Previewing What the Colts Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
One of the most high-profile predraft events is the NFL Scouting Combine, which takes place in Indianapolis each season as potential NFL prospects are measured, weighed and put on display for all to see.
Not only is the combine a chance for athletes to put their athletic traits up against one another, but it's a time for scouts and general managers to also get a glimpse into athlete's personalities and character.
Everybody and their brother will be at the combine, but the fact that it's held in Indianapolis makes things especially easy for the Indianapolis Colts and their staff. Ryan Grigson and his scouts will have access to the prospects they desire and will be preparing diligently for a critical 2014 draft.
So what exactly will the Colts be looking for at this year's combine, to be held on Feb. 22-25? Whether it's specific positions or character traits, we have all you need to be watching for in this year's combine.
It's no secret that the Colts need help on the offensive line, namely the interior offensive line. The Colts drafted two interior linemen in the middle rounds last season, but still had one of the league's worst interior lines in 2013 as guard Donald Thomas sat out the season with a quadriceps injury.
Whether the Colts will, or even should, pick a guard or center with one of their first two picks is up for debate, but there's no question that they will be looking closely at linemen to add both as depth and potential starters in this year's draft. As they look for potential fits, one of the biggest traits they'll be looking for is foot quickness.
Both Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes, who were drafted in 2013, had quick feet as one of their primary strengths, while a wide base and ability to anchor was sacrificed. The Colts value the ability to pull, move to the second level and get out in screens very highly with their offensive system, and will certainly be watching drills like the three-cone drill to see how athletes perform.
For what it's worth, Thornton was tied for sixth among all offensive linemen in the three-cone drill last year and finished 15th in the 40-yard dash. Holmes did not participate.
Size on the Outside
One of the commonalities between the skill positions on both offense and defense is the need for size. On the offensive end, the Colts aren't necessarily prone to needing a receiver to have great size (T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, selected in 2012, are both listed under 6'0" and under 195 pounds).
But with their current receiving corps, the Colts desperately need a strong possession receiver with size who can be a red-zone threat.
If the Colts look for a receiver early in the draft, expect a big receiver who can excel in the intermediate areas of the field.
On defense, the Colts look for a certain profile at cornerback. While the Bill Polian Colts frequently employed undersized corners who read and reacted well in zone coverage, these Colts rely much more heavily on man coverage, specifically press-man coverage.
In that regard, the Colts need cornerbacks who are exceptional athletes. Big, strong corners who can be physical with opposing receivers are a must in the Colts' system.
Potential Trade Targets
If there's one thing that Ryan Grigson has shown over the last two seasons, it's that he's not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade to get a player that he deems worthy, and he's particularly prone to trading draft picks away.
The strategy has produced mixed results: The Colts' trade up to get WR T.Y. Hilton in the 2012 draft has been wildly successful, while the trade up for DL Montori Hughes in 2013 hasn't panned out yet. The teams' early-season trades for Vontae Davis and Trent Richardson could not be farther apart on the success spectrum.
Regardless of the outcome, it should be plain to all that Grigson is willing to make a deal with anybody at anytime, and the 2014 draft is as good of an option as any to do so. Without a first-round pick, the Colts could be looking to move up in the second or third to ensure they get an instant contributor.
The Colts see themselves as Super Bowl contenders and will make the moves necessary to get talent sooner rather than later.
So while some may cross potential early draft picks off their list for Indianapolis due to the Colts' first pick landing at 58th overall, the Colts will be doing their due diligence on every player. If Grigson finds somebody he likes, he won't hesitate to be aggressive.
Offensive line, linebacker and safety.
Three positions with seemingly little similarities, outside of all three being notable needs for Indianapolis, but all three are also similar in the Colts' desire for versatile players in those positions.
I've discussed the Colts' interchangeable use of safeties in the past, and the Colts have valued guys like Josh McNary, Mario Harvey and Justin Hickman because of their ability to play both outside and inside linebacker roles. On the offensive line the Colts have held onto guys like Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach because of their ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line.
So, when looking at potential draft picks, especially those in later rounds, look for players who can play versatile roles in the Colts' different systems. If a guy can play two roles in addition to special teams, it increases his chance to make an impact all the more.
I'd argue that inside linebacker is among the most urgent needs for Indianapolis in 2014, along with a starting safety. The Colts have relied on rotational players in starting roles for the last two years, and it's a big reason why the Colts' run defense has been terrible (22nd in Football Outsider's Run DVOA in 2013, 32nd in 2012).
With that in mind, keep an eye on the entire inside linebacker class at the 2014 combine. The Colts need both a run-stopping linebacker and a coverage linebacker, so anything and everything is a potential draft target.
The Colts have plenty of needs that could be filled in the draft, but with a weak inside linebacker free-agent group, the Colts may end up needing to look at more than a few 'backers in the draft.
While the drills are fun, arguably the most important part of the combine is the prospect interviews. Teams are able to get a hands-on look at prospects' intangibles and begin to watch the mental aspect of each prospect, which is just as, if not more, important as the physical measurements.
Ryan Grigson has stated just as much in the past, per Craig Kelley of Colts.com:
I would say the formal interviews we conduct are as important as anything done at the combine. Just sitting and listening to a prospect speak and tell you about themselves and also see how they respond to tough questions we may throw their way (is valuable). It’s the ultimate job interview.
We have developed a strong culture in our locker room in a short time and we want to keep cultivating that with the right human beings who can buy into and live by the Colts motto of, ‘Trust, Loyalty and Respect.’
Poor Combine Performances
While the physical measurements and pure athleticism is important in some aspects of scouting, Ryan Grigson has never been a huge proponent in 40-yard dash times. In fact, what some call poor combine performances, Grigson calls an opportunity, per ESPN's Paul Kuharsky:
I personally love when that happens. Because I’ve learned lessons from starting at the bottom, from being a scout at the very lowest level, at the entry level, and watching draft boards get way out of whack. I just cataloged that and took mental notes. When Anquan Boldin fell down draft boards because of the timed speed, and at the beginning of the process he was way up there? You’ve got to make note of that.
Grigson took advantage of a poor combine showing that caused Dwayne Allen to slip to the third round and snatched up the former Clemson tight end, despite having already picked Coby Fleener in the second round.
No player is going to fall off Grigson's board if he performs poorly. In fact, he may just end up getting Grigson's attention.
Potential Late-Round Picks
To put it nicely, Ryan Grigson has had an abysmal time in the late rounds of his first two drafts. The Colts cut OL Justin Anderson earlier this week, meaning that WR LaVon Brazill is the only one of the Colts' sixth or seventh-round picks from the last two seasons to not be waived.
Love him or hate him, Grigson needs to get a few of these to at least make the roster eventually. With just two picks prior to the late fifth round in 2014, the Colts desperately need to get some kind of production with their later picks next season.