With the 2020 NFL Draft just 10 days away, the Colts are no doubt hard at work ironing out what the process for draft night will look like in their new normal. It will be a very different draft than any before, and likely any after. There will no doubt be some level of chaos as teams scramble to prepare and best make their war rooms virtual and their draft boards accessible digitally.
One thing that won’t change based on the draft setup are the remaining needs on the Colts roster. With the dust settling on free agency, there are still several important areas that will need addressed by the team before they’ll be ready to kick off the 2020 season. Those will likely be addressed in the draft, so let’s take a look at what those needs are ahead of the draft.
Many of the needs on the Colts roster area areas for potential improvement, but aren’t the kind of urgent needs that might prevent them from being a successful football team in 2020. Wide receiver falls into a category of serious need. The Colts ranked 30th in passing yards per game in 2019, and while a good amount of blame should go to Jacoby Brissett, the pass catchers were far less than extraordinary.
Outside of T.Y. Hilton, the Colts don’t have any sure things at wide receiver. Parris Campbell certainly has potential, and after an injury riddled season, will be looking to bounce back. Zach Pascal has done an admirable job of carving out a role on the roster and really made himself a factor on the offense in 2019. Reece Fountain is working his way back from a gruesome ankle injury after a promising offseason.
Realistically though, that isn’t much to go on. Right now the Colts have a whole lot of hope and potential, but very little guaranteed production. For a team hoping to compete, that’s a big problem. Fortunately, this is the best possible draft to have that problem. The wide receiver class has a chance to be historically great, and is absolutely teeming with talented players.
Philip Rivers spent 2019 throwing the ball to 6’2 Keenan Allen and 6’4” Mike Williams. While the Colts won’t be making draft moves exclusively to suit their 1-year QB, it might be wise to look for a big bodied target to complement what T.Y. Hilton brings to the table. Players like Denzel Mims or Michael Pittman Jr. may be available around the time the Colts pick in the second round, and could fill that role nicely. Regardless of who they take, it would not be a surprise to see the Colts select two receivers in this loaded class.
While there is a lot of promise from the Colts young edge players Ben Banogu and Kemoko Turay, there remains an incomplete picture. The aging Justin Houston gave the Colts their money’s worth in 2019, but to expect him to maintain great production for much longer would be unreasonable. With the loss of Jabaal Sheard to free agency, the Colts don’t really have any sure things on the edges in run support either.
Turay looked great before suffering a broken and dislocated ankle. If he can regain his momentum, he could be a dangerous player off the edge. Banogu also had moments where he flashed as a rookie, and a big second year would be key for him. Al-Quadin Muhammad was a solid rotational player, but could certainly be upgraded upon.
Regardless of this potential, the Colts will need real production from their line if they want to impact opposing quarterbacks. They have the talent at linebacker, but their edge rushers need to be better. It would not be a surprise to see them add another player there in the draft, or even in free agency once the draft has concluded.
Anthony Castonzo is thankfully back, which worked out wonderfully for the Colts. However, his return doesn’t eliminate the very real need to address the tackle position. When a player seriously considers retirement, teams would do well to act as if they could retire at any time. That means selecting his eventual replacement in this draft.
As with the receivers, this is also a good class to need a tackle in, as there are quite a few that should work well, and with time to develop behind a starter, the number of guys who could make sense to the Colts is even greater. Chris Ballard has said before that he obsesses about offensive and defensive linemen, and I don’t anticipate that will change in this draft. Look for them to take a tackle to develop.
With the surprising release of Pierre Desir, the need for a cornerback jumped up on the Colts board by a good bit. They were already without a true CB1, and Desir struggled greatly with injuries in 2019. The signing of Xavier Rhodes was a good one, and adds a talented former All-Pro. Rhodes also struggled with injuries last year, and his speed has suffered some, but he is a technically sound player and could be an upgrade over Desir if he can stay healthy.
However, there is little doubt that the Colts need a long-term answer at cornerback to line up across from Rock Ya-Sin. Ya-Sin showed real signs of improvement across the season, and while many only remember his rough game against the Denver Broncos, those who watched him more closely saw a player who did reasonably well despite being throw directly into the fire by the team. Kenny Moore may be the best slot cornerback in the NFL, and certainly provides an incredible playmaker when he’s on the field.
The question left to be answered is who will fill the hole on the other side? The Colts may like Marvell Tell and think he can develop, but regardless of how high they are on his upside, they’ll need more players at the position. With improvements on the defensive line, the Colts should expect to help out their defensive backs more in terms of pressure on opposing QBs, but it should not surprise anyone if they take a day two corner.
A big area of need for the Colts is also at the tight end position. Frank Reich loves using tight ends, and he and Andrew Luck helped get Eric Ebron to his first Pro Bowl. The issue has been that Jack Doyle is by far and away the best blocking tight end on the roster, and Mo-Alie Cox wasn’t able to make himself a major factor in the passing game in 2019. Again, some blame here goes to Brissett, who rarely looked at the tight ends, especially when they were more than 6 yards downfield.
However, there is a clear need to add a move tight end to the group to fill out their passing attack. This is not the ideal draft to be doing that, because unlike the receiver class, this one is a bit barren. The signing of Roosevelt Nix as a fullback might actually alleviate that need to an extent, because Nix can fill the role as a blocker that they often used their 3rd tight end for. If that’s the case, we may see more of Mo-Alie Cox and Jack Doyle in the passing game, while Nix stays in to block.
Still, it would make sense to address the position, even if it is with a developmental player.
An underrated position of need, the Colts added a talented safety in Khari Willis in 2019, and saw him grow and excel. Unfortunately, they still haven’t gotten the Malik Hooker they hoped for when they took him in the first round. Hooker and Desir were in on many of the big plays given up in 2019, and he’ll have to be better if he wants to stick around.
The problem is, they don’t really have anyone to replace him with. This class of safeties doesn’t have a lot in the way of polish, but they have some developmental players who could make sense for the Colts. It would not be surprising to see them add a safety in the mid-to-late rounds of this draft.