As I mentioned last week, for the first time in years, I have no idea what direction the Colts are going in with their first-round pick.
With an overall weak roster, without one or two glaring weaknesses that can be addressed in the first round, the Colts have almost unlimited options. With Todd McShay's most recent, scenario-heavy mock (subscription required) including RB Eddie Lacy as a possibility, I believe I have now seen every position mocked to the Colts in the first round (outside of quarterback).
With the uncertainty comes a huge range of predictions and possibilities mentioned by draftniks, as well as a large rift among fans in terms of desired targets. Nevertheless, it was my aim Wednesday to find out which players were most sought after by Colts fans, leading to a quick Twitter and forum poll. Although I can't say that this covers the opinions of all, most or even a significant portion of Colts fans, I can confidently say that the prospects that were suggested are fair possibilities.
To the right, you can see the suggestions I received. There were several other suggestions as well, but these are the significant ones. Now the question is, which of the top prospects fit the Colts best?
WR Keenan Allen, Cal
If the Colts want to go WR in the first round as they look for a long-term replacement for Reggie Wayne, Keenan Allen is a likely target (with DeAndre Hopkins a possibility as well). Allen is a big, strong prospect at 6'2", 210 pounds and plays like it, unlike other top prospects such as Cordarrelle Patterson. Allen also measures out with long arms (32 3/4") and big hands (10"), a true physical specimen.
Allen is a very strong route-runner, getting in and out of his breaks quickly and showing the instinct to find soft spots in coverage. When it comes to route-running and awareness on the field, he's Reggie Wayne.
The difference between Wayne and Allen is Allen has size that Wayne never did, with about two inches and 10 pounds separating the two. Allen knows how to use that size and would put it to great use in the Colts offense.
There are a few cons for Allen, but I see them all as minor. The main downside to Allen is a lack of explosive speed. Allen clocked in at just 4.71 seconds in the 40 in his pro day this past week, although his injured knee is not yet completely healed. As the muscles around his knee strengthen, his speed should be more than fine, especially considering his route-running skills. Allen also has lost his focus at times, not locking the ball in and using his body to catch, resulting in a few drops (rare, but it does happen occasionally).
The Colts have big needs on defense, but Allen would be a long-term starter at wide receiver, and a possible future No. 1 target for Andrew Luck.
DE Datone Jones, UCLA
Jones is one of the most versatile defensive linemen in this draft, which makes him a perfect fit for the Colts' hybrid defense. Jones has lined up anywhere from nose tackle to stand up edge-rusher. In Pagano's scheme, Jones could play 5-tech defensive end in the 3-4 and slide inside to rush the passer from the tackle position in the four-down nickel.
Jones' biggest strength is using power moves and his powerful hands to brush offensive linemen aside. He has a powerful first step and the necessary agility and athleticism to make tackles in confined spaces in the run game.
Like Allen, Jones has no character concerns whatsoever. He's a very hard worker and a vocal leader on the field. He's got a high motor that fans, coaches and teammates will love, as well as a very high football I.Q. that he displayed throughout the interview process.
Jones needs to work on keeping his pad level low as the play goes on, as he can rise up and lose leverage in both run stuffing and pass rush. Jones also shouldn't be characterized as someone who is going to save the Colts' pass rush (or lack thereof). He's not a dynamic pass-rusher, but is more of an all-around, above average player that could be a long-term starter on the defensive line.
CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
It's certainly no guarantee that Rhodes slips this far, but if he does, he'd be a fantastic value at No. 24.
Physically, Rhodes has all the measurables you'd want in a corner. He's big, at 6'1", 210 pounds. He's fast, clocking in a 40 time of 4.43 seconds. He's athletic, with his vertical and broad jump marks both leading all cornerbacks at the 2013 combine. Rhodes also has the long arms (33 3/4") and big hands (9") that give him an excellent advantage when the ball is in the air.
Rhodes is arguably the best press cover corner in the draft and would be a great addition in Pagano's defense. He can stay in a receiver's hip as the route develops and has very good instincts when tracking the ball.
Rhodes' man coverage instincts can bleed over when asked to play zone, and he does not do well at all in tracking receivers through zones and letting them free. However, he does have good closing speed and burst if needed.
Rhodes' physicality could get him in trouble in the NFL, where elite players don't get away with quite as much physicality beyond five yards as Rhodes is used to. He can get very grabby, which could lead to some issues in the NFL.
With his size and ability to mirror opposing wide receivers, however, Rhodes would be a great member of Pagano's secondary. A year or two under the secondary specialist, and Rhodes could turn out to be a lockdown corner.
OLB/DE Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Because I've already written plenty on S Jonathan Cyprien, I decided to go with an edge-rusher for this final prospect, and Jones would be a dynamic OLB prospect that may slip to No. 24.
The Colts' projections for pass rush in 2013 are not currently looking good, with starting SOLB Erik Walden having very little talent in getting to the quarterback and the team having no outstanding pass-rushers on the defensive line. Robert Mathis still has some production left in him, but he can't carry the pass rush burdens alone.
Who do you rather see the Colts draft?
Jones looks to be someone who could significantly lighten that burden. He's one of the elite speed edge-rushers in this class, with the quick step and the shoulder dip to get around the outside fast. He also has developed a devastatingly fast spin move, although he does lack in the pass rush move department. Jones is also a player with a never-ending motor, one of those players who is going to keep after the quarterback until the play is dead.
Jones is a little on the small side, which will likely keep him from sliding down to defensive end. Jones also has shorter arms, which hurts an edge-rusher, who can use those long arms both in engagement with a blocker and in swiping at the ball in the quarterback's hands. Jones also has a somewhat scary medical issue: spinal stenosis. The injury has real long-term concerns, but if team doctors examine and clear him, then the talented pass-rusher may be worth the risk.