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Colts 2018 NFL Draft Big Board Vol. 3; Edge Defenders Take Over

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

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

The Indianapolis Colts (4-12) are locked into the No. 3 draft spot, their highest pick since they had the No. 1 pick back in 2012. It was a tough season to stick out but I can’t stress enough how worth it having this high of a draft pick is.

The Colts don’t have a great roster, but they do have several high-quality young players to build around, and they expect their franchise quarterback to return healthy in 2018. That’s the biggest X-factor in sports, so that’s something they don’t have to worry about as long as Andrew Luck does come back healthy (they’ll have a good idea of that pretty soon.)

If the Colts don’t stay put at No. 3, a quarterback-needy team could want to move up — between Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen, the Colts are almost certainly going to have suitors. Let’s also not forget that the Colts are slated to have among the most cap space this offseason.

Some things to remember before checking out my latest Colts 2018 NFL Draft Big Board:

  • The Colts currently hold the third overall draft slot.
  • General manager Chris 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

While my preference is that the Colts take the best defensive player available, I’m not going to pretend like Barkley isn’t the best overall player available. Every game I watched of his, he amazed me. Barkley is the type of player that can totally change an offense and subsequently upgrade the entire team. Look at Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette for example. I’m not going to get into the whole “taking a running back in the first round” thing, but those three show that it can be worth it.

The Colts have bigger fish to fry this offseason, but that’s not the point of taking the best player available. Just consider what adding Barkley to this team could do. Andrew Luck or not, the success of the offense won’t just hinge on whether or not the ball finds its way to T.Y. Hilton. Barkley is the type of runner that combines the power and vision of Frank Gore with the explosion and big-play ability of Marlon Mack. Barkley can run, catch and block, and would likely be ready to be a three-down back right away.

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

Chubb seems like the most likely scenario for the Colts in the top three as long as they stay put and don’t trade back.

NFL Media Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein — who is said to be close with Ballard — stated that Ballard “won't stop looking for a terror off the edge”. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report linked Chubb to the Colts, saying “When Ballard took the Indianapolis job last offseason, a former co-worker of his told me he would go defensive back or pass-rusher in the first round of the 2017 draft. (The Colts selected Ohio State safety Malik Hooker.) Maybe it's too easy to connect the dots and think Ballard will love the pass-rushing talent in this year's crop.”

Chubb would be the best value for the Colts and fills a need that they’ve had for several seasons — a young, fierce pass-rushing specialist. Jabaal Sheard is a consistent, well-balanced edge defender, but isn’t enough to not be replaced. John Simon is a playmaker on the opposite edge of Sheard, but has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Then, you have rookie Tarell Basham, who has shown growth throughout the season but may not develop into a full-on pass-rush specialist.

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

If you’ve paid attention to the Colts over the last seven or so years, you know that the offensive line has been a need the whole time. Luck has had major injuries and has missed 26 games over the last three years. Jacoby Brissett has been the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL this year in Luck’s absence. The running game hasn’t risen above mediocrity. Ballard is a smart guy. I expect his approach to the offensive line this offseason to be “We’re not screwing around with this anymore.”

The Colts are projected to have a ton of cap space this offseason, so I also expect a high-caliber free agent to be signed to the line, likely at either guard spot or right tackle. However, that doesn’t mean that the draft is off limits.

With as solid and safe of an offensive line prospect that Colts 2016 first-round pick Ryan Kelly was, Nelson is an even better prospect. He’s about as safe of a bet as there is in this draft. At Notre Dame, he helped spearhead one of the nation’s top run games, constantly having the ball carrier run through his lanes. He also keeps his assignment in front of him in pass protection. While not flashy, Nelson is as smart of a pick as the Colts could make.

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

One thing you can never have too many of on a team is quality defensive backs. When you add guys that can play all over the secondary, that’s a whole new ballgame. Fitzpatrick has started at safety and corner and can play the nickel as well. He’s also exactly what Ballard looks for in a defensive back — size, length, ball skills (9 interceptions and 24 pass breakups) and speed (sub-4.4 forty). Fitzpatrick has often been compared to a longer Tyrann Mathieu.

The Colts’ secondary looks good moving forward, but there are questions marks. Starting cornerback Rashaan Melvin has been excellent over the last two years, but hits free agency this spring. Pierre Desir does as well, and he also started games for the Colts in 2017. Rookie second-round pick Quincy Wilson looks to hold a starting spot moving forward, as does fellow rookie Nate Hairston at nickel. That leaves uncertainty in at least one starting outside corner spot along with the depth at the position.

