It’s that time again. Time to go through the Colts 2020 NFL Draft class and assign wildly premature draft grades. This exercise is a useful one, not because these grades mean much (they don’t), but because they give a point of comparison over time and necessitate analyzing each pick as honestly as possible.
I recognize that even a year from now would be too soon to truly grade these picks, as we are only now getting to a point where Chris Ballard’s 2017 draft is truly coming into focus. Still, this process helps to attempt to gauge how much the team has improved. So let’s get to it:
13th Overall: DeForest Buckner – Defensive Tackle, Oregon
Yes, I know that technically DeForest Buckner wasn’t drafted here, but the 13th overall pick was spent on him, and there is no doubt that he’ll be an immediate impact on a talented young defense. Buckner is viewed by many as the most talented of a group of very good defensive linemen in San Francisco, and his presence should be felt right away.
At the combine, GM Chris Ballard said, “The 3-technique drives this thing,” and he meant it. Getting disruptive interior pressure is a key part of a good defense, and when you watch the games where Denico Autry went off on the inside and was destructive, it is easy to see how a player like Buckner could provide dramatic improvement.
The Colts signed him to a 4-year $84M deal, so he’ll need to be a superstar for them, but he has already proven that’s what he is, so this one seems like a home run.
Grade - A
34th Overall: Michael Pittman Jr. – Wide Receiver, USC
Because the Colts traded away the 13th pick, their first selection in 2020 was the second pick in the second round. That selection, Michael Pittman Jr., is a player who absolutely screamed “Ballard guy.”
The 6’4” 223lb receiver checks just about every box you could want in an X. He has great hands, is a solid route runner, is physical both at the catch point and with the ball in his hands, and has been a team captain to boot.
NFL Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared him to Mike Williams as a player, which should be exactly the kind of thing Philip Rivers will love to hear. With T.Y. Hilton lining up opposite Pittman, defenses will have to make tough decisions about coverage, and if second year player Parris Campbell stays healthy, opposing defenses could be in real trouble.
In all, it seems like Pittman is a great player across the board to fit into the Colts offense. If Ballard and Reich are to be believed, it was all but a consensus that he was the pick at 34. Colts fans should feel good about this one.
Grade - A
41st Overall: Jonathan Taylor - Running Back, Wisconsin
The next pick was a bit of a surprise. The Colts traded from 44 up to 41, jumping ahead of the Jaguars to take RB Jonathan Taylor. Owner Jim Irsay hinted that they had strong intel that the Jaguars were planning to take Taylor, and news that the Jags had reached out to Tampa Bay shopping Leonard Fournette during the draft only to be rejected supports that possibility.
Bucs get their running back. The Jags called them about Leonard Fournette, I'm told, but Tampa Bay opted to fill the position through the draft, with Ke'Shawn Vaughn.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) April 25, 2020
The Colts felt strongly enough about Taylor to move up and take him at 41 overall with several other positions on the board, many of which appeared to meet a greater need. Still, it is clear that Taylor is something special. As a freshman at Wisconsin, he rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns, breaking Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing record.
In his Junior season, despite being sparingly used in the passing game, he still had 5 receiving touchdowns in 26 receptions. He finished the season with 2,255 yards from scrimmage and 26 all-purpose touchdowns.
Taking a running back so high in the modern NFL doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but it is undeniable that the Colts have a playmaker on their hands. With his track speed and excellent durability, they are set with two very good backs and a replenished receiver room. This is a blue chip player who should contribute right away, so while the value may not be ideal, he is a solid pick.
85th Overall: Julian Blackmon – Safety, Utah
I scouted the safeties for our draft guide, so of the players the Colts drafted, Julian Blackmon was the one I was by far the most familiar with. What I saw from him was a versatile, instinctive safety who has room for growth at the position.
A sure tackler off the edge in run support, and one of the best open field tacklers in this class of safeties, Blackmon is a converted cornerback who spent just one season at safety before coming out for the draft. In November, he suffered a season ending knee injury, which will no doubt mean he is eased back in slowly, a fact which I am sure damaged his draft stock.
What I can’t deny though, is that while watching him, I saw the same kinds of great tacking, scrappy play, and great anticipation that make Kenny Moore such a good player. Don’t misunderstand me-I’m not saying he is going to be the same level of player that Kenny Moore is. However, he has the tools to be absolutely as impactful, and his presence should be notable on special teams and as a rotational safety as soon as he is healthy.
122nd Overall: Jacob Eason – Quarterback, Washington
At pick 122 in the fourth round, the Colts selected a player at the position most up in the air for them. Jacob Eason, the quarterback out of Washington had fallen, and the Colts decided to take a flier on a player with a good amount of upside.
While Taylor was a surprise, this was my first real disappointment. Eason was a player I watched early on in my scouting process, and I simply wasn’t a fan of his game. He processes the field slowly and doesn’t throw with good timing or anticipation, which is a debilitating trait in a QB. His footwork often leaves him opening his body up more than he should, which causes his accuracy to suffer. What’s more, he is rumored to have a less than stellar work ethic and is a complete statue in the pocket.
It isn’t all bad though. Eason has one of the most impressive arms in the class, with the ability to make every kind of NFL throw, and some of his could take your breath away. Unlike Jacoby Brissett, Eason is not afraid to let it fly, and when he wasn’t impacted by pass rush, he threw some nice balls. When you watch his highlights, you see what the Colts do. This is a player with excellent upside who just needs to prove he deserves a chance.
