According to NFL Draft Experts Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN) and Dane Brugler (The Athletic), the Indianapolis Colts are projected to select Miami (Fla.) pass rusher Jaelan Phillips with the 21st overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft—in each’s final mock draft respectively:
21. Indianapolis Colts
Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami
It’s edge rusher or offensive tackle for the Colts. Phillips is a great fit.
21. Indianapolis Colts — Jaelan Phillips, edge, Miami (Fla.)
The Colts would love to trade back from this spot and add extra draft capital, especially with their need to address left tackle. But if they stay put, a high-ceiling pass rusher like Phillips could be in play.
The 6’5”, 254 pound redshirt junior pass rusher recorded 45 tackles (21 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, an interception, and 3 passes defensed for the Hurricanes defense in 10 starts during 2020—earning Second-Team All-American and Second-Team All-ACC honors.
At his recent Miami Pro Day, Phillips tested out incredibly well regarding his physical measurables—showcasing a nearly pristine 9.9 RAS [Relative Athletic Score] out of a maximum of 10.00:
Jaelan Phillips is a DE prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.9 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 14 out of 1345 DE from 1987 to 2021.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 29, 2021
Splits projected, times unofficial, updated with bench and corrected size.https://t.co/3YnkIqkMto #RAS pic.twitter.com/46v59d5MOH
Based on talent, ability, and potential alone, Phillips would be a likely Top 10 draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, he has major injury and durability issues (including a lengthy concussion history)—having previously retired collegiately, only to later return to the field.
Phillips features a wide arsenal of pass rushing moves and is widely considered the most polished pass rusher in this year’s draft class—with the chance to make an immediate impact for his NFL team:
he's the most gifted edge rusher in the draft— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 17, 2021
Phillips evaluation reminds me so much of Montez Sweat. Everyone knew he was a top 5 talent. There were other concerns that you needed to feel comfortable with. Some teams were ok with it and others weren’t. Sweat has turned out to be a HR for Washington. pic.twitter.com/gQ8gyHLeHS— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 29, 2021
Jaelan Phillips is the most advanced/well-rounded pass rushing prospect in this #2021NFLDraft class— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 20, 2021
Pass Rush Plan
High Side - Bend/Corner
Speed to Power
Awareness - Retraces/Flattens
Sub 3-Tech Alignments
Violent, Active Hands
Change of Direction
Back to back Jaelan Phillips pass rushes pic.twitter.com/2SrQNxmJgi— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) February 17, 2021
The critical issue is his underlying long-term health.
The Colts clearly have a need at edge rusher, as the team desperately could use an infusion of speed, explosiveness, athleticism, and bend to get after the quarterback.
The current deficiencies of their defensive end position has only been heightened by the loss(es) of last year’s starter Denico Autry to free agency—with veteran Justin Houston a possibility to soon join him in departing Indianapolis.
However, their pass rushing unit sorely lacks a bonafide ‘alpha dog’ off the edge that opposing defenses have to gameplan/double team for in the Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis standout mold (which to be fair, such pass rushers are incredibly hard to come by).
From purely a need standpoint, Phillips makes a great deal of sense for the Colts, especially with his ability to be a strong contributor off the edge from the get-go.
The problem is that the Colts’ medical staff would have to get incredibly comfortable with his medicals—and that may not even be possible when considering his concussions.
Having already been burned on former 2017 first round pick (now free agent) Malik Hooker’s ongoing durability concerns, Colts general manager Chris Ballard may not want to go down that road entirely. As they wisely say, ‘one of the best abilities is availability.’
Phillips shouldn’t be completely ruled out for the Colts, but there’s no doubt it would be a very risky proposition for Indianapolis to select him with the 21st overall slot—with significant ‘boom or bust’ potential.
Phillips could be a home run—‘swing for the fences’ selection, but with first round picks, an NFL team can’t really afford to whiff entirely—and strike out.
With the NFL Draft just hours away, we’ll know the answer shortly.