At safety, the Colts seem likely to move on from free agent Darius Butler. They may choose to part ways with T.J. Green as well, leaving a solid trio of Hooker, Clayton Geathers, and Matthias Farley. However, Hooker and Geathers both have concerns about durability, and Farley isn’t anybody who can’t be upgraded over.

If the Colts selected Fitzpatrick, they would definitely need to decide where he fits in with the rest of their secondary, but it’s a good problem to have.

The following players would be more appropriate if the Colts traded down from beyond the top three.

5. Roquan Smith | Inside Linebacker | Georgia | 6-1, 225

Every year, I fall in love with an inside linebacker prospect, and it looks like it’s gonna be Smith this year. Linebacker is arguably the Colts’ biggest need this offseason, and Smith would be a terrific option to add to the group. He’s cut from the mold of linebackers that teams are looking for in today’s NFL — though he’s undersized by old standards, it allows him to cover sideline to sideline, and he can still hit like a 250-pounder. Smith has good instincts to be able to diagnose what the offense is doing, and he gets to the ball in a hurry.

The Colts have been plagued by sub-par linebacker play for the longest time now. We don’t know what Anthony Walker Jr. is yet, but we do know that Antonio Morrison and Jon Bostic shouldn’t be the Colts’ starting inside linebackers in 2018. Regardless if the Colts change their defensive scheme in 2018 based on who the new coaching staff is, they need a starting middle/inside linebacker.

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

Landry provides another option as a seasoned pass-rusher. He burst on the scene as a junior in 2016 to the tune of 16.5 sacks and 22.0 tackles for loss. Extra attention from opponents and an ankle injury limited his effectiveness this year as a senior, however.

Landry is a natural pass-rusher with some of the best bend in this draft class. He’s got short-area speed and has enough power to keep his momentum while engaged. The Colts aren’t going to find more deserving, accomplished pass-rushers than Landry this April.

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

Key has the most upside of any pass-rusher in this draft, but he offers a little more risk than the normal prospect. He spent much of 2017 injured and took some time away from LSU’s football team before the season started to tend to personal issues. NFL teams obviously have a ton more resources to look into players, but I’ve done quite a bit of research on Key and he doesn’t really bother me.

One of the big concerns about him going into his 2017 season was his lack of weight, but he put on about 35 pounds since, which shows that he’s capable of being brought to an ideal playing weight. There’s a good chance that Key’s measurables and testing are off the charts when the Combine comes around in February.

8. Joshua Jackson | Cornerback | Iowa | 6-1, 192

Like Wilson, Jackson is another Ballard-style corner. At 6-1, 192 and coming off of an 8-interception season, it would give the Colts a couple of young, long cover corners who can make a play on the ball — and that’s not considering they could re-sign Melvin and Desir this offseason.

9. Clelin Ferrell | Edge Defender | Clemson | 6-5, 265

Ferrell’s stock has quietly been rising to the point where many consider him a good pick in the top half of the first round. By the time the draft gets here, that could be the common stance.

Just a redshirt sophomore, Ferrell is incredibly fresh but that means he’s also very raw. He didn’t play as a senior in high school in 2014 because of an ACL injury, and then he redshirted at Clemson in 2015. When he finally began playing in 2016, he impressed with 6.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He really blossomed this season as a starter, totaling 9.5 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss.

Ferrell is another one who’s probably going to become more of a popular name if he tests well at the Combine. He’s got the physical measurables, but if he tests well with it, his stock will be red hot.

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

Hilton was the only Colts wide receiver who showed any signs of life in 2017, and it wasn’t even close. If it weren’t for Jack Doyle picking up slack at tight end, the Colts’ passing game would have been way worse than it already was.

Regardless of what you think about Hilton, he needs help. Donte Moncrief hasn’t been able to be that guy, but we’ll see if the Colts give him another chance if they re-sign him this offseason. Chester Rogers underwhelmed in his newly-expanded role as well.

Ridley is a receiver who is able to play right away. He’s got all of the plus athleticism that you like to see, but he’s also a really good route runner. If the Colts don’t stay on top of it, then the “Luck needs more weapons” narrative is going to sprout up again. Ridley could immediately help with that.

Just missing the cut: Oklahoma OL Orlando Brown Jr., Michigan DL Maurice Hurst, LSU RB Derrius Guice