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5 Prospects to Watch for the Colts — Part 4

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sam LaPorta — Tight End — Iowa

LaPorta is a great receiving tight end who was used at a variety of positions (regular tight, outside, slot, H-Back). He’s shown the ability to run a lot of different routes and he runs them efficiently, especially for someone his size. He possesses good athleticism and I love his speed cuts as they’re smooth and quick. He is a natural hands catcher (although he did have 6.5% drop rate which is a little high) who knows how to use his body to shield the ball from defenders. He is not a great blocker, as he lacks great strength, takes poor angles and doesn’t engage properly with his hands. Nevertheless, he could project to be a good #1 tight end and a potential 80 catch, 1000 yard player in the future. What I think will refrain him from superstar top 5 TE status is his inability to consistently break tackles and be a high end blocker, but the ceiling is high. He should be looked at with the Colts’ 2nd round pick and if he slides a bit in the 2nd round, I’d love to see the Colts trade up to get him.

Zay Flowers — Wide Receiver — Boston College

Flowers is the best route runner in this year’s class. He is a fluid, shifty runner who locates the open field well. Flowers has great quickness and is a natural hands catcher. While undersized, he showed good ability in space, but goes down easy on first contact. I think he’ll be limited more to a slot type of role and his traits remind me of Jakobi Meyers or Amon-Ra St Brown. He would fit very well in that slot role for the Colts since they are in need of a good possession receiver. He may not be available when the Colts are selecting in the 2nd round, but if he’s there, they should seriously consider taking him.

Jordan Battle — Safety— Alabama

Battle is a versatile safety who has taken a lot of reps as a centerfielder, as an in-the-box player and in the slot. That type of versatility is being seen more and more in the top safeties around the league and we know Chris Ballard likes versatile, athletic players; Battle definitely checks off that box. I like his processing speed a lot and he’s quick to react to plays developing. I like the angles that he takes and his patience when reading the play; he’s not playing like a chicken with his head cut off. The Colts are relatively set at safety with Thomas and Blackmon, but the depth is a question, so if Battle is there when the Colts are making their 3rd pick, he could be worth a look, however the chances of him being there when that pick comes around are 50/50 at best.

Darnell Wright — Offensive Tackle — Tennessee

Darnell Wright is an experienced offensive tackle who has spent at least one season at left and right tackle. He has very good size and great athleticism, and is ranked as one of the best athletes in the entire offensive linemen class. In 2022, he allowed 0 sacks, 2 hits and 6 hurries on 507 pass blocking snaps. That means that once every 4 games he allows a hit and every game and a half he’ll allow a hurry, which is impressive since he plays in the SEC. He gets off the line quickly and shows great explosiveness. He is still a bit raw with his hands, and sometimes looks to body check instead of moving his feet, getting his hands inside and driving his opponents away/down as well as finish more. He also needs to work on reading and recognize stunts since he’s late to react to those. The upside is tremendous and I think he could be a very good choice for the Colts in the 2nd round (which is where he’s projected to go (late 1st, early 2nd). If he plays on the right side, the Colts can move Braden Smith inside or they can just stick Wright on the left side which he spent the 2021 season playing.

CJ Stroud — Quarterback — Ohio State

While it seemed that the Colts would not have a chance at getting CJ Stroud, recent reports would suggest that Stroud could slide a bit, based on some character concerns (most recent one being his “ghosting” of the Manning Passing Academy) as well as the strong likelihood that the Panthers will take Bryce Young.

There’s a lot to like about Stroud’s game; to me, the thing that stands out are his arm strength and his improvisational skills, especially the latter. When he gets outside the pocket, he keeps his eyes down the field, he avoids pressure and he makes strong, accurate throws. The fact that he has that “backyard quarterback” ability is a massive advantage in today’s NFL. The arm is sneaky strong; it may not get the headlines that Levis and Richardson get, but he’s accurate and can make every type of throw and that’s what matters. He has good athleticism, frame and a very smooth throwing motion. When he sets his feet and his upper body is well aligned, he is extremely accurate, maybe the most accurate in this entire class.

The questions with him have to do with his team. He has been gifted with an incredible, nearly historic receiving group, a very quarterback friendly offense with a less than stellar history of transitioning quarterbacks to the NFL and he also has a strong offensive line. The questions that will come from this are: can he mentally process NFL defenses? Can he go through 2 or 3 reads before looking to run or abandon the pocket? Can he trust his receivers (since the advantage that his had over opposing secondaries was significant)?

There aren’t many flaws with his game, but he’ll have to fix up his mechanics (mostly his lower body) to ensure that he’s always aimed properly towards his target and square (if needed). His PFF grade under pressure is quite low and while I wouldn’t say it’s bad, it definitely needs work. As mentioned above, he shows great ability on the run outside the pocket, but when he sits and throws under pressure in the pocket, he makes poor decisions and his accuracy trails off significantly.

If he’s there at 4, you have to take him. While the upside is probably with Richardson, Stroud is the safer choice and still has a very high ceiling. While Richardson has the size/athleticism and the bigger arm, Stroud has the accuracy and the improvisational skills that are needed in today’s NFL. On top of those two traits, he is also very athletic and has a strong arm and better mechanics than Richardson and Levis and arguably Young. While accuracy is not impossible to teach, it is difficult. Over the last 15-20 years, we’ve seen quarterbacks fail for three reasons:

  • Processing Speed/Decision Making
  • Lack of Accuracy
  • Poor character

While there are reports about Stroud’s character, I’m not in a position to comment on anything since I don’t know the full story on anything. In terms of accuracy, he has that box checked off. The processing speed and decision making will come down to his willingness to learn and the quality of the coaches around him. I would argue none of the quarterbacks in this year’s class have that box checked off. Taking a quarterback in the draft is always a roll of the dice; if the Colts feel confident in his personality and character, he needs to be taken if he’s available.