To the reader:
First, I’d like to start by saying this article is presented as a “conspiracy theory” because that’s how this series started. I noticed that general manager Chris Ballard didn’t lie in his press conferences. He usually gave winding vague answers but he never said one thing and then did another. Armed with this observation I set out to use those interviews to read between the lines and provide you with a conspiracy article for the ages. In the beginning that’s what this was: little more than a long conspiracy theory article. But something happened in the fourth year of doing this article, I started to notice real life patterns. And I now believe that I can make real predictions based off of those patterns, and frankly, anyone paying attention could do the same.
So while my methodology continues to evolve as the patterns unveil themselves some things never change. I’ve spent countless hours over the past few weeks doing research, listening to old pressers, and watching every relevant interview I could get my hands on. Taking notes on the new information we’ve been given, while going back over my notes from years past.
As I’m writing this letter to you this year, like every year, I have no idea what this article is going to say. I don’t have some grand idea I’m writing toward, all I know is that this has become my favorite article to write each and every year. It’s a lot of fun to see what I can gather from the information that has been put out and by the end of the day on Saturday, April 29th, we will all be able to sit back and marvel at how wrong I have most likely been.
So put on your tinfoil hat, pour your favorite drink and settle in to a comfortable chair for these next few thousand words, as I read through the lines, follow the money, listen to my gut and draw conclusions (that may or may not actually be there) all the way to exposing the Colts 2023 draft plans. This is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. This is the dimension of imagination. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
The History of this Series
For the past four years, I have believed that I could piece together the puzzle that was the Indianapolis Colts 2019, 2020, 2021 and the 2022 draft plans. In each of the past four years, I’ve invested a lot of time and effort sifting through the clues to find possible answers to the question: what will the Indianapolis Colts do in the draft?
A question that I probably won’t be able to answer as well as I did a year ago.
The 2022 draft was truly a banner year for this series. I was able to predict four of the first five picks, correctly naming Jelani Woods, Alec Pierce, Bernhard Raimann and Eric Johnson. I also listed UDFA signing Ryan Van Demark. I did name both Marcel Dabo and Dallis Flowers in the article as special teamers the Colts might be interested in- but I won’t give myself too much credit for those two as they failed to make my final list of 14 names (but I mean, still).
In 2021 I missed every single name, zero correct picks. 2020, I hit on Michael Pittman Jr.. And in 2019 I hit on Rock Ya-Sin and Ben Banogu. So from the start of this series I correctly predicted by year; two, one, zero and then four names.
What does it mean? I’m not sure but I believe there are three options. Option one: I have hit on and understand the process the Colts use to identify players they like, especially early in the draft. Option two: the Colts draft needs and moves pre-draft made it very obvious the positions they would need to fill and the players they would like were obvious. Or option three: I got incredibly lucky.
In reality it’s probably a combination of all three. Anyone who has analyzed how Chris Ballard and his staff operate will probably have a pretty good feel for what traits and measurables they gravitate toward. But it’s true that the team needs in 2022 were very obvious. They needed help at receiver. They needed help at tight end and they needed help at left tackle. They lost six defensive linemen and only added Yannick Ngakoue, their need at defensive line was obvious. And no matter what, I can’t deny that I got incredibly lucky.
Still, I’ve been bragging about my 2022 predictions on social media (follow me on Twitter) for an entire year now and as much as it pains me to have to move on from what was likely my pinnacle as a Colts draft pick predictor, it must be done.
The challenge of 2023 has been that of a new head coach and the fact that when you have a new head coach it’s almost never because the season before was great. So the team is in a different place than it was in the past. We can argue about the term “rebuilding” in a different article, but the fact is the team isn’t gearing up with hopes of contending this season. So I have to try to figure out what that means.
So can I do it again? Absolutely not. And we can all laugh when I inevitably fail to get a single name right. But I believe that last year my process hit on something more than just luck.
But you don’t have to believe me. Let me show you.
What Year Is It?
Looking at Chris Ballard’s history as general manager the Colts drafts have had themes, especially in the early rounds.
In 2017 they took defenders with six of their eight picks.
In 2018 with a new head coach they took six players on offense and five on defense.
In 2019 they took seven guys on defense and three on offense.
In 2020 they went with five offensive players and four defenders (three defenders coming in the sixth round).
In 2021 they went with three defenders and four offensive players (three offensive players coming in rounds six and seven).
In 2022 they took four players on offense and four players on defense (two defenders coming in the sixth and seventh round).
The numbers themselves might not stand out but aside from 2018 the Colts, under Chris Ballard, have alternated priority on offense and defense early in each draft. If that pattern continues, historically this will be a defensive year for at least the majority of the Colts first few picks. Last season they went offense with their first three picks so they should be in line to go heavy on defense early. They should be at the defensive point in the pattern, but 2018 happened. The last time they had a new head coach the allotment of picks, especially early in the draft, were used in mostly alternating fashion. The Colts biggest need is obvious, but after that should we expect the team to focus on defense? Is there going to be a repeat of 2018? Let’s figure it out.
The Indianapolis Colts will select a QB in the first round.
Feel free to call me Nostradamus for this one.
For the third year in a row the Colts most obvious need heading into the draft will be the first position they draft. I realize this isn’t some Earth shattering prediction, everyone in the football universe knows the Colts would like to draft a QB early, but still it’s a prediction and that’s the name of the game for this article.
For the '23 draft, we have many options. With the #4 pick, we could stay put and take a QB—-or trade up and take a QB—-OR trade down and MAYBE take a QB—-Or NOT— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) April 16, 2023
All options on the table, but we like our position and are very excited. Fire up! pic.twitter.com/OMRpt2KkGI
I mean, come on.
