Ranking the Indianapolis Colts' Biggest Needs in the Draft
The 2014 NFL draft just keeps creeping closer and closer. Now just a few weeks away, the May 8-10 extravaganza will be the most hyped offseason event of the year.
Just like the rest of the league, the Indianapolis Colts are looking to the draft with much anticipation. Without a first or fourth-round pick, the Colts must use their five picks wisely to address their remaining needs and infuse the team with young talent.
While predicting individual picks is near impossible in the second round and beyond, we can identify the Colts' biggest needs. So where should the Colts focus their scouting prior to the draft?
5. Interior Line Depth
While some may claim that a starting center is a huge need for Indianapolis, the Colts have a logjam at the position already with Khaled Holmes and Phil Costa battling it out for the starting spot. That competition should be plenty for 2014, and should provide enough information for the future on whether or not a high draft pick needs to be spent at center again in 2015.
The guard starters are already all but set, with Donald Thomas starting at left guard and Hugh Thornton manning the right (although Lance Louis could compete as well).
However, depth is still a serious need on the offensive line, especially the interior. The Colts struggle with injuries to their offensive linemen every year, and 2014 will likely be no different.
Depth is all about creating competition and being able to find cheap but dependable players. A late-round pick on a guard or center could go a long way in the overall strength of the offensive line.
4. Long-Term Inside Linebacker
Inside linebacker was a rotating door for the Colts over the last two years, save for former CFL player Jerrell Freeman, who has been a pleasant surprise and saving grace at the position.
Freeman played over 1,000 snaps in each of the last two seasons. The next highest total for a single season in that time by an inside linebacker was Pat Angerer's 501 snaps in 2013. No other linebacker played more than 390 (Moise Fokou, 2012) in a season. Angerer (and Fokou, for that matter) is no longer on the team, and for good reason. He wasn't a great fit in the 3-4 and fought lingering injuries for much of the last two years.
The Colts did sign former Cleveland LB D'Qwell Jackson this offseason to start alongside Freeman, but he's a temporary option. Jackson turns 31 in December and has not been good over the last two years. Unless Josh McNary develops at a miraculous pace or Henoc Muamba is another CFL diamond—both incredibly improbable—the Colts don't have another long-term starter on the roster.
3. Edge-Rushing Outside Linebacker
Some would have a pass-rusher as the top need for the Colts as they enter into the draft, and I understand that viewpoint.
Pass rush is arguably the single most important function of a defense, and the Colts weren't particularly good at it in 2014.
Robert Mathis had the best year of his life, and should have been the Defensive Player of the Year, but he was the Colts' only consistent pass-rushing threat. Mathis' high sack numbers inflated the Colts' sack numbers (they were eighth in Football Outsider's Adjusted Sack Rate), but the team didn't get consistent pressure on quarterbacks.
So, yes, the Colts need help in pass rush, especially in regards to a future replacement for Robert Mathis, who turned 33 in February.
But the team does have some potential on the roster, headlined by 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner. Werner's rookie season was a disappointment, but he does have room to improve and the team should increase his role in 2014. The Colts will need a pass-rusher in the future, but much of the need is dependent on Werner's development this season.
2. Long-Term Wide Receiver
While the situation at both pass-rusher and wide receiver are similar, the justification for taking a wide receiver early in this year's draft has a bit more legitimacy to it. Unlike pass-rusher, just two of the Colts' current wide receivers will be on the roster after this season.
Unlike pass-rusher, the Colts didn't spend a high pick on one last season. The only development that they are hoping for is on players that went undrafted (Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen) or were late picks (LaVon Brazill). T.Y. Hilton is a good, young piece, but the rest of the Colts receivers have huge questions marks.
Reggie Wayne is turning 35, coming off of an ACL tear and has an expiring contract. Hakeem Nicks will likely cash in elsewhere next year if he has a good year.
Mayock: "I have 7 or 8 wide receivers that typically would be 1st-round picks in any draft but this draft is so deep."— NFL Media PR (@InsideNFLMedia) March 7, 2014
Then, of course, there's the circumstances with this draft. It's one of the best wide receiver drafts in recent memory, and the Colts will likely have the chance to draft a first-round talent at the position despite not having a first-round pick.
The only position with a glaring current need in the starting lineup as well as a lack of young, high-ceiling potential, the Colts will be hurting if they don't draft a safety in this year's draft.
Replacing Antoine Bethea is no easy feat, and I don't think Delano Howell is the guy to do it. Howell is a great backup and utility player, but a full-time starting job would stretch him to his limit. Though the Colts drafted developmental safety John Boyett in the sixth round last year, the former Oregon safety is no longer with the team.
Thus, the Colts lack both an ideal starting option and young potential to develop next to starting FS LaRon Landry. The team does have options on how to proceed. They could really draft any kind of safety and play Landry accordingly. With so many options, it'll be a notable surprise if the Colts don't draft a safety at some point in the draft.
Now the question is will it be an immediate contributor in the early rounds or a developmental player later?