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How Many Week 1 Starters Did the Indianapolis Colts Draft?

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Arkansas State v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Now that we’ve had a bit to digest the Indianapolis Colts2018 NFL Draft class, it’s time to begin getting our expectations for this group, and the rest of the roster. Granted, the Colts roster will morph itself into several different forms between now and the season, but we can still get a solid resemblance of what it’ll look like.

I don’t think this question of which rookies will start has quite the clear-cut answer that many may assume. While GM Chris Ballard has given us at least a slight hint of what he expects to happen, the competition mantra that he has preached since Day 1 must remain the status quo to truly grow this roster.

Let’s check out this group and see exactly what we have with the Colts’ 2018 NFL Draft class.

First, and always first in this group for that matter, is Quenton Nelson. Nelson is an unquestioned starter otherwise he wouldn’t have been drafted at No. 6 overall, period.

On the other hand we have second-round pick Braden Smith. Now, Ballard made the statement that Smith was the last starting caliber guard on his board, and that there was a large drop off after him. But, I don’t know that that necessarily means he’s going to start right away.

Matt Slauson was brought in through free agency who most had penciled in as the presumed starter at the time. Since then, the Colts re-signed Jack Mewhort and obviously drafted Nelson and Smith.

This leaves Slauson firmly in a backup role in my honest opinion. However, I don’t think you can say the same for Mewhort. Mewhort isn’t quite as versatile (used tentatively) as Joe Haeg or Denzelle Good, despite the Colts having him listed on the roster as a combination T/G. We can’t really rule Mewhort out for a possible role there, but it doesn’t seem optimal for his abilities.

Mewhort will, however, absolutely be thick into the competition for the right guard/left guard starting role. We can guess which side Nelson will play on, but we won’t truly know until we see more in mini camp and later on in the summer. Yes, Mewhort has been oft-injured and didn’t get ‘starter money’ within his 1-year deal, but we know he has the potential to lock down that starting spot if he can stay healthy.

This competition at the guard spot opposite Nelson is going to go well into training camp in my opinion regardless of what initial alignments appear to be set before then.

Darius Leonard at the WILL linebacker spot is a perfect fit for what the Colts are hoping to achieve with the transition to the 4-3, Tampa-2 style defense. Leonard has all of the athletic traits they are looking for, he’s a speed, fundamental, high-ceiling type of player they want in the lineup from the jump and I don’t think there’s much of a question as to whether or not he’ll be an immediate starter.

What will be quite entertaining and interesting to watch will be the MIKE and SAM positions throughout camp and the preseason to see which direction the Colts choose to go there. The Colts did draft Zaire Franklin and Matthew Adams in the seventh round, but it’s quite difficult to presume one of these two will become an immediate starter at either spot.

Moving on to the skill positions, we’ll first look at the running backs. Theoretically, the Colts ‘needed’ a starter out of this draft, but with Frank Reich’s RB by committee approach a starter almost seems to be an arbitrary process.

Marlon Mack has a year under his belt and needs to make a sizable improvement to lock it down, thus, we have to look deeper into those drafted to see if they offer more of a complete package in Reich’s eyes.

Nyheim Hines very well could be that player.

Hines is a very solid, and willing pass protector and Mack really struggled in that respect in his rookie campaign. Jordan Wilkins doesn’t necessarily project to being in the mix as a starter right now, but as I've stated above, we could quite easily see a different ‘starter’ every Sunday given the gameplan for that specific opponent.

Robert Turbin may be the one back presumed to be on the Week 1 53-man roster who has a very specific role and largely remains within that capacity each week. Otherwise, this position looks to be a fun one to watch throughout the summer leading up to the season.

Additionally, I expect the coaching staff to regularly be vocalizing about how close the competition is, and offering how much they like “the entire backfield” as an option going forward. With that said, I would almost bet that Hines gets a good handful of starts this year, and I’ll go as far to say he will be for Week 1.

Looking at the receiver position despite, not having any big names on the roster after T.Y. Hilton, is one of my favorite groups heading into the season. The competition for the backend of the position is going to be very fun to watch and is almost perfectly set up for a situation in which the WR3-WR5 positions are going to be talked about quite a bit locally.

Daurice Fountain is a real player with the right size and speed combination, and from the little bit of film on him to be found shows us a hands-catcher with a love to battle for the 50/50 ball. Deon Cain was said to be a “surprise” to Ballard for being available in the sixth round, but comes with some baggage and a dip in production (touchdowns and yards per reception) between his sophomore and junior seasons at Clemson.

It’s true that on the surface it doesn’t look like the Colts have an obvious starter between the two, rather possible role players in 3 and 4 receiver packages. Additionally, despite Chester Rogers not receiving much national love, we see how hard he goes at it in the offseason and there’s a very real reason for his being expected to have had the WR3 spot locked in last summer before his extended injury absence.

Rogers is much better than he’s given credit for and is one of the hardest workers at the position, yet, we can’t forget about where Ryan Grant stands in the mix here either.

It’s quite conceivable that Fountain battles him and Rogers for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but it’s so early for that argument right now being as we don’t have much on tape of Fountain.

Nevertheless, he has a lot admirers within the organization.

Finally, we come to the Colts’ third and fourth second-round picks, Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis. This is such an interesting conversation for a couple of reasons. First, I think it’s fair to assume that neither Turay nor Lewis will be pigeonholed into a singular role, or position. Second, while both of them could get a healthy dose of snaps as rookies, these seem to be picks directed more towards, but not limited to, the future of the defense.

The Colts are expecting Tarell Basham to make significant improvements in the new system, and Jabaal Sheard was very good last season, but likely won’t be in Indianapolis long-term. Both will be transitioning to defensive ends — along with John Simon — this season from their OLB roles in 2017.

We’ve mentioned before that Lewis was especially impactful as an interior pass rusher at Ohio State and that he will likely be used as such for the Colts in sub-package situations. Turay was more of a 3-4 OLB at Rutgers, but is now listed as a DE on the roster and the Colts have expressed that they’re simply going to move him around to best utilize his pass rush ability while also getting him in situations where his hand is in the dirt more often.

Basham, here, is the real wild card. And the question going forward will be whether or not Simon is the natural starter if Basham can’t take the reigns immediately. If Basham isn’t a standout this summer, I believe that Turay and Lewis have a chance to realistically earn the nod.

For this to happen, though, Lewis has to prove that he can rush the passer more effectively, naturally off the edge in the NFL than he did in college, and Turay will also have to blow the coaching staff away in camp. Simon isn’t to be discounted, rather I’m just less convinced that he becomes a playmaker with the scheme change despite his familiarity with it in college.

In the end, it’s just too lengthy of a projection to go with Turay or Lewis as starters right away, but I do see this position as having some sneaky good depth right away.


Conclusion:

Wrapping this up, I am quite optimistic for this draft class as a near-full group of heavy contributors, but the list of immediate starters isn’t very long in Week 1.

G | Quenton Nelson

WLB | Darius Leonard

RB | Nyheim Hines