While the Indianapolis Colts have a much anticipated incoming rookie class, it’s important to note that part of the team’s substantial offseason improvement could also come from the development of last year’s 2019 NFL Draft Class—which showed some initial promise.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the Colts top ‘sophomore’ defenders drafted a year ago, who could take a big second-year leap:
Ben Banogu, Defensive End
The former 49th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft (2nd round) showed flashes of his immense potential last season, finishing with 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 17 Total QB pressures, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble in all 16 games.
At 6’3”, 250 pounds, Banogu is incredibly athletic. The 2x All-Big 12 First-Team member is a year removed from having posted a 4.62 forty, 40.0 inch vertical, and a broad jump of 134.0 inches at the 2019 NFL Combine.
His SPARQ rating was in the 97.1% NFL percentile (tied for the best in his 2019 draft class among edge defenders with Montez Sweat). Meanwhile, his RAS [Relative Athletic Score] was 9.71 out of 10.0.
The hope is that with a year under his belt—and continued work with the likes of former Colts great Robert Mathis and the Colts defensive line coaches, that Banogu can continue to grow and develop—and put it all together consistently.
He figures to be a rotational impact pass rusher for the Colts entering his 2nd-year season.
Bobby Okereke, Linebacker
Speaking of athletes, the second-year linebacker out of Stanford ‘and future Hall of Famer’, Bobby Okereke, is another physical specimen among the Colts young defenders.
He recorded 65 tackles, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 passes defensed in 16 games (8 starts) for the Colts this past season—as he handled a lot of sub-package coverage work.
At 6’1”, 239 pounds, Okereke ran a 4.58 forty time, posted a 33.5 inch vertical, and recorded a 122.0 inch broad jump at last year’s NFL Combine. His RAS was 8.4 out of 10.0.
The Colts have to find a way to get Okereke on the field more this season—as he’s a long, fast, instinctive, and explosive linebacker—who can run with receivers in coverage, and make the Indy linebacking corps far more dynamic in 2020.
He should be the projected starter alongside Anthony Walker and Darius Leonard presumably at the ‘Sam’—although the Colts’ middle linebacker position is probably his best natural spot long-term.
Marvell Tell, Cornerback
Keeping the theme of ‘impressive athletes’ alive, the fast 2nd-year corner had some really encouraging glimpses of being a starting caliber cornerback in time for the Colts.
Last year’s 5th round pick recorded 26 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and a forced fumble in 13 games (1 start) in 2019.
Tell is another highly athletic young defender for the Colts, as he posted a 42.0 inch vertical and 136.0 inch broad jump at last year’s NFL Combine.
His SPARQ rating was in the in 99.4% NFL percentile—although among safeties (2nd best in his draft class at that position), while his RAS was 9.28 out of 10.0.
Per PFF (subscription), Tell was their 57th best rated cornerback last year with a +67.6 grade overall—including an impressive +89.2 tackling grade.
Should projected new Colts veteran starter Xavier Rhodes struggle again, Tell could be the “next man up” as a starting outside cornerback for Indianapolis—and at worse, should be the 4th overall cornerback on their depth chart right now.
Khari Willis, Safety
At 5’11”, 213 pounds, Willis may not be the ‘freak athlete’ as some of his fellow football peers on this list, but he’s just a good football player.
The rookie safety was a revelation for the Colts in the back of their secondary during 2019, recording 71 tackles and a pass defensed in 14 games (9 starts).
Willis was PFF’s 54th best rated safety last season with a +69.5 grade overall, which was one spot ahead of fellow Colts starting safety Malik Hooker.
Willis was named among PFF’s Top 50 rookies for 2019.
While not the flashiest or sexiest safety back there—and perhaps lacking elite ball skills, Willis seems to be a fundamentally sound, smart, and instinctive safety who consistently makes the right football play for the Colts secondary—and is a sure tackler.
The initial year of polish could really serve him well heading into 2020.
With veteran free agent Clayton Geathers remaining unsigned for the Colts (and a longshot to return), Willis is the projected starter at safety next season alongside Hooker.
Rock Ya-Sin, Cornerback
Another 2nd-year cornerback on this list for the Colts is their top pick a year ago, Rock Ya-Sin, who was the 34th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft
Ya-Sin took his fair share of lumps early on—playing one of the league’s toughest positions, but really showed impressive growth and production down the stretch for the Colts in 2019.
The former Temple star finished with 62 tackles, an interception, and 5 passes defensed in 15 games (13 starts). He played the most snaps of any Colts defender last season and was thrown into the figurative fire from the get-go.
Per PFF, Ya-Sin was their 70th best rated cornerback last season with a +65.3 grade overall.
Ya-Sin has already shown the dedication and resolve to be better at his craft this offseason—and could show significant improvement next season, as the sky could be the limit.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see him as the Colts #1 cornerback on the outside next season, as he really showed some late season strides in 2019—and should only get better.