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Taking a pre-draft look at the Colts’ outside linebackers

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NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For years, we’ve been talking about how pass rush is a huge need for the Indianapolis Colts.

Entering this year’s draft, it absolutely still is.

New GM Chris Ballard has essentially started over from scratch at the outside linebacker position for the Colts. The holdovers from before Ballard arrived are like Akeem Ayers, Lavar Edwards, Curt Maggitt, and Deiontrez Mount. That’s it. In free agency, Ballard added Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Barkevious Mingo, and it’s widely expected that Ballard will add one or two pass rushers in the draft (and probably a couple more in rookie free agency too).

Sheard will likely start at the strongside spot left vacant by Erik Walden’s departure in free agency, as the Colts let him walk (he’s still unsigned). Sheard spent the last two years with the Patriots, and he’s one of the most prominent players the Colts have signed this year so far. Simon is also probably best suited for that spot, so it will be interesting to see where the Colts play each guy (there has been some talk amongst fans and media that Simon could be moved inside some too, which is an interesting possibility the Colts could experiment with). If we’re talking about a true rush outside linebacker, Ayers might be the best option the Colts have. Both Sheard and Simon have shown an ability to get after the quarterback at times, but neither are considered true pass rushers.

So, to Ballard’s credit, he seems to have upgraded one of the two outside linebacker spots in free agency by adding Jabaal Sheard and John Simon to replace Erik Walden. But the rush linebacker spot still needs addressing because the Colts still desperately need that playmaking pass rusher. The Sheard and Simon signings could help ensure that there’s not too much pressure on a rookie pass rusher right away and could ensure that the rookie could primarily play in passing situations early on - but nonetheless the Colts still need that rookie pass rusher.

In a draft that is very strong in edge rushers, we should absolutley expect to see the Colts add one or two pass rushers early on in the draft. They’d be doing something wrong if they didn’t come out of the draft without a couple of them, actually. It’s a huge need for the Colts, and that didn’t change with free agency. The free agency period did help the Colts upgrade at outside linebacker, but it didn’t necessarily upgrade the Colts’ pass rush as much. Presumably, that’s what the draft will be for.