And, it’s time. Since the day Andrew Luck retired the Indianapolis Colts have been searching for their next quarterback. Going from multiple decades of high level quarterback play to searching for someone just above average, year in and year out has been exhausting as a fan. Part of that exhaustion, no doubt, is due to the fact that most of us know what it’s supposed to look like. Many of us remember the dominance of the Manning era and being on the cusp of the same during the abbreviated Luck era.
Finally, after multiple failed attempts with cast off quarterbacks and years of speculation, the time is upon us. Before you go to bed on Thursday, we will all know who will be the next quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts for the foreseeable future.
Chris Ballard recently said “I think some of you feel the pressure more than me” and I think he’s right. The weight of that statement, the significance of this pick, the consequences of getting it right against getting it wrong, it’s palpable. That tension has been seen in the comments sections here and on social media. In conversations in bars, living rooms and around water coolers. That pressure has been building.
On Thursday night that pressure will be lifted off of everyone with an interest in the team and it will be place squarely on the shoulders of a 20-23 year old young man.
That’s what the kid has signed up for. Ready or not.
I can’t remember a draft with fewer options and less of an idea of who the team will draft. The Colts brass must have the QB information locked up tight in a secret vault that will no doubt the the subject of the next Indiana Jones movie, because there have been absolutely no leaks. I was in the process of talking myself into Will Levis last week as more media members began to “hear” that Indy likes the Kentucky passer before Chris Ballard said this:
Ballard Pre-Draft Press Conference— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 24, 2023
On reports that they've targeted one guy pic.twitter.com/jdBpkwGmhy
Before I watched that clip, I read the quotes and it didn’t hit home. I thought “but he didn’t say no” to Levis. But in that clip he is undoubtedly saying “no” to the report that came out a week ago that said the Colts were all in on Will Levis.
That’s not to say they won’t take Levis, but rather they’re waiting to see what happens on draft night. The only thing that’s clear is that by the end of this process not even Chris Ballard is trying to pretend that they weren’t taking a quarterback in the top five.
The Colts will take a Cornerback early
On cornerback pic.twitter.com/bqymPwMNWM— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 24, 2023
They lost Stephon Gilmore and Brandon Facyson via trade and free agency, respectively. Gilmore played 93% of the teams defensive snaps and Facyson played nearly 40%. The only CB currently on the roster who played more snaps than Fascyon is Kenny Moore. Most Colts fans didn’t mind when Fascyon left but replacing those snaps, even if the team does like Isaiah Rodgers and Dallis Flowers, will be very important.
The Colts didn’t add anyone in free agency and when Ballard has taken this approach in the past at a position of need he has filled it via the draft:
The latest example of this took place along the offensive line in 2021. Ballard didn’t draft anyone along the offensive line until the seventh round but he added Sam Tevi and Julian Davenport before the draft and they brought in Chris Reed and Matt Pryor before the season. We know now that none of the names on that list were that inspiring but Tevi, Davenport and Reed all had plenty of experience starting and Pryor (it was believed) had upside. Ballard filled holes with experienced veterans outside of the draft, so he didn’t feel the need to add early on during the draft.
Then in 2022 the Colts let Chris Reed, Mark Glowinski and Eric Fisher leave. These three men accounted for 35 starts along the offensive line in 2021. They let both Tevi and Davenport leave as well. Then during free agency the Colts’ front office replaced them with Shon Coleman, Brandon Kemp, and Jordan Murray. Hardly an inspiring list of players to replace 35 starts as only Coleman had any experience as a starter and that was back in 2019. Then Ballard went out and grabbed tackle Bernhardt Raimann with their third pick.
So we’ve seen Ballard use this strategy before. It’s not surprising that he lost major contributors without replacing them via free agency, especially if Ballard holds true to the draft pattern that has been established. This is a defensive draft and while we know they’re not picking a cornerback in the first round, it’s a safe bet that their second or third pick of the draft they will take a cornerback.
It also wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple corners selected. While I’m not comfortable predicting it outright, my gut is telling me they might add someone on day three with some position flexibility in the secondary.
The Colts will draft offensive line help but it probably won’t be early
Chris Ballard drafting OL is a very safe bet.
Chris Ballard wants to win up front.
He’s drafted at least one offensive lineman every year he’s been in Indianapolis. So this isn’t as much about if he’s going to draft help on his front five but when will he do it?
From his end of season presser:
On the offensive line. pic.twitter.com/8XdKf6YUsh— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 3, 2023
“...down the stretch that wasn’t the reason we were losing... more games in this league are lost than won.” Which means he doesn’t believe the offensive line was the reason they were losing, which means Chris Ballard believes he can win with his current offensive line.
Don’t shoot the messenger here, it’s just literally what he’s saying.
Ballard has spoken highly of the offensive line over the second half of the 2022 season. He likes Bernhard Raimann and I think he likes Will Fries enough that he’s not desperate to replace him.
More from his combine presser:
On the OL pic.twitter.com/dHDuoTHV6Z— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 4, 2023
“We need our best players to play to their potential...” could be translated to “Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith need to play better, but we believe they’re good players.”
So if the Colts are happy (or at least not desperate) with their starting five, what will they look to add? Like he said, depth and competition. It was a pretty straightforward answer from the ol’ GM on this one.
On offensive line pic.twitter.com/hlkf2ULlZf— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 24, 2023
“Like to add. Like to add some depth” is a lot different than “we need to get better” and he mentions day three having value at offensive line, specifically. Which is interesting considering the Colts have three fifth round picks.
