Earlier this month, I pointed out that the 2018 NFL Draft is particularly strong in most of the Colts’ primary position needs. With nine picks to use next weekend, Chris Ballard has an opportunity to make serious changes to his roster for the short and long term. It is impossible to foresee just how the draft will breakdown so we will take a look instead at my short list of possible targets who should be available throughout the draft.
Today, we move to interior defensive linemen.
Maurice Hurst Jr. — Michigan
Perhaps no college player impressed me more as a disruptive force from the interior of the defensive line than Hurst. He plays at one speed and one level of intensity for an entire game, is particularly quick off of the snap and able to get into his gap, and has the ability to generate pressure on the quarterback from the inside. For a team that is rich in players who translate well to a one-technique or nose tackle position, finding pieces who can play alongside and help get penetration into the backfield is a priority. Hurst projects to be a player who will do that on the next level.
Taven Bryan — Florida
Bryan is another player who has a nose for the football and who uses a quick first step and explosion to make his way into the backfield. He is a little longer than Hurst, which could offer him an advantage against NFL caliber athletes, but he doesn’t show the same kind of body control that Hurst does. Interior defensive linemen don’t traditionally have a large repertoire of pass rush moves, but Bryan relies almost entirely on explosiveness off of the snap to win. NFL offensive linemen tend to be better than college offensive linemen at dealing with that trait.
Da’Ron Payne — Alabama
While Bryan and Hurst are excellent prospects as 3-technique defensive tackles in a 4-3 front, Payne is the type of disruptive 1-technique that better translates to this new defensive philosophy. The 1-technique position in a 4-3 front needs to have the ability to eat up offensive linemen and demand double-teams, but he must also have the quickness to create havoc in his gap and penetrate the line. At this point, the Colts have an underappreciated player in Al Woods who is 31 years old and a second-year project in Grover Stewart who will need to show improvement in his second season if Indy hopes to rely on him to fill this role. Of course, the other option is to add a bona fide day one starter at the position.
R.J. McIntosh — Miami
One of the primary focuses for the Colts defense in 2018 is getting faster and more athletic, across the board. The change from a two-gap scheme to a one-gap is part of an effort to simplify assignments and allow defensive linemen to play faster. The other part of this change is to go from gap cloggers to gap fillers. The best way to fill a gap is to be in it, which requires each player to penetrate the offensive line and cause redirection and pressure in the backfield. One of the best players at getting into those gaps in this draft could be McIntosh. With a relatively weak class of edge rushers, finding a way to generate pressure on the inside might be the best option.
Nathan Shepherd — Fort Hays State
While Shepherd may be a little more raw in terms of technique than players who come off of the board before him, he dominated lower levels of competition at Fort Hays State. He showed the ability to eat up interior runs and collapse the pocket. There is certainly no doubt that he will have his work cut out for him against NFL level competition but he is the type of athlete who could become a very good interior defensive lineman if he approaches his craft with the right attitude and has the right coaching.
Rasheem Green — USC
Green is a player who didn’t really have a position in college because he is a mix of a lot of positive attributes that could translate to numerous roles. He has the length and quickness to be disruptive on the edges in a 3-4 or 4-3 but doesn’t play low enough or with the balance to be particularly effective on the interior. He will likely need to be coached up to fill the 3-technique or edge role in a 4-3 and will need a coaching staff to get him focused on mastering that specific assignment. While he was an interior defensive lineman in college, he could be considered one of the better edge rushing candidates in the middle rounds of this draft — particularly given that the edge rushing class is not particularly strong.
Kentavius Street — NC State
Street is another player who didn’t have a natural position in college. He played on the edge at NC State but doesn’t have the length or bend to be a natural edge rusher in the NFL. He is strong enough to play on the inside and could use his shorter frame to maintain leverage on the interior. He also has a spin move that can surprise offensive linemen and that might be able to help him get into gaps against interior offensive linemen who are not particularly well suited to handle it. Street would likely be a rotational lineman and has potential as a sub-package interior pass rusher.
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