The 2018 NFL Draft class for the Indianapolis Colts was arguably the best haul in the NFL — composed of eight players who started three games or more, the Defensive Rookie of the Year and arguably the best guard in all of football. But who were some of the names Chris Ballard and the Indy front office missed out on?
Not every draft pick is a slam dunk, and not every athlete reaches his full potential in Year One. Even with as good as this class was, some talents taken later in the draft may turn out better five or 10 years down the road. Here are some of the best players from the 2018 NFL Draft that the Colts could’ve had, if not for their actual selections.
Round one, pick six
The pick: Guard Quenton Nelson
The miss: Safety Derwin James
It’s extremely hard to argue that any prospect taken after Quenton Nelson would be considered a ‘miss,’ after the Colts locked up a generational talent at the guard position and started a movement toward protecting Andrew Luck. Nelson started every game this season and earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors in his debut season, the first guard to do so since Zach Martin.
Beyond Nelson (and the Colts next draft pick), safety Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers (pick No. 17) and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch of the Dallas Cowboys (pick No. 19) were the two rookies selected after Nelson to make either All Pro team. I’ll give the edge to James over Vander Esch, since the rookie out of Boise State had a slow start to the year, but it’s hard to say either would've been a better pick over Nelson.
Round two, pick 36 & 37
The picks: Linebacker Darius Leonard & tackle Braden Smith
The miss: Wide receiver Courtland Sutton? Josh Jackson?
Between the picks of Leonard and Smith, there weren’t too many eye-popping talents that hinted at a clear miss from the Indianapolis organization. With that in mind, these selections came down to two of the Colts’ bigger position needs this season — wide receiver and cornerback.
Sutton grew into a nice No. 2 role in Denver with 704 receiving yards and four touchdowns, while Jackson had 49 tackles in 10 starts for the Packers. However, much like the Colts first-round selection, it’s impossible to say the Colts regret drafting the defensive rookie of the year and a right tackle who would start 13 games in 2018.
Round two, pick 52
The pick: Defensive end Kemoko Turay
The miss: Safety Jessie Bates
Of the 11 players drafted between Turay and Indianapolis’ final second-round pick, a few missed 2018 with injury and some just did not pan out. Meanwhile, Turay appeared in 16 games and started in three, totaling 13 quarterback hits, four sacks and one forced fumble.
Out of Wake Forest, safety Jessie Bates was a full-year starter for the Cincinnati Bengals and amassed 111 tackles, seven pass deflections and three interceptions. Indianapolis does have a young duo of safeties in Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, but Bates was an all-rookie selection had one of the best opposing passer ratings (46.4) for a full-time safety.
Round two, pick 64
The pick: Defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis
The miss: Safety Justin Reid
The 2018 class of safeties is one of the most deep position groups from last year’s draft, and yet another one makes the all rookie team after being selected four picks behind the Colts selection of Tyquan Lewis out of Ohio State.
The Stanford product ranked inside the top 20 safeties by Pro Football Focus this season, and had 88 tackles and 10 pass deflections to go along with an impressive 101-yard pick six. Lewis was able to muster two sacks in six career starts, but also missed the first two months of the NFL season while on the injured reserve list.
Round four, pick 104
The pick: Running back Nyheim Hines
The miss: Defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand? Maurice Hurst? Maybe a punter?
Two of the bigger fourth-round names were both on the defensive line: Da’Shawn Hand was an All-Rookie selection for the Lions despite missing three games, and Maurice Hurst had four sacks in 10 starts for the barren Oakland Raiders. Hand’s fit in Indy is a little shaky given he’s more suited for a 3-4 base scheme, but he was one of the best interior defensive lineman in his debut year, while Hurst played in an aggressive 4-3 scheme under Paul Guenther. Aside from those two, Michael Dickson was terrific on special teams for Seattle this season and was one of the better punters in football.
Hines fit a niche role in the Colts’ offense this year, as the speedy, change-of-pass back to complement Marlon Mack and their fifth-round draft choice. He was third on the team in receptions and was fourth in total yards from scrimmage. In an offense that wants to feature as many personnel as possible, Hines was one of the better late-round gets for Ballard.
Round five, pick 159
The pick: Wide receiver Daurice Fountain
The miss: Running back Jaylen Samuels
If the Colts had passed on Nyheim Hines with their last pick, his NC State teammate Jaylen Samuels would’ve done just fine in his place. After hiding behind James Connor in Pittsburg, Samuels made the most of his three appearances while Connor was injured — averaging 5.5 yards per touch (7.7 yards per reception) for 455 combined yards and three receiving touchdowns.
Fountain struggled to get things going in his rookie season, and appeared in just one game in Week 14 after spending the previous 13 weeks on the practice squad. The Northern Iowa product did remain on the active roster from Week 14 on, but didn’t appear again until garbage time in Kansas City — where he dropped a would-be touchdown.
Round five, pick 169
The pick: Running back Jordan Wilkins
The miss: Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Wilkins served as a complement to Mack and Hines this season, and averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt with a smaller sample size of just 60 attempts. He did start three games for Indy, and had his first and only touchdown in Week 11 against Tennessee.
Valdes-Scantling saw his role in the Green Bay offense fluctuate throughout the season. He had two 100-yard receiving outings, but also had six games with under 20 receiving yards.
Round six, pick 185
The pick: Wide receiver Deon Cain
The miss: Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown
In round six, the Colts trade a budding wide receiver who missed the season with injury for another Green Bay wideout that had an okay (?) season. The potential that Cain showed in the preseason is something the Colts will want to hold onto in hopes for a healthy return in 2019. Meanwhile, Brown had an up-and-down year that finished with a career game against the Jets with five catches for 94 yards.
Round seven, pick 221
The pick: Linebacker Matthew Adams
The miss: Wide receiver Marcell Ateman (but actually no one)
It’s so rare to find a starter in the last round of the NFL draft, but the Colts were able to get five starts, 33 tackles and five tackles for loss from the rookie out of Houston. The only draft pick between Adams and their final selection to start more games was wide out Marcell Ateman for the Oakland Raiders — who had 154 receiving yards in six starts for the black and silver.
Round seven, pick 235
The pick: Linebacker Zaire Franklin
The miss: Running back Justin Jackson
Excluding those who were picked up as undrafted free agents, Northwestern running back Justin Jackson seemed to be the most productive in the last 20 picks of the NFL draft. In 13 games and one start for the Chargers, Jackson had 341 yards from scrimmage two rushing touchdowns on 50 rush attempts.
Franklin, out of Syracuse, appeared in every game this season and made two starts at linebacker — racking up 29 tackles and one pass deflection.