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Colts take big steps to solidify secondary early in 2017 NFL Draft

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NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the NFL Draft, the cornerback position was arguably the Colts’ biggest need.

You could have argued that the biggest need was pass rush, but at least the Colts signed several outside linebackers in free agency. That didn’t really diminish the need, but it did put the cornerback position in perspective. The Colts didn’t sign a single free agent at the position, and the only move they made was to release Patrick Robinson. Clearly, it was a big area of need.

With the team’s second round pick, Chris Ballard addressed the position by selecting Florida corner Quincy Wilson. And in doing so, the Colts’ overhaul of their secondary continued as the team spent their first two picks in the draft there.

To put that into perspective, in 38 picks with the Colts Ryan Grigson spent four of them on a defensive back. The earliest of those was T.J. Green with the 57th overall pick in 2016 (the others were taken with the 65th overall, 109th overall, and 192nd overall picks in their respective drafts). Furthermore, Green was previously the only cornerback that the Colts had drafted in the Chuck Pagano era before this year.

Contrast that with Chris Ballard’s first draft, when he took two defensive backs with his first two picks, 15th and 46th overall. Malik Hooker was the first safety the Colts have ever taken in the first round, while Quincy Wilson going 46th overall was the highest the Colts have drafted a cornerback since Marlin Jackson in 2005 (29th overall).

One added positive: Chris Ballard really knows defensive backs. He actually was a secondary coach for five years at Texas A&M-Kingsville, so he not only knows what it takes to scout defensive backs but also what it takes to coach them. Then during his time with the Chicago Bears as an area scout, Ballard helped them find two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher. With the Chiefs, Ballard helped them find Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters. He has a track record with DBs, and people have noticed:

So what does the Colts’ secondary look like entering 2017? I think it’s very likely that within the first two days of the draft the Colts added two new starters. At this point, I’d guess the starting secondary will be something like this:

RCB: Vontae Davis

SS: Clayton Geathers

FS: Malik Hooker

LCB: Quincy Wilson

Nickel: Darius Butler

That’s not a bad group, especially because the Colts will have options to work with too. For example, at corner they’ll have players like Rashaan Melvin and Darryl Morris providing valuable depth. Melvin showed that he can capably handle starting responsibilities, while Morris could be an interesting option at nickel. Speaking of nickel, I project Butler to be there, and that would be a good role for him - but he’s made the switch to safety, so he likely will play there too. And then in addition to Butler, T.J. Green could provide depth at safety.

There will surely be some rookie struggles from that group, but it doesn’t look like a bad secondary for the Colts. The defense is certainly a work in progress, but there’s some very encouraging progress being made in the back end. Two early draft picks have really helped to solidify the secondary, and that’s a very welcome thing for the Colts.