Indianapolis Colts Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer
The Indianapolis Colts do not have the most resources in this year's draft. In fact, they have the least amount of draft picks of any team in the league.
Regardless, the Colts have plenty of areas to improve as they move into the next stage of the team-building process. The Colts have moved past the rebuilding stage and are firmly cemented as perennial playoff contenders. The team isn't a Super Bowl contender just yet, but they're on their way. However, they must first solidify the defense and add some more depth throughout the roster.
So far in his career, GM Ryan Grigson's draft classes have produced mixed results. The 2012 draft, through which they obtained Andrew Luck, was wildly successful, but the 2013 class has been disappointing thus far. For the team to move forward and ensure long-term success, the 2014 class needs to be much closer to the 2012 product than what the team obtained last year.
Departures and Additions
Unlike their strategy in 2013, the Colts didn't spend most of their money this offseason by bringing in overpriced free agents from other teams.
Rather, the team spent most of its cap space on re-signing its own free agents. Cornerback Vontae Davis, punter Pat McAfee and kicker Adam Vinatieri each re-signed with the team, as did Fili Moala, Sergio Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw.
But the team did lose a few key players while also bringing in several key additions:
RB Tashard Choice (Free Agent)
C Samson Satele (Free Agent)
DL Ricardo Mathews (Houston)
OG Jeff Linkenbach (Kansas City)
CB Cassius Vaughn (New York Jets)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Pittsburgh)
RB Donald Brown (San Diego)
LB Kavell Conner (San Diego)
S Antoine Bethea (San Francisco)
OG Mike McGlynn (Washington)
OLB Lawrence Sidbury (Free Agent)
WR Deion Branch (Free Agent)
NT Aubrayo Franklin (Free Agent)
ILB Pat Angerer (Free Agent)
DE Arthur Jones (Baltimore)
ILB D'Qwell Jackson (Cleveland)
C Phil Costa (Dallas) RETIRED
S Colt Anderson (Philadelphia)
The most pressing and immediate issue the Colts must address in 2014 is replacing Antoine Bethea at strong safety.
Going after a more traditional strong safety seems likely at this point, but Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star tweeted that Grigson has noted the importance of finding a safety who has some coverage skills as well. Delano Howell is currently slotted to be the starter at the position, although free-agent signing Colt Anderson could compete for the job as well.
Center has been a need for the last two years, as the team has never been able to adequately replace Jeff Saturday.
Samson Satele never worked out, and the team unceremoniously cut him earlier this offseason. After cutting Satele, it was clear that help would need to be brought in from outside the organization, as Khaled Holmes (and his 13 career snaps) was the only option at the position on the roster. So, the Colts brought in Phil Costa, who promptly retired.
The Colts clearly need somebody to push Holmes, and the only question is whether that somebody warrants a high pick or not.
This is not as much of an immediate need, but this is a position that could be bare in Indianapolis as soon as next season, even after the signing of Hakeem Nicks this offseason. Only T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill are signed through 2015, and the Colts' lack of proven options after Reggie Wayne can bog down the offense at times.
A potential starting receiver in the draft would give the Colts insurance if Wayne's recovery from an ACL tear goes south, and it would also give them more flexibility with Nicks in the future.
Much like the receiver position, there is a lack of depth at cornerback. Vontae Davis is a very good starting corner, but Greg Toler is both perennially injured and inconsistent. If wide receiver talent is important for any team's offense to succeed, talent at cornerback is just as important for stopping said receivers.
The most important position on defense also happens to be one in which the Colts are drastically low on talent.
Robert Mathis is phenomenal, but he was forced to carry the entire team last season. Like Wayne, Mathis is aging, and there's no possible way to determine when he'll stop being effective. If the Colts have a top edge rusher fall to them in Round 2, they should select him and have him learn behind Mathis for a year before becoming a high-end contributor.
Stopping the run is important, but the Colts have just one player who plays in the middle pf the defense and excels at taking on double-teams. Josh Chapman is certainly an interesting player, but the team could use more competition at this spot.
Potential Top Targets
The Colts don't have a Day 1 pick in 2014, but here are a few targets that Colts fans should keep an eye out for. The following prospects could be first-round picks, but if they fall into Round 2, they should be aggressively pursued by the Colts.
Cody Latimer, Indiana
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Joel Bitonio, OT/OG, Nevada
Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
What Are the Experts Saying?
