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The Colts should draft a pass rusher in the first round

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Why drafting a pass rusher instead of a wide receiver is the way to go in the first round

Montez Sweat is one of the many talented pass rushers the Colts could target come April
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the pain endured in the loss to Kansas City still lingers, the Colts season has to be viewed as a success. A roster that two years ago had holes all over the place now has no glaring weaknesses.

While you can rest assured that Chris Ballard will infuse more talent and create competition on all levels, the consensus opinion is that considerable resources should be used to improve the pass rush and wide receiver position. This story considers an optimal path to addressing both.


Draft an Edge Rusher

At the time of this writing, the Colts will be drafting 26th. If they follow the script that I believe makes most sense, they should have a shot at pass rushers like Jeffrey Simmons, Christian Wilkins or someone would could slide — perhaps Montez Sweat.

First round pass rushers tend to excel in their roles. In the past 5 years names like Ezekiel Ansah, Sheldon Richardson, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Dee Ford, Leonard Williams, Joey Bosa, T.J. Watt, and Bradley Chubb have been drafted in the first round. While these are the headliners, a statistical analysis of how primary pass rushers will help to draw a broader conclusion. Our analysis includes pass rushers selected in the first round between 2013-2018.

Average Sacks and Tackles per season

There is quite a bit of deviation but players drafted in the first round had averaged 4.8 Sacks and 34 tackles per season. While these numbers certainly don’t pop-off the page, the difference between drafting a pass rusher in the first two rounds or the rest of the draft is about 2.7 sacks and 22 tackles.


Pay a wide receiver

Like pass rushers, some great wide receivers have been drafted in the past 5 years. Players like DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Amari Cooper are both highly regarded and extremely productive. However, the well for valuable wide receiver talent in the draft has run dry in recent years.

Average yards and TDs

(green means that have been to at least one Pro Bowl)

The averages of 561 yards and 4 TDs are pedestrian, but they look even worse when you consider that WRs take between the 2nd and 4th rounds average 416 yards and 2.7 TDs. Also keep this in mind, if you take out the super-talented 2014 class which was composed of Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Kelvin Benjamin, the first round average drops to 436.6 yards and 3.03 TDs, extremely close to the production in rounds 2-4.

That’s not all.

Average yards per season

This chart includes wide receivers taken in the last five drafts. There is a noticeable decrease in average yards accumulated, signifying that the talent level has decreased or scouts have struggled to hit in the first round. Consider that between 2013 and 2014, 5/9 (56%) first round wide receivers have been named to a Pro Bowl. Between 2015-2017, 1/13 (7%) have been.

While it’s true that these players have been in the league for a shorter time, affording them fewer opportunities to make the Pro Bowl, consider that over the same span (2015-2017) 3/5 (60%) running backs and 5/16 (31%) defensive ends selected in the first round have accomplished that recognition.


Conclusion

The Colts have around $108 million dollars to spend in free agency, meaning they can easily afford any player who is both able and willing to sign in Indianapolis. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Chris Ballard could sign a free agent pass rusher and draft another in the first round.

The team also has the 34th overall pick, which they acquired from a trade with the Jets in 2018. This leaves Ballard with the draft capital to draft a talented wide receiver early as well. If recent history is an indication, it makes more sense to use one of the second round or later picks at the receiver position and keep the first pick to improve the pass rush.