After years of watching rookies play big roles for the Colts, the 2021 class may be underwhelming. There are a variety of reasons but there is little doubt that it will take multiple seasons to fully evaluate this class, especially if it hopes to measure up against some of the bigger classes before it.
Reason 1 - Injuries
First-round defensive end Kwity Paye was the selection that was expected to play a big immediate role on defense. He was named the Week 1 starter in place of departed veteran Justin Houston but went down early in his third game with a hamstring injury and has yet to return.
Second-round defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo was selected despite being in the middle of a lengthy recovery from an injury the Colts knew would cost him a significant portion or potentially all of the 2021 season. It will take weeks before he sees the field and may not be until 2022 that he can be fairly evaluated due to limited practice time.
Sixth-round quarterback Sam Ehlinger suffered an injury in preseason that landed him on injured reserve. He and Jacob Eason battled it out to become the primary backup to Carson Wentz but neither were particularly impressive. Veteran Brett Hundley was active last week, in place of Eason, while Ehlinger is still recovering.
Reason 2 - Positional Development
Rookie tight ends are rarely super productive. The position is demanding as it requires development as blockers and as the physical advantages these players had in college are considerably reduced against NFL athletes. Fourth-round pick Kylen Granson has been no exception. He has played a minimal role that could be even smaller if not for an injury that has slowed Jack Doyle.
Backup quarterbacks rarely see the field, even when healthy. Additionally, outside of marquee rookie quarterbacks or catching lightning in a bottle, most rookies at the position require time to develop. Aaron Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer but learned behind Brett Favre as a rookie. Ehlinger’s 2021 impact was always going to be small.
Seventh-round receiver Mike Strachan got the attention of fans and media at training camp and in the preseason. He used his size as a weapon, showed better skill as a route-runner than many anticipated, and used his big hands to secure passes that helped to convert third downs.
He has seen his role in the offense shrink as the season has progressed, which isn’t particularly surprising given that he played at Charleston and has a rather large leap in competition to manage. This is another position that rarely plays a huge year-one role, and certainly not from this deep in the draft.
Finally, seventh-round offensive lineman Will Fries was joining a group that was widely considered one of the best in the NFL already. It was entirely unlikely that he would take an immediate role. While the line has suffered through early-season injuries, the greatest compliment to Fries is that he is on the active roster.
Reason 3 - Swing and miss?
Chris Ballard used his fifth-round pick on safety Shawn Davis. Not to be confused with veteran safety Sean Davis who Ballard added during the off-season. Neither Davis managed to stick around and while Shawn did spend time briefly on the practice squad, he has since moved on to Green Bay’s practice squad.
If it’s any consolation, there aren’t many players selected after Davis who stand out as major misses for the scouting department.