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How the Indianapolis Colts rookies could make an early impact

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Indianapolis Colts and Chris Ballard have been praised for their performance throughout the weekend. Measuring value with need, the Colts walked away with the most athletic draft class and potential stars at their position. Let’s take a look at how each rookie could make an impact on the team in their first season.

Anthony Richardson

With the fourth overall pick, the Colts selected Anthony Richardson with the hopes that he can develop into a long-term starter and potential star at the position. A lot of draft pundits believe Richardson would be best served sitting for a year behind Gardner Minshew and practically redshirting his rookie season.

But if you read the tea leaves and listen to Shane Steichen, Ballard, and Jim Irsay, it sounds like Richardson may be the one taking the first snaps of the season. Richardson is more refined than the average fan believes, with his ability to maneuver the pocket and look off the deep safety.

Steichen will be able to bring Richardson along slowly by implementing more complex concepts as time goes on. While the offense may be a bit vanilla to start, letting Richardson learn by playing the game is by far the most valuable thing for him.

Julius Brents

Another obvious one, Brents has the tools and athleticism to be a day one contributor at cornerback and is likely the day one starter.

With 34-inch arms, a 41.5” vertical, and a 6’ 3” frame, Gus Bradley will have a field day coaching up Brents in his scheme. Brents has the ability to lock down one side of the field and will be perfect in Bradley’s cover three-heavy scheme.

Brents will be a perfect addition next to Isaiah Rodgers who will likely kick inside to nickel.

Josh Downs

The Colts needed to change up their typical receiver build, and they certainly did by drafting Downs. Listed at 5’ 8.5”, 171 pounds, Downs will certainly be primarily played in the slot.

Downs is a shifty receiver with the ability to separate in an instant, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win you contested catch situations. Per PFF, Downs caught 13 of 18 contested catch opportunities, or 72.3%, the 11th highest contested catch rate in the country (minimum 50 targets).

With the Isaiah McKenzie signing, Downs will likely be a rotational piece in the slot, but his snaps should increase with each passing week. Having Downs as a consistent separator in the short-to-intermediate part of the field is key to Richardson’s early success.

Blake Freeland

One of the craziest athletes in the entire draft, Freeland was the second-fastest offensive lineman at the combine, running a 4.98 40-yard dash, all at 6’ 8”, 302 pounds. Very much in the Bernhard Raimann mold, Freeland will have a chance to compete at both tackle spots and possibly move inside to guard depending on his development.

But early on, the goal will be to refine Freeland’s skills, add a few pounds to his frame, and let him learn before putting him in the starting lineup. Odds are he’s the swing tackle to begin and could be the starting left or right tackle a year or two down the road.

Adetomiwa Adebawore

Not many humans could run a 4.49 40-yard dash while weighing 282 pounds, but Adebawore stunned the world during the NFL Combine. While his tape leaves some to be desired, it’s hard to picture an athlete of his caliber failing in the NFL. He’s far from a perfect prospect, but he’s shown flashes of excellence during his time at Northwestern.

Adebawore will be a rotational three-technique, and may even play some edge opposite Kwity Paye or Dayo Odeyingbo. If he develops like the Colts hope he can, he and Deforest Buckner would be one of the top interior pass-rushing duos in the league.

Darius Rush

Surprise! Another freaky athlete... Darius Rush was one of the Senior Bowl standouts and many thought he had a chance to go in the second or third round. But even after a fall into the fifth round, the Colts may have found a starting-level cornerback in Rush.

Rush’s length, speed, and athleticism are all traits that Ballard covets and Rush’s game will fit in perfectly with Bradley’s defense. There is a high probability that Rush and Brents will both start several games in 2023.

Daniel Scott

Daniel Scott is a versatile safety with the ability to play deep, in the box, or cover at nickel. But while he will add crucial depth at the position, he will likely struggle to see any defensive snaps early in his career. However, he can be a special teams ace for Indianapolis. A team captain for the Bears, Scott played 661 special team snaps during his time at Cal.

Will Mallory

A dynamic tight end, Mallory blazed a 4.54 40-yard dash on his way to an impressive combine performance. While undersized at 6’ 4”, 239 pounds, Mallory’s speed will be dangerous down the seam and will be a downfield threat for Richardson’s howitzer of an arm.

Mallory may have to sit behind Jelani Woods, Kylen Granson, and Mo-Allie Cox, but his ability to stretch the field may push him up the depth chart as the season goes on.

Evan Hull

Northwestern’s football team was rough, to say the least, but Hull still produced heavily, rushing for over 2,400 yards in his four years. A good-sized back with 4.47 speed, Hull has more ability than his draft spot suggests.

But with Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss ahead of him on the depth chart, Hull’s snaps will be few and far between. He will likely be a special teams contributor and fight to be active on game day.

Titus Leo

Leo is labeled as a linebacker on draft day but will compete for a roster spot on the edge. We know Ballard loves his small school prospects and this is a dart throw that he hopes lands on the bullseye.

Leo will have to fight to make the roster but could find a ticket via special teams.

Jaylon Jones

Cornerback is by far the thinnest position on the Colts, but adding an SEC-caliber cornerback certainly doesn’t hurt. Jones was thought by many to be an early day-three pick, so the value of landing him in the seventh was hard to pass.

Jones will be a special teams contributor and cornerback depth piece, but he may find his way onto the field in certain packages.

Jake Witt

Witt, a former collegiate basketball player, transferred to Northern Michigan as a tight end but was forced to make a switch to offensive tackle due to injuries. Witt ballooned up to 300 pounds and scored a 9.8 RAS during his Pro Day.

Witt will probably never be active on game day this season and he has some serious development to do. This is truly a lottery ticket by Ballard, but if it hits, Indianapolis could have one of the most athletic starting tackle duos of all time.