The Colts lost Matt Pryor and Dennis Kelly. Neither loss is franchise changing but that’s a lot of experience (depth) to lose. Further they lost them both and haven’t added another player via free agency. Year after year we’ve seen Ballard add veteran OL help after the draft before the season and I expect him to do the same this year. But I expect to see at least one offensive lineman taken. Day two wouldn’t completely shock me but a mid to late day three guard/tackle prospect is what I’m putting my money on given his history and this being a defensive year. There are two reasons I’m not willing to fully commit to the idea of them passing on offensive line help on day two. Reason one: they have 9 picks in this draft, which gives them the freedom to add help on offense early while still maintaining their overall focus on defense*. Reason two: if Ballard trades down with either of his day two picks, something I think is likely, the chances he goes OL on day two skyrocket.
*it’s possible I’ve focused too much on the alternating years pattern. That said I leaned on it a year ago and it has held up as true every year thus far outside of 2018.
The Colts currently have Nelson, Will Fries, Danny Pinter and Arlington Hambright listed at guard. At tackle outside of Raimann and Smith they have Carter O’Donnell and Jordan Murphy. At center they have Ryan Kelly, Wesley French and Dakota Shepley.
The only position they should feel somewhat comfortable with is center. At Kelly’s worst, his experience is highly valuable for a rookie QB. Even if he isn’t physically the same guy he used to be, his being back is likely a net positive. Pinter played well enough at the position when called upon and French is as solid of a 3rd center as you’ll find (mostly because you don’t see many 3rd string centers).
Adding someone to challenge Fries at right guard and a backup swing tackle should be priorities but it’s tough to know which veterans Ballard and his staff have their eye on. This year, more than any year since 2017, the Colts have multiple deep holes in their roster and a limited number of picks to fill those holes with. They’re going to add up front but if I were you I wouldn’t get too excited about it happening on day two.
The Colts will trade back at some point.
I know, another no-brainer as a prediction. Predicting what happens in the top five this year is, at the time of this writing, impossible. A few short weeks ago the general consensus was that the Panthers would take CJ Stroud, the Texans would take Bryce Young and the Cardinals would try to convince the Colts to move up to three to take Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. The Cards probably didn’t want to move below the fourth pick so they could draft the defender they want and they probably, really, didn’t want to let their division rival Seahawks have a chance to take their guy as the Hawks draft fifth. But as is tradition in the NFL, we’re living in a different world now and a few short weeks was a lifetime ago.
There’s so much unknown about the top of the draft but if things break the way some people expect them to, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Chris Ballard give up a couple of third round picks to move up a pick or two on Thursday night. If he does that then moving back at some point becomes important in recouping part of what he gave up to secure the QB he wanted. Even if he only recoups day three picks, he still has holes to fill on the roster and we’ve seen Ballard fill holes with plenty of overachieving day three picks in the past.
Even if he doesn’t move up, we know that Ballard feels there’s tremendous value on day two of the draft, so moving back a few spots in the second round, still being in good position to take a high value player and picking up extra draft capital is the most Chris Ballard move possible. Ballard likes them picks.
The Colts will draft a linebacker
This one, to me, feels like another no-brainer. The Colts haven’t drafted anyone at the position since Jordan Glasgow in the sixth round of 2020. Before that it was Bobby Okereke in the third round and E.J. Speed in the fifth round in 2019. And 2018 saw the selections of Shaq Leonard in the second and Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin both in the seventh round.
The crazy thing about this list of drafted players is that they’ve (save for Glasgow) all been good. The second worst player among them, Matthew Adams, started three games for the Chicago Bears last season. It’s unlikely a seventh round pick even makes a roster following their first training camp, never mind starting multiple games in his fifth NFL season.
But all good things must come to an end.
Bobby Okereke left in free agency to join the New York Giants. That alone would be enough for the Colts to consider taking a player to replace him but then, three-time first team all-pro Darius Shaquille Leonard gave us an update during his recent media availability, as told by Zak Keefer of the Athletic:
That’s not super encouraging. The Colts lost Okereke and though Zaire Franklin and EJ Speed played well without Leonard last season, I don’t think the Colts can go into the year with those two as their healthy starters with Jojo Domann, Cameron McGrone, Segun Olubi and Forrest Rhyne as depth players. Even if Leonard is ready to play- that’s not an inspiring list.
The Colts will look to add a linebacker sometime on day two or early on day three.
The Colts will draft a defensive lineman on day three
Death, taxes and Chris Ballard taking a player on both the offensive and defensive line in every single draft.
The Colts lost defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Ben Banogu. They also lost defensive tackle Byron Cowart. Chris Ballard went out and replaced them with defensive end Samson Ebukam and defensive tackle Taven Bryan. If we’re being honest, Ebukam and Bryan are probably a net gain over the losses the Colts suffered.
Denico Autry signed with the Colts in 2018. Many, myself included, have felt that letting Autry and his nearly 7.5 sacks per season leave was a mistake. Signing Ebukam was a good attempt at righting that mistake. Ebukam and Autry are vastly different players but both will have played their first down for the Colts at 28 years old and it feels very much like Ebukam and Autry landed in Indy at the same point in their careers. Ebukam’s best football is ahead of him.
The comparisons to the 2018 offseason as it relates to the defensive side of the football, stops there. In 2018 the Colts were installing an entire new system from the ground up and needed all hands on deck to make the thing work. The 2023 Colts are returning what was a very solid group with plenty of young, former highly drafted players. The two situations aren’t comparable at all.
In 2023 Ballard lost players that he then replaced with arguably better players in free agency. Had the same thing happened with most other position groups, I wouldn’t be up at 10:30 PM EST a week before the draft hashing out this article, expanding on thoughts I hastily typed out as an outline that I am now going back over to bring to life, talking about a group he already filled the holes for.
But that’s not the case.
