we bellyache over year after year remain, and the team is currently 3-8.

Alas, we look ahead to 2018. What does the following season have in store? Likely a new coaching staff. Probably some high-quality, high-priced free agents since the Colts are slated to have the third-most salary cap space to spend. One of the most important keys is general manager Chris Ballard continuing to build the Colts’ roster through the draft, 2018 being his second offseason with the team. This time, he is likely to have a high first-round pick.

With that, I continue to look at some possibilities for the Colts with that high first-round pick.

Some things to remember before checking this out:

  • The Colts currently hold the fourth overall draft slot. That can and very well may change over the next five weeks.
  • Ballard does not draft based on need; he drafts based on the best players available. Sometimes, these principles will be compromised if rankings are close enough on the team’s draft board.
  • Injury and off-field concerns are not a big issue as long as their long-term health checks out, as well as the player’s “background check”.
  • The players listed have current stock near the Colts’ draft slot.

1. Saquon Barkley | Running Back | Penn State | 5-11, 223

I can definitely acknowledge that running back isn’t a position that has to be addressed in the first round. You can usually find equal or better value all over the place throughout the draft. However, guys like Barkley don’t grow on trees. He is an elite runner with crazy instincts and vision and he has grown into a top-notch pass-catcher out of the backfield.

The Colts’ backfield is about to become a question mark when 2018 begins. It’d be hard to believe that the 34-year-old Frank Gore is re-signed in free agency, leaving Marlon Mack and Robert Turbin as the Colts’ top backs. Mack has shown flashes of brilliance but has yet to prove himself on third downs or as an interior runner. Turbin is pretty much the opposite — excels in short-yardage and third-down scenarios but is far from a game-breaker.

2. Quenton Nelson | Offensive Guard | Notre Dame | 6-5, 329

The more I read about and watch Nelson, the clearer the picture gets that he may be this draft’s surest thing. He is able to both protect the passer and be a road-grader in the run game. The Colts somehow still need help on the offensive line, and regardless of how much we all like Jack Mewhort, he doesn’t do much good being injured on the sidelines. Plus, he is an impending free agent.

Adding Nelson onto the line with Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly gives you three guys that you are comfortable with. If Mewhort is re-signed, that’s great; hopefully, he stays healthy. The Colts can also feel pretty good about Joe Haeg, Denzelle Good and Deyshawn Bond in their intended roles. If the team has the opportunity to add a true blue-chip, elite-level offensive linemen like Nelson, it would be hard to pass up.

3. Bradley Chubb | Edge Defender | NC State | 6-4, 275

This is the kind of guy you want to plug into any defense, but it just so happens that Chubb is the type of player that could be the missing piece specifically to the Colts’ 2018 defense. They have a strong line, a couple of edge-setting outside linebackers and a young, ever-growing secondary. Adding a relentless edge defender like Chubb could maybe even cover for the fact that the Colts lack talent at inside linebacker.

Chubb is not only able to seal the edge as a run defender but he’s got a higher ceiling as a pass-rusher than anyone else currently on the Colts, plus he’s also got an attitude and swagger that can help inject the Colts’ young defense with a nasty mentality.

4. Minkah Fitzpatrick | Defensive Back | Alabama | 6-1, 201

Fitzpatrick is capable of playing both cornerback and safety, the latter likely being his best fit in the NFL. The Colts already have Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers and Matthias Farley at safety, but you can’t really go wrong in adding a player as talented as Fitzpatrick. Also, can anybody really say that they are confident in the health of Hooker or Geathers? Probably not.

Geathers and Fitzpatrick are both more physical than Hooker, allowing the Colts to put Hooker as the high safety and tinker with Fitzpatrick and Geathers closer to the line of scrimmage. Having three guys like that is a good problem to have to figure out. Maybe it allows the Colts to move Geathers to linebacker in place of Antonio Morrison, creating a faster defense and giving the Colts the necessary pieces to answer when opponents try to create mismatches.

5. Harold Landry | Edge Defender | Boston College | 6-3, 250

In 2017, injuries have held Landry back from reproducing what we’ve seen from him before. However, he’s already shown enough to be among the top pass-rushers selected in the 2018 draft. People actually fell in love with him last year, surprised that he didn’t declare for the draft after his 16.5-sack 2016 campaign.

His sometimes-ridiculous ability to bend the corner automatically has people envisioning a perennial 10-sack defender. He’s not some young, raw player that needs time to acclimate, either. He’s got 38 games under his belt and has a great mindset for his future.

6. Arden Key | Edge Defender | LSU | 6-6, 260

Key has some draft stock to re-build. Knee and pinky finger injuries limited, then ultimately ended his season after eight games. He’s also got some undisclosed off-field concerns that people are wary about. He did put on the weight that most people wanted to see him add — going from around 235 pounds closer to 265 (though, they’ve tinkered to find the right playing weight) — which is a great sign.

Like a thousand guys we’ve seen with these circumstances, Key is going to have to spend the pre-draft process defending and explaining himself, proving to teams why he is a trustworthy selection as well as passing medical evaluations. One big reason that teams will find it easier to trust Key is that he has the highest upside of any pass-rusher in this draft. By the time the 2018 NFL Combine is through, we’ll probably be talking again about Key as the next big height-weight-speed, athletic freak of a pass-rusher.

7. Maurice Hurst | Defensive Lineman | Michigan | 6-2, 282

The Colts have already been getting some high-quality play out of their defensive line this season (it’s arguably their defense’s strength), but it never hurts to build onto a strength. Especially considering Henry Anderson has ended two seasons on Injured Reserve, Al Woods in 30, and Margus Hunt and Hassan Ridgeway are more of rotational guys than full-time, three-down starters.

Hurst produces best as an three-tech interior pass-rusher. The Colts don’t have anyone who naturally fills this role, so it automatically carves an opening for him.

8. Roquan Smith | Linebacker | Georgia | 6-1, 225

Considering the Colts have started Morrison at linebacker every week this season, they need to acquire a clear upgrade. The Colts basically use two MIKE linebackers in Morrison and Jon Bostic, neither of which are the rangy, sideline-to-sideline type. If they drafted Smith, they would immediately get that type of player who can fly to the ball and who could also help be an advantage against the pass rather than a liability.

9. Derrius Guice | Running Back | LSU | 5-11, 212

The running back pipeline leading from college to the NFL was pretty weak there for a bit, but it’s back in recent years. Not only is Barkley worthy of top-10 consideration, but so is Guice. Guice doesn’t have that “wow” factor that Barkley does, but Guice is every bit as effective. He is a powerful back but still displays speed and nimble-ness. Being a quality pass-protector will help him be a three-down back right away.

10. Calvin Ridley | Wide Receiver | Alabama | 6-1, 190

I think we’re to the point now where it feels more understandable for the Colts to select a wide receiver in the first round, as long as that’s the best player available. T.Y. Hilton is among the league’s best receivers, no question. However, if he’s not producing, no other Colts receiver is. It can’t stay that way. Donte Moncrief hasn’t developed into what the Colts hoped, and that might mean that he doesn’t get re-signed this offseason. Hilton needs help from his position group.

If the Colts win another game or two and their draft position starts to slide, Ridley could be a good choice. Not only is he a high-quality athlete who should test well in pre-draft workouts, but route running is among his strengths. That helps make him NFL-ready right out of the gate. Anytime you’re compared to a Colts all-time great like Reggie Wayne, that doesn’t hurt either.