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Indianapolis Colts rookies: Pro Bowl possible for young defensive backs?

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NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations can be tough to appropriately develop. You get a shiny new toy and assume it to be the greatest gadget in the world but that doesn’t always turn out to be the case.

And though I don’t believe fans have gotten too crazy over what they are imagining Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson to be, it doesn’t hurt to give a forecast as a reference point.


NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

From 2010 to 2016, 14 safeties were selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Only 2 of those 14 made the Pro Bowl in their rookie campaign; Eric Berry and Eric Reid. That’s approximately a 14% hit rate, which is pretty damn low.

However, 5 of those players have reached the Pro Bowl at least once in their career (Berry, Reid, Earl Thomas, Harrison Smith, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) and 3 of those players (Berry, Thomas, Clinton-Dix) have made All-Pro honors, as well.

It’s also tough to hold it against guys that were recently drafted, such as Damarious Randall, Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal for not achieving any of these accolades. Randall has had an uneven few years in the league, while Neal and Joseph had solid debut’s in 2016, so they could possibly be added to this list down the road.

If we exclude these 3 from the career achievements, 1st round safeties from the other drafts reached the Pro Bowl almost 50% of the time and found themselves on the All-Pro team 27% of the time. Those aren’t bad numbers, and Hooker is also a more promising young prospect than a lot of the names from past years, so I would expect him to check these career feats off his NFL bucket list in the coming seasons.

And before I go any further, I understand the Pro Bowl is often a popularity contest, and doesn’t measure the success of an individual season. Nonetheless, half the league seems to get in nowadays and it was a more interesting parameter to observe than something as potentially luck-based as interceptions can be, though picks are still an exciting statistic to look at as well.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s discuss a little bit further.

Hooker is clearly a generational talent on film, but history dictates he has little chance of finding himself on the NFL’s All-Star team in 2017 and essentially no chance of reaching the All-Pro squad. Both are pretty lukewarm statements that haven’t seemed to gain any traction in the local or national media anyways and saying that Hooker has about a 50/50 chance of becoming a Pro-Bowler and around a 25% likelihood that he’ll become an All-Pro is only keeping that water at room temperature.

So, let’s focus on a number that has seemed to be a topic of discussion when it comes to Hooker’s rookie season – interceptions.

Berry recorded 4 interceptions his first year, Thomas had 5, Smith 0, Reid 4 and Clinton-Dix picked off 1 pass. Hooker is thought of as the next coming of Thomas and has had a nose for the ball since he handed in his basketball shoes for football cleats late in his high school tenure, which is why I would expect him to be on the higher spectrum of this list, meaning 4 or 5 interceptions is quite possible for the Colts newly acquired center fielder. That would be a fantastic contribution to a defense that treats the football like it’s dowsed in lava.

One last expectation I’ve seen thrown around here and there for Hooker is defensive rookie of the year honors. The last defensive back to win that award was Marcus Peters in 2015, and before that? Charles Woodson in 1998, 19 years ago. He would have to be truly spectacular on the field if he wants to add Defensive Rookie of the Year to his trophy case.


NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The cornerback position is where eyebrows may be raised.

Out of 1st round corners, 3 out of 29 made the Pro Bowl in year 1 (Devin McCourty, Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters), 8 made it at least once in their career (McCourty, Peterson, Peters, Joe Haden, Stephon Gilmore, Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, Jason Verrett) and 4 were All-Pro’s (Haden, McCourty, Peterson, Peters).

But I want to focus on the round that Wilson was selected in. Out of the 2nd rounders, dating back to 2010, none of the cornerbacks made the Pro Bowl in their debut season and only 2 of them made it at all in their careers (Janoris Jenkins and Casey Hayward who made the All-Pro team as well). In fact, they made it just last season.

There are some solid players on this list that have been shamefully unrecognized, such as Darius Slay, who is one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Other names that deserve recognition are Ronald Darby, Robert Alford, David Amerson, Jalen Collins and Marcus Gilchrist. Sure, it’s not the most tantalizing group, but there are some positive contributors in there.

As I said before, Pro Bowl recognition isn’t a way to measure success. In fact, Hayward should’ve made the Pro Bowl in 2012, when he picked off 6 passes and deflected 21 of them as a rookie, numbers which are almost identical to his All-Pro season. It just shows that every situation is different, and fans should be excited about what Wilson brings to the table.

He is a first-round talent, in a strong cornerback class and has been having a nice showing in training camp thus far. I expect him to join the Hayward, Jenkins, Slay level of 2nd round cornerbacks rather than fall behind in to the later tiers.

With all that said, there is high hopes for the young careers of Hooker and Wilson and they both have lock down potential, expectations just need to be tempered for now because that shiny new toy can lose its luster in an instant, if we don’t pace ourselves.