Chris Ballard is going to draft a defensive lineman and given the other needs and the moves he’s already made to this group it makes the most sense for that defensive lineman to come on day three.
Mostly Unsubstantiated Theory
The Colts aren’t going to add a receiver before the fifth round if at all.
The Colts lost Parris Campbell but replaced him with Isaiah McKenzie. The Colts absolutely need additional help at receiver but my gut is telling me they’re not interested in adding pass catchers. Their options at QB are realistically two guys who many feel aren’t going to be ready to play right away and when they do play, they might struggle early with the speed and complexity of NFL defenses. I understand the argument that having better receivers will make this easier on a young QB but my gut is telling me the Ballard Colts might view this as a wasted year for a receiving prospect, especially when you need to make a decision on Michael Pittman Jr.’s second contract and wanting to further evaluate second year receiver Alec Pierce. I believe that they believe adding a rookie would only muddy that water.
Other Things We Know:
- Chris Ballard greatly values college all-star games, like the Senior Bowl.
- The Colts’ version of “Best Player Available” factors in team need:
Ballard on drafting for need vs PBA pic.twitter.com/WfD1i8hGAa— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 23, 2022
- According to Ballard character concerns aren’t always a deal-breaker. But we haven’t seen many guys with concerns brought in since he’s been in Indy.
- Ballard and his staff obviously value length, placing an emphasis on long-armed defenders.
- Most Colts draft picks have had high Relative Athletic Scores. The Colts probably don’t use RAS in their evaluation but it’s impossible to overlook the fact that Colts draft picks (with a few exceptions) have had a high RAS.
- They value high football character. Team captains are held in high regard.
- The Colts have “reached” on players like Darius Leonard and Julian Blackmon on day two of the draft. They don’t care when you think a player should be drafted and will reach to fill a hole if the draft is shallow at the position.
- Chris Ballard loves day three wide receivers having selected four such players since 2018.
- Ballard wants to take players with high-end traits:
Chris Ballard is going to bet on high end traits pic.twitter.com/SnYZzqhhR6— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) April 24, 2022
Casting a Wide Net
Like in each of the last two seasons, I am going to give you a position by position breakdown listing players at each position that, I believe, fit what the Colts will be looking for come draft day, before giving you my definitive list. I’m giving you both lists because frankly, it’s really hard to take 400+ players and whittle them down to the few most likely to fit what the Colts want and then predict who might, possibly, be available when the Colts make their selections. So I’m giving both lists, not as a way to increase my own ability to hit on a name, but it allows for additional analysis of each position that we already know the Colts want to add.
I won’t give myself credit for hitting on the players that don’t make THE List because I am giving you A LOT of names. That said, I’m not just throwing these names out, I have reason to believe each name on this mostly untrimmed list is there for a good reason.
Twice Chris Ballard has selected quarterbacks, both coming on the third day of the draft. Jacob Eason was taken in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was a big pocket passer with a cannon for an arm and if the reports are to be believed, rocks for brains. That’s probably harsh but I’m not super worried that Jacob Eason will be hurt by what I have to say. In any case for his feelings to be hurt he would first have to learn to read. And that would take decades.
The following year, Sam Ehlinger was drafted in the sixth round. Ehlinger was a smaller, more mobile quarterback with fewer high level traits and far more in the way of football IQ and leadership ability.
The three realistic options the Colts have in front of them don’t compare, in any way, to either of those situations. So frankly they’re of no help whatsoever.
What we do have to lean on is what we know about Chris Ballard and his staff. Like you saw above, they live and die on the idea that they have to get the pick right and bet on “high level, high level traits”. It has long been rumored that Ballard loved Justin Fields, a traitsy, athletic quarterback. Ed Dodds was seen scouting Trey Lance, a traitsy, athletic quarterback, while he was at North Dakota State. But for all of their supposed interest in these traitsy, athletic quarterbacks they haven’t exactly made the move to go that route, at all. It might be an unfair characterization but one could make a pretty compelling case that the Ballard Colts have played it safe at quarterback far more often than they’ve bet on any high level traits. But, once again, this time it’s different.
But how is it different and how do they view these quarterbacks?
The only person who can answer that question will be the one who makes the final call on Thursday night.
The Names to Know
Anthony Richardson, Florida- RAS 10.0 there has never been a more athletic quarterback to test at the NFL Combine than Anthony Richardson. People standing 6’4” weighing 244 pounds aren’t supposed to run the 40 yard dash in 4.44 seconds. At just 20 years old and only one year of starting at the college level, even Richardson’s most ardent supporters would tell you he has some pretty rough edges that need to be smoothed. His footwork and as a result his accuracy struggled in his lone starting season. But those same supporters would tell you that with improved coaching and more experience he will improve. With possibly the strongest arm in the draft to go along with his unprecedented athleticism, Anthony Richardson is a walking, talking, trait. Because frankly, the production he had at Florida doesn’t match. He threw a lot of beautiful deep balls that would fit in perfectly in Shane Steichen’s offense, but he completed just 54% of his passes. So the traits are all there, but the production, for one reason or another, wasn’t. In my opinion, if Chris Ballard is to be believed about what he says he looks for in a prospect, if Anthony Richardson is on the board when the Colts pick, Anthony Richardson will be the guy. But if Ballard decides that he needs more production at the cost of a trait or two, there are other, possibly better options that might be available.
