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

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Safety: B-

Communication is key on the back-end of a zone-heavy defensive scheme. Malik Hooker entered the league projected to play on a bit of an island but is now asked to play in a zone system that requires a bit more nuance to his game. He still has a chance to be an impact player at safety but has been unable to show the same promise he did as a rookie. Whether this is coaching, scheme or talent related is hard to identify but it seems like a poor plan to not at least consider an option to replace Hooker if he doesn’t figure it all out.

Perhaps the most encouraging part about the Colts’ future at the position is the strong play of rookie Khari Willis. He was very active, particularly against the run and flashed the ability to make some drive changing or game changing plays toward the line of scrimmage. Can he continue to develop in coverage as well or will he be limited to a role in the box?

Clayton Geathers is a solid locker room presence but is limited to a box role and doesn’t have the range or instincts in coverage to be particularly useful. With Willis already in the building, do the Colts choose to move on? Geathers hits free agency again in a few months.

Former undrafted free agent George Odum remains on the depth chart. The team is certainly high on him and he has showed some improvement but bolstering a struggling secondary makes a lot of sense.

Under Contract: Malik Hooker, Khari Willis, George Odum, Rolan Milligan, Kai Nacua

Possible Free Agent Options: Anthony Harris, Justin Simmons, Tre Boston, Karl Joseph, Rodney McLeod, Clayton Geathers, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Isaiah Johnson

Draft Prospects: Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, Kyle Dugger, Ashtyn Davis

Secondary Need

On paper, the Colts have a lot of talent and potential at the safety position. Hooker was considered a bargain in the 2017 NFL Draft and received comparisons to Ed Reed, in terms of his potential. Khari Willis currently holds the honor as the only player Chris Ballard has traded up to select when he sent two fourth round picks to the Oakland Raiders to move up 20 spots.

Ideally, this pair will learn to play together as they head into the 2020 season and can be do much of the heavy lifting on the back end for the defense. As mentioned earlier, communication is key if a Cover-2 base scheme is going to work and continuity goes a long way to improving it.

Outside of George Odum, the only depth players remaining are Rolan Milligan and Kai Nacua. Milligan saw some action when Kenny Moore missed games at the end of the season and appears to keep the interest of the Colts front office and coaching staff. He may not progression beyond emergency depth and special teams contributions but it’s clear the team trusts him to take meaningful defensive snaps if necessary.

Nacua had a reasonably impressive preseason showing before going down with an injury. He is more of an in-the-box style safety though and that could make sticking on the roster difficult. Perhaps with a strong special teams showing and Clayton Geathers moving on in free agency, Nacua has a shot.