In their post-draft press conference, Reich and Ballard were crystal clear that Eason would be competing with Chad Kelly for the QB3 spot, which is somewhat frustrating as well. With no QBs on the roster in 2021, it is helpful to add a player here, but using draft capital with other players on the board when you don’t intend to part with Brissett is perplexing. We will see if that statement holds, but it is not a move that makes sense to me. In total, the pick wasn’t a reach, and if he pans out, will look like a master stroke. I just wonder if there were not better options at the spot.
149th Overall: Danny Pinter – Guard, Ball State
The Colts needed help in filling out depth on the offensive line, and they found it with pick 149 in a local kid. Danny Pinter is an elite level athlete at the guard position, and is a converted tight end. At 6’4” 306lbs, he ran a 4.91 forty at the scouting combine.
Known for his competitive, mean style of play, he immediately seems like a solid fit with an offensive line group that has made that mentality their identity. As a player who can work out of several spots along the line, Pinter offers developmental depth and skill at multiple positions and fills the void left by the loss of Joe Haeg.
In fact, the Colts liked Pinter so much, that Ballard said they spent about 30 minutes trying to move up to make sure they could take him, without any luck. Fortunately, he was there when they picked and hopefully he’ll be excellent depth behind one of the best starting offensive lines in football.
193rd Overall: Rob Windsor - Defensive Tackle, Penn State
At pick 193, the Colts selected Penn State DT Rob Windsor. Windsor is exactly the kind of player that Chris Ballard likes to target in the later rounds of the draft. He grades with an RAS of 8.68 with great numbers relative to the position, which is right in line with the kind of athletic profile the Colts typically look for.
For the Nittany Lions Windsor was a productive defensive lineman, notching 14 sacks and 121 tackles in his 52 appearances. He is viewed as a player with developmental traits who is likely going to need time to grow behind the starters. He proved in his time at Penn State that he was a hard worker, which he’ll need to be to get a foot in the door with this roster.
There were some possible players on the board here that could have been better picks, but this one is in line with what Ballard likes for the defense, and is a safe pick for depth or the practice squad.
211th Overall: Isaiah Rodgers – Cornerback, UMass
With the 211th pick, the Colts selected CB Isaiah Rodgers out of UMass. A quick look at him tells the story of why. There is no doubt that his 4.28 forty time wowed scouts and that kind of blazing speed is a big part of what you look for in the late rounds.
Additionally, Rodgers posted a productive career at UMass, making himself valuable by taking the ball away 15 times, which no doubt got the Colts’ attention. He has demonstrated ability on special teams as a returner, and that value as a depth cornerback is absolutely essential.
He doesn’t meet all the normal criteria the Colts look for in terms of size, but as they did with Kenny Moore, the Colts have made exceptions in some cases when they really love the player, and Rodgers was one such exception.
We're on w Northeast area scout Mike Derice who scouted Isaiah Rodgers. Says he didn't meet all the size requirements the Colts usually adhere to, but he's such a good scheme fit they picked him anyway.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) April 26, 2020
212th Overall: Dezmon Patmon – Wide Receiver, Washington State
At 212th, the Colts took big bodied receiver Dezmon Patmon. Patmon, like Michael Pittman Jr., is a 6’4” 225lb receiver who won’t wow anyone with his speed, but has very comparable measurements to Pittman. Given his catch radius, affinity for blocking, and ability to track the ball downfield, he makes a lot of sense as another quality big target for Philip Rivers.
With limited burst and ability to separate on tape, Patmon may have an uphill battle to crack his way into the receiver room, but he has the necessary traits to be a rotational receiver who could develop if he can become a more technical route runner.
I might have preferred that at this position they take a receiver with a different skill set than what they already selected in Pittman, but perhaps they realized after last year’s loss of Devin Funchess to injury that they needed a backup for that role.
213th Overall: Jordan Glasgow – Linebacker, Michigan
With their last pick in the draft, the Colts targeted another special teams standout in LB Jordan Glasgow of Michigan. The 6’1” 226lb Glasgow will be hard pressed to crack the starting lineup of a very competitive linebacker room, but has proven his worth on special teams, blocking a punt against Illinois in 2019 and making a stop on a fake punt against Ohio State.
Jordan Glasgow stops Ohio State's fake punt. Dumb call by Urban Meyer. pic.twitter.com/mdYyyQpLU8— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) November 26, 2016
He seems to check all the boxes for someone who should go late round. High football IQ and effort, excellent tackler, versatile, and a valuable special teams contributor. His lack of ability in coverage and his tweener size will limit his usefulness on starting downs, but as a rotational player and special teamer, he is a solid addition.
With edge players like Derrek Tuszka and Kenny Willekes still on the board, I might have preferred they go that way, but Glasgow does fit into the Colts’ usual mold.
This draft class is a mixed bag. There are some really exciting picks, and some that don’t completely compute. The attention paid to the offense is clear, and that is a welcome change over prior years. Michael Pittman Jr. immediately makes the Colts receiver corps far more dangerous than they were in 2019, and should allow T.Y. Hilton to have a big year.
The tandem of Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor is one that should absolutely dominate opposing defenses behind the Colts fantastic offensive line. Along with Rivers and the passing game this should allow the team continue to dictate the style and pace of games depending on their opponent.
As this team gets deeper, it is going to become tougher still to make the roster. Targeting guys who are primarily special teams depth in later rounds is a pretty strong indicator of how the Colts feel about this roster. Now we’ll wait to see if that confidence and perceived improvement translates to the field.