CJ Stroud Ohio State- RAS DNP for weeks, maybe months we all believed Stroud was going to be the first overall pick to the Carolina Panthers. But as I’ve said, we’re living in a different world now. A world in which many people have raised questions about CJ Stroud. They’ve questioned him mentally and as a person and as a leader. They’ve questioned a lot of things in ways that sure seem like someone or a collection of people are trying to harm his public image. Why would someone do this? I’m honestly not sure but it seems as if that’s exactly what has happened. Ultimately, I can’t comment on any of those things, all I can really do is turn on the tape and watch the film. And on film C.J. Stroud is the “safest” quarterback in the draft. He’s deadly accurate with the ball, he can make every throw, he rarely made bad decisions and though it was a fairly rare occurrence, against Georgia, he showed that he could create using his athleticism. The only questions I have about Stroud the football player is how high is his ceiling? Because strictly, on the field as a thrower of the football, his floor appears to be really high. That’s not to say that he won’t or can’t improve but he is at the other end of the spectrum from Richardson. There’s a lot of polish to his game and it seems fair to wonder how much there’s left to buff out.
Will Levis Kentucky- RAS DNP a transfer from Penn State, Levis was a two year starter at Kentucky where he displayed many of the same traits that have people drooling over Anthony Richardson. Levis is a very good athlete in his own right. He’s not Richardson, but yet no one is in that regard. On the other hand quarterbacks, even the really athletic ones, make their money in the NFL by passing the football. Something Levis did far better than Richardson. His 2021 tape showed a much cleaner prospect than his 2022 tape and we found out that the reason for that was likely due to his playing through multiple injuries. Kentucky’s offense and the talent around him, did him no favors either. When watching Levis’ tape I have rarely been as confused by offensive play design, blocking assignments and a seeming lack of cohesion than I was when watching the Kentucky offense. Further, Levis is the only name on this list that didn’t have another first round talent on offense with him. Despite that Levis has a massive arm (also maybe the biggest in the class) and at times displayed good placement and playmaking ability. His detractors will point out that he will be a 24 year old rookie who’s accuracy is inconsistent and rarely worked through more than two reads while displaying poor pocket awareness. With that said, Levis still has plenty of great traits to go along with solid production in the SEC. He is a good prospect that, if placed in the right situation (like any prospect) can thrive and play winning football for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee- RAS DNP had Hendon Hooker not torn his ACL late last season this entire conversation is likely different. Due to the nature of the offense he ran at Tennessee, much of what Hooker is as a player is a projection- an educated guess. But Hooker has a lot of tools in his bag and everyone who has met him comes away raving about the person and leader he is. The fact of the matter is he may not play in 2023, which puts him playing his first NFL snap at 26 years old. By the end of his first NFL season he will be 27 years old. For this reason, Hendon Hooker is not an option for the Colts with their first pick.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Colts will add a corner in this years draft. So naturally I dug into the position looking for players who fit what the Colts are looking for at the position under Gus Bradley and Chris Ballard in general. Ballard always likes his defenders with long arms. He likes his corners to be on the taller end of the spectrum but he has been willing to overlook this given special circumstances. So when I started digging into the position... whew... before I did, I felt super confident I was going to be able to hit on a cornerback on this years list. After looking, there are so many players who are good fits for what the Colts want to do, who figure to be available when the Colts pick on day two. The shear depth of this year’s CB class with measurables that fit, have made this list very difficult to navigate. So with that in mind, these are the guys I feel are most likely to be the pick, but just know there are maybe six more players who could have a horseshoe on their helmet after Friday and it wouldn’t be surprising at all.
The Names to Know
Julius Brents, Kansas State- 9.99 RAS standing over 6’2” tall with 34” arms Brents coupled with his otherworldly testing numbers with a great showing during the week of the Senior Bowl, Brents without question, has Chris Ballard’s attention. If he’s available at 35 overall the Colts might forego a trade back and get him on the first flight to Indianapolis. Last season a couple weeks before the draft I sent my brother (an avid gambler) a text and I asked him if there was anyone who would give me odds on Jelani Woods getting drafted to the Colts. My brother responded “who?” I explained that he could book the tight end to Indy in the middle rounds. He told me the odds would be too high that no book would make the bet. This year Julius Brents is that prospect for me. I believe the biggest barrier to him being an Indianapolis Colt will be his getting scooped from in front of the Colts because it’s such an obvious pick. Otherwise, I believe he’ll be in Indy.
Darius Rush, South Carolina- 9.81 RAS if Indy misses out on Brents and Rush is on the board they could look to move back a few picks and I believe they would happily take the 6’2” corner with 33.375” arms and be perfectly happy. Rush’s week at the Senior Bowl was outstanding and once again the biggest issue could be that Rush is gone before the Colts have a chance to take him. I don’t believe that will happen, but there aren’t many guys like Darius Rush walking around. So it’s impossible to say that he will definitely be available. That said most expect him to available and would fit the Ballard-Colts mold on the outside of the defense.
Tyrique Stevenson Miami- 8.94 RAS Stevenson excels in press coverage, something the Colts need to be good at to make Gus Bradley’s system run as well as it can. At just 6’0” tall and only 32.325” arms, the Miami Corner is more than big and long enough to fit Ballard’s mold but he’s the smallest name on this list, so far- which is crazy. Stevenson isn’t someone that I would be overly excited about given the other names on this list, but he is a good prospect that the Colts would be glad to have develop on the outside if they miss out on Rush and Brents.
If the Colts double up and go with a corner on day three of the draft as well, these are the names you should watch for:
Honorable Mention: There are so many names that could go here but I’ll go with Kelee Ringo out of Georgia. Ringo’s 8.30 RAS is high when you look at former Colts cornerback and second round pick Rock Ya-Sin’s 6.18. But the Colts have trended in recent years towards that 9.0 RAS threshold for most positions. So Ringo would be on the lower end given what we’ve seen recently. But the thing that dropped him off my list are his 31.25” arms. I’m not sure how many teams would pass on Ringo to take the likes of Julius Brents or Darius Rush, but I feel wholeheartedly the Colts are one of those teams.
