On Wednesday I wrote about my ideal offseason to fix the Colts’ offense. Today, the defense is on the docket. As with that story, in this exercise, I will be largely forgoing major changes on the offensive side of the ball. I won’t totally sell them out with my moves, but I will mainly focus on the defense.
The defense has been infused with a ton of young talent with Chris Ballard taking over last year. However, the hiring of Matt Eberflus as the defensive coordinator and the switch to a 4-3 base defense will mean a lot of changes in personnel. Additionally, many of the guys who played last year will need to take major steps forward or be replaced with more reliable starters.
So let’s dig into my dream scenario for the 2018 Colts defense.
If this sounds familiar it should. Like the offense, the defense needs to get healthy. The team struggled with injuries all season on both sides of the ball, but none got it worse than the defense. Vontae Davis struggled with injury before being cut, Clayton Geathers was on injured reserve to start the season, and Johnathan Bostic, Rashaan Melvin, Pierre Desir, Henry Anderson, John Simon, and Malik Hooker all ended their seasons on injured reserve.
I’m not sure how some of these guys will translate to a 4-3 defense, but losing them on a defense that was already mediocre was crippling for the Colts last season. If Malik Hooker can get his knee rehabbed and healthy, pairing him with Clayton Geathers will be a good start to solidifying the safety position.
On the defensive line, Henry Anderson should be back to full strength after suffering a very unusual fracture of his larynx. Having him paired with Johnathan Hankins could be a good start on a line that will need some work. Before going down with an injury, Anderson was starting to look more like he did his rookie season, which would be a great thing for the defense if it continues.
Desir and Melvin will both be free agents. That means that there aren’t many injuries in the cornerback room. There also aren’t many cornerbacks. The Colts will need to look carefully at how to proceed there, but at least they won’t be encumbered by injuries out of the gate.
John Simon, who looked solid at the beginning of the season, will have to see how he fits in as a part of the new scheme. Jon Bostic is a free agent and it would surprise me to see him re-signed. Anthony Walker missed a bunch of time at the beginning of the year so the Colts never really saw what they had in him. He showed improvement as he got healthy, and starting the new season in top shape could help him carve out a role for himself in a linebacker group that is certain to see major changes this offseason.
Getting healthy and staying healthy will be key for this defense. It will take a few years to build a team with some depth, so all injuries are big for this group.
Don’t Overspend on Free Agents
For the most part, free agency is like the bargain movie bin in a Walmart. Most of what is there isn’t worth what you would have to pay for it. If you do happen to find a copy of Shawshank Redemption in there, it is usually being removed because it was not supposed to be there in the first place. Bad analogy, I know. But the point is, teams will likely retain their best players. The Colts won’t even get a crack at many of the top players set to enter free agency.
The ones that are available will need to be dealt with carefully. Ballard has proven his proficiency there after last year. He made good acquisitions last season and didn’t hamstring the Colts long-term with regard to the cap. He will need to do the same thing again this offseason. That said, if a premier guy like DeMarcus Lawrence is available (he won’t be), I expect they’ll be willing to spend.
At cornerback, I would like to see Rashaan Melvin re-signed. He earned a contract after the season he had as one of the more consistent and reliable corners in the league last season. I would also like to see them re-sign Pierre Desir who also had a decent season.
If they chose not to bring Desir back, Kyle Fuller would make an interesting replacement. He had a solid season for the Bears and is a younger player in a free agent market full of mainly older prospects. The hang-up may be that he might be pricier than the Colts would like to spend, especially if they think Quincy Wilson could break out.
The linebacker group will need work in both free agency and the draft, but to get things started I would love to see Anthony Hitchens brought in to work with his old linebackers coach. Hitchens would be a major upgrade over the linebackers on the Colts’ roster currently and would be a huge value as a leader on a defense that would already be familiar to him. He will be just 26 years old when the season kicks off, and adding a player of his quality would be a major boost at the linebacker position.
Nigel Bradham might also be a player the Colts look at as a piece at linebacker. He has ties to Reich coming out of Philly and played well in coverage. The Colts can afford to open their pocketbook a bit to fill some of the holes on this defense, and they’ll have to in order to make it functional as they make the transition to a 4-3.
Go Heavy on Defense Early in the Draft
The draft is totally unpredictable. We just cannot know how it will unfold once teams see a run on a position taking place. What the Colts have to hope is that teams panic over getting their quarterback and want to move up to get their guy at 3. For this exercise, I am making the same trade I did before, back to the Jets at the 6th pick. As with before, the Colts would send their 3rd pick for the Jets’ pick 37 and 103.
In this scenario, the first three picks are all quarterbacks, with teams freaking out as they often do in the draft. At four, the Browns take Saquon Barkley, and the Broncos grab a quarterback as well at 5.
This would be a wild, but not unheard of turn of events given the need at quarterback for those early teams. It also means that the Colts would get a chance to stack up picks and still take their guy at 6, Bradley Chubb. This is probably a little bit unrealistic, but bear with me, it’s a dream scenario.
Early in the second round, the Colts would then pick up Malik Jefferson and Arden Key with picks 36 and 37. This would give them two of the top pass rushers and major talents in the draft. While Key has some questions that will need to be vetted, he has an undeniable upside that could make for a nasty pass rush if he and Chubb are allowed to develop and grow together.
Add Jefferson into that mix as a young and talented linebacker and you have gone a long way to solidifying a defensive roster that has struggled for the past several years.
If you are able to do all this and still make some moves in free agency and the draft on the offensive side of the ball, you could have a team that is vastly improved and able to hold on to a lead and even generate some points from the defensive side. That would make things much easier for the offense, even if you did not address that side of the ball as significantly in this offseason.
What do you think? If you had to take one of these two scenarios, offensive overhaul or defensive, which are you taking?