With new Colts’ General Manager Chris Ballard’s first season over, now seems to be a good time to reflect. Ballard’s first offseason looked like a success for the most part heading into the season. The draft, especially, seemed like a home run hit. After a disappointing 4-12 season, where do these rookies fall now? Let’s take a look back at the 2017 NFL draft, and how the Colts did with defensive players. I’ll include my grade at the time of the draft.
The Colts focused heavily on the defensive side of the ball, selecting six defensive players.
Round One, Pick 15: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Initial Draft Grade: A
Current Grade: A
Coming out of Ohio State, Malik Hooker drew comparisons to Ed Reed due to his great athleticism and ball hawking skills. Because of this, many touted Hooker as one of the best prospects in the NFL draft, and was projected to go as high as top five. By some miracle, Hooker fell all the way to 15, right into the Colts’ hands. Colts’ fans, and the organization themselves, were rightfully elated by this pick.
After not starting the first game because of an injury, Hooker got his chance to shine against the Cardnials, and he shone. Hooker covered well, stopped the run well, and recorded his first interception of a hopefully long and successful career. Over the next two games, Hooker picked off two more passes. After week 5, Hooker ranked joint first in the NFL in interceptions. The Colts looked as if they had found a future star. Unfortunately, after a torn ACL against the Jaguars, Hooker’s rookie season ended. The future is bright for this Colts’ secondary, and Hooker looks to be the ring leader for many years to come.
Round Two, Pick 46: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Initial Draft Grade: B+
Current Grade: B-
Quincy Wilson had a very interesting 2017 season. Another potential first round selection, Wilson fell to the Colts in the middle of the second round. Wilson has all of the tools to be a shut down corner in the NFL: 6’1, 211, great agility and acceleration. During the first two weeks of the season, Wilson did not have the best showing, but neither did the rest of the team. He showed a lot of good for a rookie and his potential was clear. In a few weeks, Wilson seemed like he would be a very decent player. If you paid any attention to the Colts this season, you know that this was not the case.
For some reason, Chuck Pagano decided not to play Wilson games 3-11. Wether it was minor injuries or practice issues, there was always one excuse. Depriving this promising rookie of valuable experience is a crime on the part of Pagano. When Pagano finally inserted Wilson into the lineup in Jacksonville, he played pretty well. Over the last four weeks, Wilson showed the potential that many saw early in the year. In that span, Wilson covered well, and on the final play of the season, picked off his first pass of the year, almost to spite Pagano for his benching. In that final game against Houston, the Texans targeted Wilson five times, and only allowed two catches for 15 yards. Under better coaching, Wilson could become a solid corner in this league.
Round Three, Pick 80: Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio
Initial Draft Grade: B-
Current Grade: C
Chris Ballard selected Tarell Basham in the third round to help fix the Colts’ abysmal pass rush. Many saw Basham as a bit of a reach; the Colts passed on edge rushers such as Carl Lawson, Derek Rivers, and Deatrich Wise. From the moment Basham stepped onto the practice field during the summer, his performance was underwhelming. Throughout the season, Basham struggled to find consistent playing time, which led to him only recording two sacks. He struggled to beat good NFL tackles, and had great difficulty defending the run. Basham is still a very raw player who needs more development before he can be fully realized. At this point, it seems if Basham is destined to be a career backup, but has plenty of time to turn things around.
Round Four, Pick 144: Grover Stewart, DT, Albany State
Initial Draft Grade: C-
Current Grade: D+
Everyone who thought the Basham pick was a reach shut their mouthes when the Colts took Grover Stewart, defensive tackle out of Albany State. Although Ballard most likely could have got Stewart a round or two later, he is still a 6’5, 295 behemoth in the middle who has potential to be a solid run stuffer in the NFL. Stewart projected to be a solid depth piece, and a good rotational defensive lineman. Stewart did not play much this season. He finished with 12 total tackles and one run stop. He has decent upside and will be a solid rotational player for the Colts next season.
Round Five, Pick 158: Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
Initial Draft Grade: C
Current Grade: B
Nate Hairston may be the Colts’ best value pick of the 2017 NFL draft. Hairston has good speed, but his coverage skills and technique seemed to need quite a bit of work. He began the season buried on the depth chart, and ascended all the way up the ranks to a consistent starting role. Hairston built a role for himself in the nickel. He covered well, and was one of the best pass rushing corners in the entire league, recording two sacks, one for a safety. He struggled playing outside corner, but that is not what he is built to do. When all of the Colts’ corners are healthy and Hairston plays in the slot, he will shine. Hairston has the speed and physicality to be a very good nickel in the NFL.
Round Five, Pick 161: Anthony Walker Jr., ILB, Northwestern
Initial Draft Grade: A-
Current Grade: C+
Anthony Walker was a player that I was particularly high on following the draft. With his physical tools and leadership ability, I predicted that he would be the leader of this Colts’ defense pretty early. Although Walker did not have as great a season as I expected, he was decent. Walker didn’t play much during the season, and when he did, he was inconsistent at best. During the last two games, Walker got his chance to start, and played very well. Over the final two games, Walker had 15 tackles, and defended the run well. With the Colts’ linebackers as a while being so terrible this season, Walker should get a chance to prove himself in the future.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, and the AFC South Division Editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_ and @FPC_Colts.