Sure, the Colts don't have a first-round pick, but the team has not been shy about trading draft picks in the past, both during the season and on draft day.
In fact, per Reggie Hayes of the News-Sentinel, Grigson said that he is open to maneuvering:
We want excitement when we are turning that card in. We want guys high-fiving, not doing limp handshakes. If there are guys that fall to us that we are kind of luke (warm) on, you would love to trade back and acquire some more picks.
But as much as the Colts have a tendency to move around, experts around Indianapolis agree that seeing the team move up into the first round would be a huge surprise:
@Colts_Comments Colts more likely to trade DOWN vs. UP— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) May 1, 2014
According to Kevin Bowen of Colts.com, Grigson praised the depth in this draft last week, and seeing him sacrifice extra picks in the middle rounds in order to move into Round 1 would seem to contradict that sentiment.
Latest Rumors, Reports & Analysis
As discussed in the previous slide, the likelihood of the Colts moving up into the first round is slim. The only other rumor regarding the team's draft plans early on involves the team's alleged desire to draft a safety.
The desire makes sense, with Bethea now gone and some high quality talent projected to be available in the second round. Grigson reiterated that desire to the media last week, via Colts.com:
There's a lot of good safeties in this draft. There's plenty of athletic safeties out there that can run. Our safeties are interchangeable, so to speak, and that's how Chuck likes them. You don't have necessarily a true strong safety and free safety. But at the same time, we need safeties who can cover, we need safeties who can run. It's a balance.
Usually the guys who can truly cover, they have a corner background. You ask them to support the run but there's only a select few who are good tacklers. And then the true box guys who come downhill like linebackers, you put them in space versus a tight end or a back or receiver and they're going to get torched.
It's never a perfect world, but if you can find those guys who can cover and support the run, then you're doing pretty well.
Because of those statements, there's been a plethora of experts saying that the Colts want more of a traditional, deep free safety in this draft:
Some specific details in that story from Ryan Grigson about what they're seeking. Looking for more of a coverage safety to pair with Landry— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) May 5, 2014
However, I'm not so sure that Grigson necessarily meant that they're looking for one type of safety over another. A "safety who can cover" doesn't necessarily mean a free safety whose instincts allow him to react quickly in deep zones; it might mean a safety who can stay with players near the line of scrimmage in man coverage.
Grigson said the Colts need a safety who can run and cover, and he later described a situation of matching a safety up with a tight end, back or receiver.
If you watched the safeties' roles in the Colts defense last season, Grigson's statements pertain more to the strong safety's job in the Colts' scheme, a role that Bethea found himself in most often last year. Coverage can have many different meanings in this context, and it seems that Grigson is merely affirming that pass defense is just as big a part of a safety's job as anything else. The last statement Grigson made champions this philosophy, as the Colts want someone who can both cover and stop the run.
So watch the safety prospects on Thursday, who may end up falling farther than many assume:
I think quarterbacks and safeties will drop further than people think. QB's not out of first round just not as high as many expect.— Mark Dominik (@MarkdominikESPN) May 7, 2014
Safety is sure to be a priority, no matter what happens. The Colts just have to hope that their guy is on the board at No. 59. Of course, trading up is never going to be off the table either.
Seven-Round Indianapolis Colts Mock Draft
For more detailed analysis of each pick, check out the full mock here.
Second Round, No. 59: DE Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
The Colts need an outside linebacker who can rush the passer, and Lawrence would have an opportunity to learn for a year or two behind one of the best in Robert Mathis. Safety likely has the best chance of any position of being addressed here, but if there's a run on the position early on, Lawrence could be the choice instead.
Third Round, No. 90: S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
If the Colts don't get a safety in the second round, they are sure to strongly consider drafting one in the third. Reynolds has the versatility the Colts need at the position.
Fifth Round, No. 166: CB Walt Aikens, Liberty
A high-upside corner, Aikens is a bit raw but plays very physical and has fantastic length. If Pagano has any defensive back development secrets left, Aikens could benefit greatly.
Sixth Round, No. 203: RB Dri Archer, Kent State
Archer would give the Colts another explosive weapon on offense and a potential special teams contributor as well. Since the Colts didn't go with a wide receiver early on, I'd love to see them pick up a running back who can contribute.
Seventh Round, No. 232: C Corey Linsley, Ohio State
A team depleted of talent on the interior of the offensive line has to bring in more competition at some point. Linsley is a very smart center who could end up being a steal if he's still around this late.