It would seem safe to say by the tea leaf tidings of every 2012 NFL mock draft published in the last few days that the Indianapolis Colts are well on their way to selecting Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
But could they be swayed? Is there a chance they could opt out of the top pick?
It's possible. Drafttek presents a scenario where the Washington Redskins offer the Colts their top three picks in both the 2012 and 2013 NFL Drafts (picks 7, 40 and 73 this year) for rights to the first pick and budding franchise quarterback. Surely, there is a plethora of "king's ransom" scenarios which should have Jim Irsay and the post-Bill-and-Chris Polian GM drumming their fingers on the phone cradle.
At the end of the day, though, it's just hard to pass up on a prospect like Luck. Especially when your own franchise quarterback—one Peyton Manning in this case—turns 36 in March, is coming off three neck procedures and still hasn't proven he will ever play again. Especially after a 2-14 season where a complete lack of talent even caught the attention of Jay Leno's Tonight Show writers. And especially after the NFL has proved, for yet another year, that this is a quarterback's league.
It might be the boring decision. It might be the safe decision. But it's also the decision that will pay off for years to come, especially as Irsay's new GM seeks to rebuild this crumbling franchise.
The Colts will make Luck the top pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Luck is everything you look for in a quarterback: smart, dedicated, tough and athletic. B/R's own Lead Writer and draft scout Matt Miller calls Luck the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning.
Though Luck suffered through a season with a remarkable lack of offensive weaponry around him at Stanford, he still managed to place second (for the second year in a row) in the 2011 Heisman Trophy race, losing out to Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Luck's 3,170 yards passing and 35 touchdowns weren't the best in the nation, but were still extremely impressive considering the circumstances of his own team and Stanford's difficult schedule.
What Should the Colts Do With the No. 1 Pick?
The Colts would be getting a QB as hyped as Manning, but a bit more versatile in his overall game. In a way, it would seem Luck actually compares more favorably to Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers than Manning, especially when his mobility and ability to throw on the run is taken into consideration. The Manning comparisons largely stem from his ability to change the play at the line at the college level—a rarity amongst collegiate passers—and confidently direct traffic in two-minute or scramble drills, which is certainly a familiar sight for Colts fans.
If Manning is healthy, Luck would likely sit behind the Hall-of-Fame QB for a few years, soaking up the playbook, nuances and whatever practice reps he could manage. This would provide an ideal bridge of transition from wins in the present tense, which you would have to figure Manning could still manage, to a successful future.
The only possible hang-up here is if Luck opts to go the route of fellow former Cardinal QB John Elway and demand a trade, insisting he won't play for the Colts. If Luck is absolutely opposed to riding the pine for up to three or four seasons, that very well may happen. However, Luck has shown no signs of forcing anyone's hand, and hopefully gleaned some valuable lessons from Rodgers' time spent sitting behind Brett Favre in Green Bay.
There are certainly contingencies to plan for, but for now, look for the Colts to opt for Luck with the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
2. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The Colts desperately need talent at defensive tackle, and a pick along their defensive interior would be the ideal second-round pick for Indy. However, Penn State's Devon Still is likely to be off the board, and Memphis' Dontari Poe is a bit too raw to gamble on in a draft that needs to produce talent in an immediate sense.
Barron is the best safety in the draft and would fill an immediate void next to starting safety Antoine Bethea. Beyond Bethea, the Colts only have Melvin Bullitt—who you have to figure is cut for medical concerns in the offseason—and two undrafted rookies who failed to impress in Joe Lefeged and David Caldwell.
True, the Colts could use help at multiple positions (that's going to be a theme of this draft), and would ideally look to strengthen their interior defensive front. But Indy really can't afford to reach in this draft, and Barron is a proven talent that fills an immediate need.
3. Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
Finally, the Colts can afford to take a defensive tackle around the area he's projected. Another choice in this spot may be Clemson's Brandon Thompson, but Thompson projects to be a bit too similar to Drake Nevis than the Colts would probably like to see, especially as they are in need of a space-eater who can tie up multiple blockers and anchor the interior defensive line.
The 6'3", 337-pound defensive tackle projects as a nose tackle in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, and might work to fill a role the Colts haven't successfully produced since Corey Simon laced them up back in 2005. With Ta'amu occupying blockers, Nevis would ideally be faced with more one-on-one matchups and put his penetrating, quick game into action, generating pressure from the interior and making QBs pay for stepping up to avoid the Colts' bookend pressure from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (if he returns).
4. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
But wait, the Colts still need an offensive guard! And a cornerback! And probably another wide receiver, and another defensive tackle and...
Yes, I know. But Dallas Clark has some serious medical red flags right now and Jacob Tamme has an expiring contract you don't get the feeling Indianapolis can or will match in the offseason. There are going to be some serious questions at tight end, one of the most pivotal positions in a pass-heavy offense.
That's where Fleener comes in.
The reunion with Luck is just coincidental: Indy needs a Tamme replacement and emergency option if Clark ends up on the injury report as he so often does. Fleener proved to be one of the top pass-catchers at the position over the past few seasons and can also provide enough blocking—though it isn't his strong suit—to justify his place on the field. Additionally, he projects to be a valuable special teams player at the next level.
If you have great QBs, you have to surround them with talent. Fleener would give the Colts' offense the flexibility it needs to operate.
But if you disagree, pretend this pick was Iowa CB Shaun Prater.
5. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
It's widely-assumed that Reggie Wayne has played his last down with the Colts. Wayne is too good a WR to play on a bargain contract, and the Colts are too pressed at other positions to prioritize his contract. Unfortunate situation, certainly, but one that opens up a WR spot on the Colts' roster regardless.
(Though, before writing anything else, I will say that Wayne's return will largely hinge on Manning's return. If Manning is healthy and demands Wayne returns, then No. 87 will be back in the lineup, and this pick will consequentially not address the WR position.)
Broyles provides the Colts a big-play threat they can groom with Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie getting the majority of targets at the position, and the elusive return prospect they can plug in instead of sabotage artist Joe Lefeged.
With so many holes on defense, it seems sinful to spend three of the first five picks on offense, but don't underestimate the amount of needs on this squad, especially as it is ravaged by free agency.
6. Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame
The Colts are looking to get bigger at the DB position, and at 6'2", 200 lbs, Fighting Irish CB Robert Blanton fits that bill.
As it stands, the Colts have one capable CB starter in Jerraud Powers, and even he can't seem to stay healthy. Beyond Powers, Indy has Jacob Lacey—who is best suited for a nickel back role, not starting on the outside—and rookie Chris Rucker, who looked slow-footed in limited outings this year. Terrance Johnson, you have to figure, really doesn't have any future on the roster.
Blanton was a solid, physical corner for the Irish, and would help to at least add competition amongst a shallow CB corps.
7. Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State
ANOTHER WIDE RECEIVER?! Well, the Colts are likely losing Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez is as good as gone too. Blair White isn't a sure thing to return in 2012, and even if he does, he proved to be a remarkably average receiver on the field.
As it stands in this mock draft so far, the Colts would only feature Pierre Garcon (assuming he is re-signed), Austin Collie and Ryan Broyles at WR. And the team already indicated that this offseason will be all about adding playmakers to a roster with so few impact players.
What Grade Would You Give This Draft?
Martin is still raw, but can stretch the field and return punts as well. Over time, he could be groomed into a solid speedster with a few route variations. In any case, whether the Colts look to build around Manning or Luck in the short term, they'll need the weapons to do it. Martin would provide another weapon, and give Indianapolis a handful of intriguing players at the WR position.
Other Needs: Offensive guard, defensive tackle (additional), center (if Jeff Saturday leaves/retires), safety (additional).