Two guys with goatees, a sign of great minds and a portent of another awesome draft class.
Consensus important needs for the Colts are all along the offensive front five and among the defensive front seven. The Colts could also use an upgrade in the defensive backfield. Then there are some role-specific needs that can propel the Colts to elite status—a big wide receiver to stretch the defense vertically and a blocking back who can catch passes.
Because the Colts have only four draft picks, most of these needs will be addressed in free agency by necessity. They will also bring in a herd of rookie free agents to chase the dream and every once in a while teams find an overlooked talent, but this is a crapshoot, specifically boxcars or snake eyes, so this is a bonus pool only.
The Colts also have a large number of their own free agents to assess and decide who to keep and who to let trot away. Over a third of the Colts’ 2012 roster is a free agent of one type or another.
This offseason will be a significant period in the Colts’ building on their successes from 2012 and taking another step forward in 2013.
In this week’s edition of my predictions for the Colts’ 2013 offseason, I look at the Colts' four draft positions and identify two players in each round that I believe could make an instant contribution to the Colts in 2013.
Of course these are my own subjective opinions based on intensive scouting from my computer monitor. The Internet is starting to overflow with mock drafts, draft projections, player rankings and ratings, and outside the first few picks in the draft you will find little consensus other than which players might go in early, middle or late rounds of the draft.
The Senior Bowl elevated some players that were previously more toward the fringe, and the NFL Scouting Combine will have a similar effect. Mock draft boards change as often as racing odds at Churchill Downs.
I guess what I’m trying to say with this disclaimer is that I’m probably wrong and you know it. Even so, consider these players, take a closer look at them, and chime in with your own round-by-round choices in the comments.
The Colts pick 24th in the first round, and I'm putting the Colts' needs on the O-line first, specifically a pass-protecting tackle. The top three tackle prospects will be selected hours before the Colts get on the board, so if they identify a player they want among the top three offensive tackle prospects, they will need to trade up to get him.
Sitting in most draft rankings at the bottom of the top-five offensive tackles is Lane Johnson from the University of Oklahoma (6'7", 303). Johnson was a high-school quarterback who was recruited as a tight end, switched to defensive end and finally wound up on the O-line in 2011.
His previous experience in skill positions translates into excellent footwork and athleticism. His large frame is still putting on weight, but what he lacks in bulk, he makes up for in positioning. The unusual number of positions, particularly quarterback, suggests a high football IQ.
He's smart, quick, strong and already considered talented enough to start in the NFL. There is nothing but upside in this cat. If his rising stock puts him ahead of the 24th pick, the Colts should consider trading up for him.
If the Colts can't get what they need on the O-line, then I would go the other way with UCLA defensive end Datone Jones (6'4', 280).
He recorded 19 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks his senior season. He is another player that is all over the mock draft boards and rankings, sometimes in the top half of the first round, sometimes in the second round.
Jones also had a good Senior Bowl, impressing scouts with his speed and versatility. He played DE in UCLA's 4-3, but he also moved inside as well as standing up and playing as an OLB. He's often referred to as a "hybrid", and what could be a better fit for the Colts 3-4?
That's what I call an anchor.
The Colts' next selection is the 86th overall pick in the third round. Here I'm going go with a center as the Colts lacked depth at that position last year and ended the year playing people out of position.
Cal center Brian Schwenke (6'3", 307) was initially projected into the fourth round, but he impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his footwork and ability to "anchor" against bigger players. He's from Cal-Berkeley, so he has more than a few walnuts to rub together upstairs.
Centers and QBs often bond to form highly effective relationships, and this is even more true with today's up-tempo no-huddle offenses. A QB from Stanford and center from Cal means a pretty good IQ in the battery. If Luck and Schwenke clicked, it could be a pairing that would anchor the Colts into the next decade.
I don't agree with people who say the Colts had problems with their cornerbacks; the data simply doesn't support that assertion. But size is a different matter, particularly in the Cover 2 scheme where the cornerback brackets the front side of the receiver.
You can't coach size, and LSU's Tharold Simon is one of the tallest CBs in the draft (6'3, 195). He had four interceptions his junior year before declaring for the draft. He is still considered a raw talent, and that's why I don't list him ahead of Schwenke as I'm looking for players that can contribute their rookie season.
That said, his physical tools could produce some big plays, and there is no better contribution than a big play at a key moment.
The Colts don't yet know where they will pick in the fourth round as this is the point in the draft when compensatory picks are added in at the NFL owners' meeting in late March. The Colts, by the way, could be due a compensatory pick for Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark.
In this round, I'm looking for superior athletes with versatility who will have an easier time making the transition to the NFL.
Sometimes a player is overshadowed by a teammate, and that was the case with Penn State outside linebacker Gerald Hodges (6'1", 239). He was snubbed by the Senior Bowl but apparently was the best in class at the East-West Shrine game.
Hodges has back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons and he uses his quickness to avoid blocks and find the ball carrier. His quickness and athleticism could make him a decent pass rushing OLB in the Colts' 3-4.
One upgrade in the defensive backfield would be Georgia Southern strong safety JJ Wilcox (5'11", 214), who is leapfrogging up the draft rankings after the small-school product impressed the scouts at the Senior Bowl. His size and speed (4.55) make him a prototype Cover 2 safety.
His senior year was his first year as a DB after converting from a slot receiver. He has the skills to catch a ball and run with it, so he might also be valuable as a returner. While he played at a FCS school, he also played against Georgia and Alabama, where he caught the attention of the pros.
In the last round, I am going to look for one of those role-specific players that are only considered by teams with role-specific needs.
If you read my previous two articles on the Colts' strategy for free agency, I made a strong case for the Colts finding a rhino-size Fullback/H-back to protect Luck from blitzing linebackers and catch a few passes out of the backfield.
There is a pretty good crop of fullbacks in this year's draft, but one who caught my eye and will be available at this point in the draft is Harvard's Kyle Juszczyk (6'1", 248). His senior year, he ran for five yards on two carries, then got nine yards on four carries at the Senior Bowl. Running out of the I-formation is not his thing.
Juszczyk caught 52 balls for 706 yards his senior season, including a 15-catch, 192-yard, three-touchdown performance against Princeton. Yeah, that was Princeton, but I watched him at the Senior Bowl. He had no trouble blocking the NFL prospects in front of him and the scouts said he was lighting people up during the one-on-one drills.
What I really liked about him was the number of times he nailed his first block, then showed up downfield for a second-level and even third-level blocks. Juszczyk has a huge motor and great hands, and there is a possibility that he is smarter than your average bear.
The other possibility late in the draft is to go big, at wide receiver. Eastern Kentucky University wide receiver Tyrone Goard (6'4", 203) is tall but still needs some meat on his bones. He was the Colonels' big-play receiver, averaging 22 yards per catch his senior year.