According to Chad Forbes, a NFL pro personnel executive that he has spoken with mentioned that he thought Dallas Cowboys free agent linebacker Anthony Hitchens will wind up with the Indianapolis Colts this spring.
Pro Personnel Exec mentioned strength FA group Off ball LBs. Said his team recognizes area as value $ wise. Find potential Pro Bowler if nail scheme/role for $4-6M Per Yr. Mentioned 2 Broncos Corey Nelson & Todd Davis. Said team likes Anthony Hitchens but he’ll end up w/ Colts.— Chad Forbes (@NFLDraftBites) February 1, 2018
I spoke with Forbes a little more regarding this. The Colts’ defensive overhaul reportedly will continue in the secondary and at linebacker. New Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus — who coached Hitchens in Dallas — wants “his guy” to be able to call the defense and get players lined up. Because of this, Hitchens and Eberflus are considered a package deal. The only thing that may jeopardize this is durability concerns with Hitchens, who missed four games in 2017 with a tibial plateau fracture and had to leave a game with a groin strain later in the season. Otherwise, Hitchens has played in all 16 games in his other three NFL seasons.
As Forbes also mentioned, the executive said that off-ball linebackers (traditional linebackers who don’t primarily rush the passer) are a strong group this year.
Hitchens would be an ideal fit for the Colts, and he’s a popular link to them already. I’ve mentioned him along with Avery Williamson (Titans), Preston Brown (Bills), Todd Davis (Broncos) and Tahir Whitehead (Lions) as some potential fits with the Colts if they move to a 4-3 defense this offseason. Davis’ Denver teammate Corey Nelson is another option.
Under Eberflus and new defensive line coach Mike Phair, it would make sense for the Colts to move to a 4-3 scheme as both have plenty of history as their base alignment.
The word is out there that the Colts want to come out of this offseason with up to three new linebackers, and I highly doubt that means just in the draft.
Hitchens (25 years old) is Pro Football Focus’ No. 34 overall unrestricted free agent this spring, and the No. 3 linebacker available. At 6-1, 235 pounds, he has the frame of a rangy linebacker who might be able to move sideline to sideline, but PFF gave him higher marks in run support (83.1) than in coverage (73.3) and says he may just be a two-down linebacker going forward. Hitchens did, however, have the highest overall grade (80.8) of his career in 2017, so he is coming off of his best season as a pro. His grade was the 17th highest in the NFL among off-ball linebackers.
Spotrac projects that Hitchens’ market value is a four-year contract worth $25.6 million ($6.4M per year). Over the Cap projects the Colts with the third-most cap space in the league this offseason with about $77.3 million, but that’s before any cap casualties they may make.