The regular season is coming into view, even if it is still only just visible on the horizon line. The Colts’ opener on September 8th will be here before we know it and the team is in the midst of furious roster battles at several positions to get the team down to the final 53-man roster. Because of this, it seemed as good a time as any to look around the division and ask the question: If the Colts could have one player from an AFC South rival, who should they take?
Of course, this is not an exercise that should be taken too seriously, because I’m pretty certain no AFC South team is going to willingly part with one of their best players. However, it is a chance to examine the strengths of our rivals and how they compare with the Colts. So let’s get started!
The Texans are a team that is talented at a number of positions on both the offense and the defense. With QB Deshaun Watson under center heading into year 3, they have been a team that can get hot and shouldn’t be taken lightly at any time.
J.J. Watt is the unquestioned leader on the defensive side of the ball, and he is one of the most dominant defensive players of a generation. Adding him to the Colts roster would instantly provide a massive upgrade to the pass rush and the defense as a whole. Not only is Watt a great player, he is also a team leader and a standout in terms of his character. He came back from a run of injuries last season to put together a 16-sack season with 7 forced fumbles. In short, he was a force.
Despite all that, Watt just couldn’t be my pick. When he is healthy, he is dominant. The problem is, he hasn’t been healthy. Add to it that he is entering his 9th season at 30-years-old, and it is tough to think his health is going to be on the upswing. While Watt would unquestionably make this team better, he isn’t the guy from the Texans who I think could be the biggest addition to this roster.
That guy? It has to be DeAndre Hopkins. Consider first, if you will, the list of QBs that Hopkins has caught passes from in regular season games: Deshaun Watson, Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, and Matt Schaub. There is only one NFL-caliber starting quarterback on that list, and Hopkins has had just a season and a half with him.
Despite that, he has been one of the best receivers in the league since 2014, and saw his catch percentage skyrocket last season when he had a full year with an actual NFL quarterback. Hopkins would instantly take the Colts passing attack from good to elite. His ability to make contested catches and to put up exemplary numbers despite playing with inferior talent is incredible. What’s more, he has done this while being the clear focal point that defenses game plan against.
Imagine a roster where T.Y. Hilton is the number 2 receiver? That is what Hopkins would give the Colts. Defensive coordinators simply wouldn’t stand a chance.
Pick: WR DeAndre Hopkins
The Tennessee Titans are a team with a great deal of talent that is somewhat hamstrung by their quarterback position. For that reason, there are several positions that would make sense to poach from the team if the opportunity presented itself (in the form of a hypothetical story such as this one).
Because of the desire to improve the Colts’ pass rush, a couple of guys immediately spring to mind. Jurrell Casey has been consistently one of the best and most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL over his career. He gets regular penetration into the backfield, demands double teams, and creates opportunities for outside players to make plays. Adding a standout defensive tackle would upgrade the Colts defense in a very real way. However, as with J.J. Watt, the sun is starting to set on Casey’s time in the league. By season’s end, he will be 30-years old and likely see his production continue to decrease.
To get the most bang for our buck, the right choice just might be second year player Harold Landry. Landry was a player many had mocked to the Colts in last year’s draft, and he showed signs of why last season. He was productive coming off the edge, and if he is able to take a step in his second year he could prove to be a major playmaker for a long time.
However, neither of those guys are my pick here. Here I’m going with the safe pick and taking left tackle Taylor Lewan. Yes, I know that we’ve got a very good left tackle in Anthony Castonzo, but at 31-years-old, there is a limit to how long we can expect Castonzo to continue on. What’s more, Lewan is the more talented player overall, and at 28, he gives the Colts a long time into the future to be dominant on this line. As a bonus, if social media is any indication, Quenton Nelson and Lewan are already good friends, which ought to ensure great locker room chemistry. This move is a no-brainer.
Pick: LT Taylor Lewan
The Jaguars have got a plethora of talent across their defense that makes this choice a tough one. Pairing linebacker Myles Jack with Darius Leonard would certainly make for one of the most formidable linebacker rooms in the NFL. At the cornerback position, Jalen Ramsey would be an upgrade in talent inside a Colts cornerback room that isn’t lacking there. Ramsey would take that group from good to very probably great and provide a kind of defensive flexibility for the team that would have Matt Eberflus salivating.
In this case though, my pick is going to be a guy who can contribute in the way the Colts need most: getting after the quarterback. I’m taking 24-year-old Yannick Ngakoue with a big ol’ smile on my face. Ngakoue has had incredible production right from the start, grabbing 8 sacks in his rookie year. His 29.5 sacks in 3 years are a testament to his ability, and the Colts could put him to use right away, adding a force on the outside that could make opposing quarterbacks miserable for years to come.
Pick: Yannick Ngakoue
Final Pick: WR DeAndre Hopkins
The exercise here was to select just one player from a division rival. That means whittling this list of 3 players down to just one. While all would improve the Colts, perhaps the right choice is one that makes the Colts better while also doing the most significant damage to a rival. The player that does that? DeAndre Hopkins.
Not only is Hopkins the most productive player for the Texans, he is the primary reason their offense is able to move the ball despite a truly terrible offensive line. Without Hopkins, Deshaun Watson is a man alone on Bill O’Brien’s island, and that island is full of venomous snakes, scorpions, and the surrounding waters are shark infested.
The prospect of watching Andrew Luck choosing to dish the ball to Hopkins and Hilton on alternating plays before tossing a touchdown or 17 to Eric Ebron is just so thoroughly enjoyable that I am going to continue to indulge that fantasy.
Who is your pick?