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Grading the Colts roster ahead of 2020 NFL Draft and free agency: Cornerback

NFL: DEC 22 Panthers at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A long off-season is upon us and while Chris Ballard and the Colts front office has plenty of time to work on rounding out the 2020 roster, Stampede Blue would like to take a pretty in-depth look at each position group and assign them letter grades.

The purpose of this exercise is to identify where the team stands at each position, based upon who is currently under contract. Re-signing in-house free agents could have a big impact on numerous grades but until that happens, we know what we know.

With that in mind, let’s dive in and discuss ways the team might move forward and share thoughts about what course of action makes the most sense.

Cornerback: B-

The cornerback position is difficult to evaluate for the Colts. Pierre Desir is the most experienced of the corners but dealt with injuries at times this year that might have caused him to take a step back in coverage. Rookie Rock Ya-Sin went through a trial by fire in 2019 and had his ups and downs. There is still much to learn in a zone scheme for Ya-Sin but struggles as a rookie at corner in the NFL are pretty consistent. Can he develop into a reliable starter opposite Desir?

Kenny Moore is one of the best nickel corners in the game. He is the most disruptive and active member of the Colts secondary since the days of players like Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea. If he returns healthy in 2020, he could have a true breakout season and establish his place at the top of the position.

It seems all but certain that the Quincy Wilson experiment will end in failure. Unfortunate given that he showed flashes in 2018. Rookie Marvell Tell III showed some promising signs and his length makes him difficult to throw over.

Still, it goes without saying the the Colts pass defense struggled mightily in 2020, especially when Kenny Moore wasn’t on the field. There must be some attention paid to the position to correct the fallout without one or two players.

Under Contract: Kenny Moore, Pierre Desir, Rock Ya-Sin, Marvell Tell III, Quincy Wilson, Picasso Nelson Jr., Lafayette Pitts, Jackson Porter

Possible Free Agent Options: Logan Ryan, Bradley Roby, Ronald Darby, Eli Apple, Kendall Fuller, Maurice Canady

Draft Prospects: Jeff Okudah, Trevon Diggs, Paulson Adebo, C.J. Henderson, Kristian Fulton, Cameron Dantzler

Secondary Need

One of the most difficult things about analyzing the reasons for breakdowns in the Colts pass defense is the chicken or egg dilemma.

In a defensive scheme that is designed to limit big plays, allowing throws in short areas of the field and then tightening up as the field shortens, additional pressure is placed on the pass rush. This is primarily because: 1) If a quarterback can simply get rid of the ball in the first two seconds in front of a secondary that is playing in off-coverage, pass rush will struggle to land, and 2) as routes develop, soft spots in zone coverage will widen and create areas where receivers can settle down for chunk plays.

This means that the pass rush needs to apply consistent pressure. Without consistent pressure, the very nature of a base Cover-2 scheme will make life particularly difficult for the secondary.

On the other hand, if the secondary either plays more press or man coverage, it should result in disrupting the timing between quarterback and wide receiver. This disruption means the quarterback must hold the ball longer and it gives the pass rush more time to make a play in the backfield.

The answer for Matt Eberflus is likely somewhere in the middle. Like basketball teams who switch defenses in the middle of the game, the secondary should be somewhat unpredictable. Defenses can disguise coverage and switch things up leading to offensive mistakes.

The three starting level players in the secondary are either proven or have showed signs of potential. Marvell Tell III will be entering his second season after making a position switch from safety to cornerback. He showed enough to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is likely going to earn his way back onto the roster as one of the primary depth defensive backs and special teams contributors.

Behind these four, there is one or two more spots that will fill out the roster. Having someone who is capable of filling in on the outside in case of injury and another young prospect who can be developed makes good sense.