The abundance that can be found at cornerback with expected day two players who fit the Colts is nowhere to be seen when looking at the linebackers. It might be enough of a gap between the two positions that the Colts might decide to take a linebacker before a cornerback, simply because they may feel that they won’t have another chance to draft someone who can contribute. At some point the number of available linebackers who can actually play in the league are going to run out and once it does there should still be many decent cornerbacks on the board. So the question becomes, do the Colts take a linebacker in the second round and push their need at cornerback to the back end of day two? Chris Ballard has said multiple times they reached on Braden Smith and Shaq Leonard in 2018 because they didn’t have anyone else on their board who could start at those positions of need. So will that be the case this year? I don’t know the answer to that. If Ballard is able to trade back in the second round for an extra day two pick, I would feel a lot better predicting a second round linebacker, but just know it might happen either way due to the circumstances of this draft.
Another thing making this evaluation slightly more difficult is the fact that the Colts seem to have started leaning more and more heavily on RAS (or their version of) in recent years and they drafted most of their players before this reliance. On the other hand whatever they were doing was working so I doubt they will be inclined to change course if a guy’s score is “low” by other positional standards. Shaq Leonard’s RAS was very low, but his workouts were incomplete due to an injury. Bobby Okereke’s RAS was just 8.4 while we’ve seen recent drafted Colts at or around a 9.0 and above. The exceptions to this have been the guys taken on day three of the draft. Zaire Franklin’s 9.64 is the highest of the bunch. With that said we don’t have testing data for EJ Speed, but given what we see on the field it’s safe to assume his RAS would have been quite high. Matthew Adams’ 7.2 is low but as I said earlier, he was a fantastic seventh round pick. So even with day three picks, good scouting more so than high athletic testing has ruled the day for the Colts and I don’t see that changing in 2023.
The Names to Know
Dorian Williams, Tulane- 8.81 RAS at 6’1” 228, Williams is undersized but his 33.75” arms help to make up some of that difference. If I told you a story about an undersized, highly productive, small school, team captain, linebacker with long arms and a penchant for getting to the quarterback, intercepting passes and forcing fumbles, you would immediately assume I was talking about Shaquille Leonard, but I’m not. Williams isn’t Leonard, no one is. But he fits, almost perfectly who the Colts have drafted at the position in the past.
Daiyan Henly, Washington State 8.07 RAS if there’s anything Chris Ballard loves it’s a guy who’s switched positions, a guy who’s transferred and a guy who’s returned kicks and Henly has done all three. Henley is 6’1” 225 pounds with 33” arms. He started his college career at Nevada as a wide receiver before moving to linebacker and eventually transferring to Washington State. He’s a very good athlete with noted playmaking ability.
Trenton Simpson, Clemson- 9.84 RAS Simpson has the kind of pure athleticism that the Colts prioritize at the position. His size, 6’2” 235 pounds with 32.325” arms fits in with who the Colts typically draft. Given his tremendous athleticism and high ceiling combined with the overall shallow pool of linebackers in this years class there’s a very real chance Simpson is off the board before the Colts want to invest in a linebacker. Otherwise he is a great candidate to replace Bobby Okereke.
Honorable Mention: Owen Pappoe, Auburn- 9.34 RAS Pappoe ran a phenomenal 4.39 second 40 yard dash, while also pumping out 29 reps of 225 on the bench. His athleticism shows up on tape and he has a good chance to be a better pro than college player. With that said he failed to make my list due to his 31.75” arms. While no one would call his arms short, for the Chris Ballard Colts, 31.75” linebacker arms, would be fairly short. With that said both Zaire Franklin and Matthew Adams have sub 32” arms, measuring in at 31.75” and 31.25” respectfully. It’s important to note that both Franklin and Adams were taken in the seventh round. So while it isn’t impossible, given the lack of depth at the position Pappoe should be off the board well before Ballard is drafting a guy with 31.75” arms and a lack of instincts for the position. And because I have said this, Ballard will take him on day two.
If the Colts wait until day three to add to their offensive line, the way I expect them to, in a way it gets easier to predict who the Colts will be interested in. Throwing out Zach Banner (because he ruins everything) the draftees you have on day three under Chris Ballard include: 2019 7th round Jackson Barton and Javon Patterson, 2020 5th round Dany Pinter and 2021 7th round Will Fries. What do these men have in common? Javon Patterson (7.22), Jackson Barton (8.3 RAS), Will Fries (9.13 RAS) and Danny Pinter (9.59 RAS)? It’s a high RAS. Barton and Patterson’s RAS are low for the group but 8.3 is still very good. I should also point out that the RAS train hadn’t picked up that much steam for the Colts drafts in 2019. In 2022 we saw the team take prospects who only had high RAS grades. So assuming this trend continues in Indy, in one way it has gotten easier.
In another way it does make it a little tougher. Looking at the offensive line class’ RAS scores is always interesting. More than maybe any other position year in and year out there are tons of players who either won’t get drafted or will be late day three picks that end up with elite scores. This year was no different. Fortunately for me, the Colts love a day three offensive lineman with a high RAS. Unfortunately for me there are enough candidates it made narrowing down the list pretty difficult to do. So with that in mind and considering “offensive line” actually consists of three different positions and guessing which 6th round prospect the Colts would play where seems like a bad use of my time, so I’ve listed a few more names for consideration than I normally do.
The Names to Know
Henry Byrd, Princeton- 9.1 RAS my favorite part of Henry Byrd is that if you move him to guard his RAS jumps to 9.8. Couple that with his Ivy League education (he’s probably not dumb) and a unanimous all-conference selection in 2022 and you have a really interesting day three pick. Last season the Colts took Rodney Thomas II out of Yale in the seventh round and while I don’t know what Byrd would have to do to match Thomas’ production (four interceptions) it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Ballard tries to catch that lightening in a bottle again.
