As we’re now a week removed from the 2017 NFL Draft, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the Colts’ draft class with the perspective of which players will wind up starting. We’ll take a look at each draft pick and assess their chances of starting and what role they might wind up in right away.
Of course, as must be prefaced during this time of year, a lot can change as we go through OTAs, training camp, and preseason, so this is far from definitive. Rather, it’s just an attempt to look at which players could be contributing in a significant way right away for Indy.
Malik Hooker, S:
The Colts’ first round pick will very likely be starting from day one. Clayton Geathers, Darius Butler, and T.J. Green were the guys who were going to be sharing time at the two safety spots before the draft, but with Hooker falling to the Colts that might change some of their plans. I’d expect Hooker and Geathers to be the two starters, with Butler and Green both seeing time there too. But Hooker’s abilities in coverage will be important for Indy in the secondary, and that could allow them to start Hooker and play him more in coverage while also starting Geathers and playing him more in the box. Whatever their plans, expect Hooker to be starting as long as he’s healthy enough to get acclimated to the pro level in camp and preseason.
Quincy Wilson, CB:
Like Hooker, Quincy Wilson will also most likely be starting for the Colts from day one. They have been searching for the number two starting corner opposite of Vontae Davis for a while, and this offseason they cut Patrick Robinson. Rashaan Melvin is capable, but Wilson should win the spot over Melvin. Like anybody he’ll probably have his rookie struggles, but he’s talented enough to start right away and has a lot of potential. I’d expect Wilson to join Hooker as rookie starters in the secondary.
Tarell Basham, EDGE:
Chris Ballard said that he thinks Basham can be a three-down player in the NFL, but I don’t think it’s a given that he’ll start that way. With the free agent signings of Jabaal Sheard and John Simon the Colts at least have some talent at outside linebacker that could help take the pressure off of Basham right away. Instead of asking him to do everything right away, the Colts could instead opt to have him in more of a situational pass rush role and a third down role. That could help ease his transition and allow him to focus mainly on pass rush early on. So he could wind up starting, but I think it’s just as likely that he’ll start out in a situational role early on - though he should still get quite a bit of playing time.
Zach Banner, OL:
Though many projected Zach Banner to guard, it sounds like the Colts will be interested in playing him at tackle. If that’s the case, then he should compete with Le’Raven Clark at right tackle for the starting spot. Clark was a third round pick last year and impressed in the final few games, so he’s clearly got the advantage when it comes to this position battle. Most likely, Banner will simply be a depth piece as a rookie and will be a backup at right tackle. Maybe down the road he could become a starter, but I don’t really expect him to win that competition as a rookie.
Marlon Mack, RB:
This is one of those situations where Marlon Mack might not be starting, but he should still have a role in the offense. Frank Gore is the starter, but Mack can be a good change of pace back who should be capable of hitting home runs at any point. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Colts utilize Gore, Mack, and Robert Turbin all in the offense this year. Gore could be the starter, Turbin the short-yardage and goal line back, and Mack the change of pace back. So while I don’t expect Mack to technically be the starter, he should still see a solid role in the offense.
Grover Stewart, DL:
Most likely Grover Stewart will be competing for one of the depth defensive line spots in camp. Henry Anderson, Kendall Langford, and Johnathan Hankins will probably be the three starters, and then there are players such as Hassan Ridgeway, T.Y. McGill, Al Woods, David Parry, and Margus Hunt who will be competing for depth roles alongside Stewart. So this is probably a situation where he won’t be in the starting lineup and will more be competing for a backup spot on the 53-man roster. The Colts seem to like him enough that he should make the roster, but we’ll have to see.
Nate Hairston, CB:
Another player who will be competing for a backup role is Nate Hairston, but the cornerback position is much thinner than the defensive line. So Hairston should make the roster, though he might be behind Vontae Davis, Quincy Wilson, Rashaan Melvin, Darius Butler, and perhaps even Darryl Morris on the depth chart. Hairston seems more like a project than some others, but he should still be able to carve out a spot on the 53-man roster, especially if he can contribute on special teams.
Anthony Walker, ILB:
Anthony Walker is one of the more interesting discussions when it comes to this topic, because the inside linebacker position for the Colts is wide open. Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison are returning, Sean Spence and Jon Bostic were signed as free agents, and then Anthony Walker was added to the mix in the fifth round of the draft. Walker is a solid player and actually should compete for a starting spot, though he’s probably far from the favorite to win it. Either way, though, he’ll have a very real chance to compete at one of the most wide open positions on the roster.
So, in short, I think we should definitely expect Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson to be starting right away for the Colts. Tarell Basham and Marlon Mack should see significant time as situational guys early on, while Anthony Walker could really compete for a starting spot. After that, it seems most likely that Zach Banner, Grover Stewart, and Nate Hairston will more be competing for backup spots and depth chart positioning than starting roles, at least early on.