Perhaps no competition is fiercer at Colts Training Camp than the one at cornerback. While a lot of attention will be given to the wide receivers, and the defensive linemen will be jockeying for additional snaps, the cornerback room is quietly filled with starter level talent, and all of them are anxious to prove themselves.
So what might this cornerback room look like come cut-downs? That is exactly what I want to look at today.
The Presumed Starters
Kenny Moore, Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson
This category seems all but locked. Kenny Moore just inked a 4-year $33.3M extension this offseason. Moore broke out last season as a playmaker and invaluable part of the Colts’ defense, and his role is locked for any reason apart from injury.
Pierre Desir is in a similar position, having signed a 3-year deal with the Colts this offseason for $22.5M. There is a minor caveat with Desir. While he was the best cornerback on the roster last season, he is also 28. Cornerbacks tend to struggle as they cross the threshold of 30, and Desir isn’t there yet, but he’s getting close.
His contract gives the Colts a potential out after this season, so the development of their depth will matter a great deal going forward. For now though, Desir seems to have the gig locked down as tightly as he did DeAndre Hopkins.
Quincy Wilson had perhaps the biggest turnaround of any player during the 2018 season. Credit free agent signing Mike Mitchell for mentoring Wilson and changing his perspective on how to both prepare for and play the game.
Wilson is entering his 3rd season in the NFL and is still just 23 years old. His play improved dramatically as the season progressed, and he has the potential to be a big part of this defense’s success in 2019 and beyond. Even so, his role with the team is far from set. While he seems like a lock to make the final 53-man roster, he isn’t guaranteed anything in terms of playing time. Should another player stand out, or injury sideline him for any amount of time, he could find himself in jeopardy of losing playing time.
Rock Ya-Sin, Jalen Collins, Chris Milton
The next group of players includes two guys who have so far shone at training camp. As with everything, it is wise to take training camp successes with a grain of salt. However, these guys are off to a great start and have impressed throughout the spring and up until now. That’s exactly what they need to be successful.
Drafted with the Colts first pick in the 2019 draft, Rock Ya-Sin was viewed by many leading up to the draft as a top 5 cornerback prospect and a first round talent. Given the difficulty of playing at a high level as a first year NFL cornerback, he landed in a great situation. With the starting group essentially settled, Ya-Sin can develop and learn behind them without the pressure of being thrust into the starting lineup right away. However, based on his early performance in camp and through the spring, the Colts may be looking for ways to get Ya-Sin into the lineup sooner rather than later.
Another interesting case is Jalen Collins. Collins was a 2nd round pick in 2015 who has struggled with disciplinary issues that have resulted in suspension and kept him sidelined and ultimately got him released by the Falcons.
At 26 years old, the talented corner has gotten himself off to a great start to the 2019 season and after paying his dues as a practice squad player with the Colts in 2018, it looks as though Collins might be ready for a crack at a bigger role on the team. He’ll need to keep his nose clean and keep bringing it throughout camp and into the preseason if he wants to see the field.
This is where the roster gets a lot murkier. Chris Milton played just 55 snaps last season for the defense and is not a legitimate challenger to any of the guys listed prior. However, he was on the field for more than 60% of the special teams snaps last season, more than any other cornerback.
He is a solid part of the special teams unit and that provides a big value to the Colts. That contribution will make him tough to cut unless they feel the player taking his spot can do as much. For that reason, the special teams work during camp will be critically important in helping them make decisions at the bottom of the depth chart here.
The Likely Cuts
Nate Hairston, Marvell Tell III, Shakial Taylor
The biggest indicator that this Colts team is getting better is the fact that there are likely to be cuts of good quality players. That makes this group both good and bad. Nate Hairston is a talented player and has done a reasonably good job since his arrival in Indy. His rookie season had him looking like a future star for the team, but he was then outshone by Kenny Moore, getting less than half of the snaps Moore had in 2018. Additionally, he just doesn’t provide the special teams edge of someone like Milton.
Hairston does have talent, so he makes sense as a possible trade candidate. Our own Stephen Reed pointed to a potential trade with Chicago as a likely destination given that Chuck Pagano has a history with Hairston and is running the defense there.
The prospect of cutting a rookie definitely sucks. However, given the Colts’ current roster situation, they simply do not likely have room for 5th round selection Marvell Tell III on the 53-man roster. As has been mentioned before, should he prove himself capable as a special teamer, he might give himself a better shot. Otherwise he will be hard pressed to make the cut.
Tell could make a very good addition to the practice squad, where he can develop as a player and get familiar with the Colts’ defense. The Colts showed they were willing to use the practice squad liberally last season, so it certainly still could be an opportunity for him to make an impression and see the field.
A lot will depend on how many corners the Colts decide to keep. It seems unlikely that they will keep more than 6, and they might keep just 5 given the other areas on the roster they’ll need to make cuts. One thing is certain, Chris Ballard’s vision of a roster flush with competition has come to fruition, and the Colts are better for it.