Jon Gaines II, UCLA- 9.63 RAS Gaines has experience starting at tackle, guard and center and his athleticism makes him the perfect developmental, depth player that Chris Ballard seems intent on finding. Gaines would be a great fit.
Earl Bostick Jr., Kansas- 9.41 RAS a former tight end, Bostick Jr. is a good pass blocker who will need some time to add strength and work on becoming a better run blocker. Bostick Jr. figures to be available late on day three, which is precisely when I expect the Colts to be looking for help along the offensive line. Bostick Jr. Could provide the kind of depth Chris Ballard likes, a young, elite athlete who needs some time to refine his skillset as a blocker.
Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion- 9.48 RAS as a tackle 9.84 RAS as a guard. Saldiveri’s position flexibility lands him on my list, despite the fact that he’s probably going to be drafted too early for the Colts to consider.
Joey Fisher, Shepherd- 9.66 RAS Fisher put up 40 reps of 225 on the bench press to go along with a 4.97 second 40 yard dash and elite explosion scores. On the field Fisher is a nasty finisher of blocks that will need some time to develop at the next level. He figures to move inside to guard after starting all three years at Shepherd, at right tackle.
Honorable Mention: The other ten guys I could have chosen that Ballard will probably draft instead of any of the solid candidates I’ve given you here.
Chris Ballard likes his defenders long and athletic and his interior defensive linemen are no exception. He has now drafted three dedicated interior defensive linemen in Indy, Grover Stewart, Robert Windsor and Eric Johnson II. Both Stewart and Windsor have 33+ inch arms, while Johnson boasted 34.25” arms. When considering their RAS: Stewart’s 7.78, Windsor’s 8.67 and Johnson’s 9.39 show that all have been very good athletes for the position.
Other players drafted up font include Dayo Odeyingbo (35.25” arms) who was unable to participate in any pre-draft workouts due to a torn Achilles. And Tyquan Lewis with nearly 34” arms and a 9.54 RAS. Both men will move around the line, sometimes out wide, sometimes on the interior. One last point to make is that it seems that Chris Ballard doesn’t mind sub-300-pound defensive linemen as Grover Stewart is the only draftee over that mark.
The Names to Know
Moro Ojomo, Texas- 9.16 RAS a versatile defensive lineman, a bit undersized at 6’3” 292 pounds but his 34.5” arms are enough to get Chris Ballard’s attention. The fact that Ojomo cut his teeth as a football player in the Houston metro, not far from where Ballard grew up, probably doesn’t hurt either. Ojomo’s physical gifts make him a good fit for a developmental prospect on day three, with the kind of experience that could allow him to work himself into the rotation sooner than later.
Zach Harrison, Ohio State- 8.71 RAS his RAS is a little lower than the Colts would like, but his arms... his arms are 36.25” long. He’s 6’5” 274 pounds and needs to add some strength. I could see him adding five to 10 pounds in Indy and earning himself time in the rotation at end on early downs. Chris Ballard would love to have Harrison on day three.
Zacch Pickens, South Carolina- 9.23 RAS Pickens should be LONG gone by the time the Colts start looking for defensive line help but I can foresee several scenarios which might have them looking to other positions earlier than they had planned (like what happens if they trade back into the 40’s from 35, pick a corner and with their next pick they’re out of luck at linebacker?). With this in mind Pickens fits perfectly with what the Colts want to do. His physical gifts combined with his 34.375” arms would be able to help out on the Colts defensive line immediately. His fit, despite what I believe will happen during the draft, makes him impossible to pass up.
Honorable Mention: Tavius Robinson, Mississippi- RAS 8.77 Robinson has almost everything the Colts look for along their defensive line and he is expected to be available on day three when I expect the Colts to go with someone on the defensive line. Ultimately there were far too many good names in this years defensive line class to list them all and Robinson just didn’t make the cut.
This is a fun section. Pretty much anything goes down here, the only thing I’m looking for are late-round prospects with elite athletic testing, or unique traits and abilities. Not much else matters.
The Names to Know
Daniel Scott, Safety, California- 9.94 RAS if the Colts draft someone specifically to play special teams it will be Daniel Scott. A former team captain and was named Cal’s Most Valuable Special Teamer as a Sophomore, he went on to have a productive career starting in the secondary. Elite athletes with his resume are fairly rare and the work he will do on Sunday’s will be rarely celebrated but Daniel Scott will play in the NFL for a long time because of it.
Isaiah Bolden, Cornerback, Jackson State- 9.44 RAS Bolden is a 6’2” cornerback who boasts 32.75” arms. He needs more time to work his technique and grow at the next level but showed promise as a talented kick returner. I don’t know if he’ll be drafted but he could end up being this year’s version of Dallis Flowers.
Anfernee Orji, Linebacker, Vanderbilt- 9.23 RAS three year starter and team captain at Vandy. I wrestled with putting him in the linebacker section because I think he has a lot of the traits the Colts look for in their linebackers, but he ultimately hasn’t developed enough as a linebacker to play in the NFL right away and the Colts might need their next linebacker to do so. With that said, if Indy views him as a special teamer with long term upside, the way they have with linebackers before him, Orji is a great candidate.
