According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts earned a ‘B grade’ from the longtime NFL Draft analyst for their 2023 NFL Draft Class—filling a number of needs in the process:
Indianapolis Colts: B
Top needs entering the draft: QB, CB, S, G/C, WR
We have to give Indianapolis credit for not panicking and trading up for a quarterback. General manager Chris Ballard stuck at No. 4 and still got Anthony Richardson. While I would have gone with Will Levis over Richardson, there’s no denying the talent and traits the former Florida passer possesses. At 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, there aren’t many quarterbacks in the history of the league with Richardson’s size, speed and arm strength. The problem? He really struggled with accuracy in his lone season as the full-time starter, and he needs a lot of improvement on his footwork and mechanics. The upside is tremendous — and the Colts have a solid offense around him to help — but I’d be worried to throw him into the fire in Week 1, as the team seems eager to do.
Josh Downs (79) is a quarterback-friendly slot receiver, and he is a great addition to help Richardson. I mentioned after Day 2 I would have preferred other corners over Julius Brents (44), but he does fill an immediate hole. The Colts must think he can start as a rookie.
On Day 3, the Colts hit on some nice prospects. Offensive tackle Blake Freeland (106) has excellent traits in a 6-foot-8 frame, while defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore (110) is a top-50 prospect on my board. I thought Adebawore had a chance to go in the top 40 picks. I actually have Darius Rush (138) as my 11th-best corner in the class, one spot below Brents. At 6-foot-2, he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine. I picked tight end Will Mallory (162) as one of my combine risers in March. Jake Witt (236) is an intriguing dart throw in Round 7; he is my 17th-ranked offensive tackle.
Look, new Indy coach Shane Steichen worked magic with Jalen Hurts when he was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, but he has a long ways to go to build up Richardson’s passing mechanics. I love what Ballard did on Day 3 — and grabbing Downs in the third round — but this class will be defined by Richardson and how the quarterback’s career goes.
Obviously, while Kiper Jr. appreciates Anthony Richardson’s long-term upside, who was picked #4 overall by Indianapolis, it appears he believes he’s a fit further away from immediately contributing than the Colts do as a rookie.
Still, his preference of Kentucky quarterback Will Levis over Richardson is interesting to say the least when Levis didn’t come off the board until the 33rd pick in the second round, indicating that many other NFL evaluators felt the same way as the Colts.
Richardson’s accuracy has been heavily critiqued, but his biggest issue has been surprisingly with short yardage throws, which may be improved with better footwork—or at least that’s the hope of the Colts offensive coaching staff going forward.
The Colts ended up with some long, athletic cornerbacks in Julius Brents (Pick #44), Darius Rush (#141), and even Jaylon Jones (#221). Brents looks like the favorite to start on the outside opposite of Isaiah Rodgers, while Rush could play an immediate rotational role. It’s a young secondary, but with it’s upgraded athleticism, it will be fun watching the kids play.
Justin Downs (#79) just seems like a gamer. What he lacks in size (5’9”, 171 pounds), it seems like he makes up with the ability to separate and make contested catches, seemingly catching everything thrown his way. He should be the type of elusive separating slot receiver that the Colts simply haven’t had in a long time. He should be a welcome safety valve for Richardson early on, and if Colts wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne really likes him, hey, so do I!
Otherwise, I like the athleticism of both BYU offensive tackle Blake Freeland (#106) and Northwestern defensive tackle Adetomiwa Adebawore (#110) in the mid-rounds. Freeland could be the team’s top swing-tackle immediately, while Adebawore looks like a rotational 3T who could see the field on passing downs in certain sub-packages as a pass rushing specialist.
Cal safety Daniel Scott (#158) should be able to immediately contribute on special teams and be a core player there but also providing positional depth, while Miami tight end Will Mallory (#162) has fun long speed and can split the seam offensively. The Colts tight end room is crowded right now, and it’ll be intriguing to see if Mallory can carve out an initial role as a rookie.
Northwestern running back Evan Hull (#176) should see the field as a third down running back, while Wagner edge Titus Leo (#211) and Northern Michigan offensive tackle Jake Witt (#236) seem like traitsy, developmental projects, who could contribute in time. Both picks are the type of Hail Mary throws you take late in the draft, hoping for something more down the road.
Lastly, congratulations to Kiper Jr. for forty years of NFL Draft coverage, that’s impressive. He may not always be right, but there’s something to be said for hard work and longevity.