Deuce Vaughn, Running Back, Kansas State- 4.32 RAS remember when I said this was the fun section? Here’s the fun! Full disclosure: I watch more K-State football than any other college team. Calling me a K-State fan wouldn’t be accurate but I tend to watch a lot of their games due to where I live and having friends who I would call fans. I noticed Deuce Vaughn a couple years back. I watched a few carries and asked my buddy when their back was draft eligible. I think he thought I was crazy because I didn’t realize at the time he was 5’5” tall and at the time probably weighed a lot less than the 179 he weighed in at, at the combine. But here we are years later and Deuce is a legit NFL prospect. His 4.32 RAS is rough, but I’ve created a workaround. At 5’5” 179 his BMI is 29.8. So I wondered what would happen if I stretched him out and maintained his BMI. Turns out 6’ 220 pound Deuce Vaughn has an RAS of 7.46. Still not elite but much better. Now that you’ve gotten through all of that, I did hear a nugget from K-State’s pro day that new Colts Special Teams Coordinator Brian Mason was in attendance and impressed by Vaughn’s willingness to field punts in the 50 mile per hour wind that day despite never doing so in college. Deuce probably won’t be a Colt, but he’s a lot of fun to watch and I wanted to pass along this nugget, so here we are.
Going into the draft the Indianapolis Colts have nine picks. As is tradition, I will give myself 18 chances, two per pick, to hit on a name. I’m not listing them in any order, I think that the 18th name on this list is just as likely to be drafted by the Colts as the first.
Without further ado, here it is, the list of 18 names that this article will forever be judged on:
- Julius Brents CB Kansas State
- Daiyan Henly LB Washington State
- CJ Stroud QB Ohio State
- Anthony Richardson QB Florida
- Darius Rush CB South Carolina
- Moro Ojomo DL Texas
- Dorian Williams LB Tulane
- Jon Gaines II OL UCLA
- Henry Byrd OL Princeton
- Zach Harrison DL Ohio State
- Anfernee Orji LB Vanderbilt
- Cory Trice Jr. CB Purdue
- Daniel Scott S California
- Will Levis QB Kentucky
- Nick Saldiveri OL Old Dominion
- Zacch Pickens DL South Carolina
- Tyrique Stevenson CB Miami
- Mekhi Garner CB LSU
Disclaimer: In case you miss the entire point of this article, this isn’t my wish list for the Colts. These aren’t my “top 18” prospects, these are the 18 prospects that fit what the Colts typically look for, at positions I believe the team has indirectly told us they’re interested in drafting, who might be available for them to take at different points in the draft. The name of the game, the entire purpose of this article is to hit on a name.
Final Thoughts on THE List
There are a lot of names on that list. It feels like most of the names I wrote about above ended up making THE List and I understand that because it’s as big as it is, it will draw criticism. I can live with that. It isn’t my fault the Colts have nine picks and the two-names-per-pick format has been a solid middle ground between impossibly difficult to hit on a name and literally impossible to miss. It’s true, I could have changed it given the circumstances but I didn’t for three reasons:
- I didn’t want to.
- 10 of the names on THE List are expected to go on day three.
- It’s deeper magic from before the dawn of time*
There aren’t many people dedicating thousands of words to attempting to predict who the Indianapolis Colts might select with their first seventh round pick, but here I am telling you to watch out for the Daniel Scott’s and Henry Byrd’s of the world. So I’m going to take all 18 chances and cross my fingers.
I’m sure someone will squeal how easy it is to make a prediction when you’re “guessing half the draft” and to that I say: Fine, do it yourself and show me how easy it is. But you need to hurry, the draft starts tomorrow.
Am I cheating by listing all three quarterbacks who are almost certainly going in the first round and who almost certainly aren’t getting picked first overall? Maybe. But again, this list is all about hitting on names. If I only had 10 darts to throw I would have thrown three of them at the top QB’s with a chance to go to Indy.
*sorry I’ve been reading the The Chronicles of Narnia to my kid and this seemed like a more fun way to say “because it’s been that way” and after 10k words I needed it.
A Final, Final Note on the Quarterbacks
I haven’t kept it a secret that I am a big fan of Anthony Richardson.
C.J. Stroud’s tape is mostly very good to great but both he and Will Levis rub me the wrong way. I realize that isn’t analysis but every time I’ve seen either of them on camera something has just been off about them. Stroud seems to force a personality when he knows the camera is on him, it’s seemed unnatural, but again that’s just a gut feeling. But even still Stroud experienced what looks like a coordinated effort to tank his draft stock, if nothing else in the eyes of the public. Most of the rumors that have been floated about Stroud have only worked to confirm what I already believed about him: there is something off with who C.J. Stroud the person is.
To a lesser extent Levis experienced something similar weeks ago when he posted cringy shirtless pictures on social media. At this point everyone has seen the videos of Levis putting mayonnaise in his coffee and eating an unpeeled banana. And most people’s first reaction to both things is to be repusled. Some version of “I can’t believe this guy likes his coffee that way” is said and there’s always another person explaining that he doesn’t actually like his coffee that way, he’s just doing it as a joke for social media.
That’s not better. In fact, it’s way worse. Levis will be a 24 year old rookie. As soon as his name is called he will be guaranteed millions of dollars and he will become the face of a franchise that plays in the most popular professional sports league in North America.
This guy is about to become rich and very famous and he’s posting videos of himself eating and drinking gross things on the internet for... attention.
You sure that’s the guy you want leading your football team? Because I don’t.
This isn’t a hit piece on Stroud or Levis. Those are just the reasons I don’t believe in those two quarterbacks. You have your reasons for who you do and don’t believe in, in this class as well and that’s fine.
The reason I’m writing all of this is to point out that whoever the Colts choose to be their starting quarterback of the future, I will ultimately be happy with the pick. Even if I wished for a different player. Ultimately we can all be happy that no matter what, as a fanbase we’re off the QB carousel for at worst a few years and at best a decade plus.
So enjoy the draft and try to keep some perspective when the Colts take Anthony Richardson.