Woah, woah, woah. Before you call this piece out as clickbait, a hot take, or thoughtless, hear me out first. Then you can yell at me on Twitter.
After the Colts traded down to the sixth spot with the Jets, much controversy has arisen about what the Colts should do with the pick. The Colts supposed number one target, Bradley Chubb, may very well not be available at six. The Browns and Giants could both take Chubb, leaving the Colts without their man. Or, the Colts could take Quenton Nelson, a guard with a chance to be a perennial All-Pro. Shutdown corner Denzel Ward could even be an option.
The name Roquan Smith has been thrown around quite a bit as well, but we’ll get into why that’s a bad idea. The Colts could trade down with a quarterback-needy team, say the Bills, which admittedly may be the best option on the table. But despite all of these options, I wonder why nobody mentions the one that seems so obvious. For whatever reason, I never see any of the armchair GMs on Twitter clamoring for Tremaine Edmunds.
Wait, what did you say?
Did I just defile the name of the future savior of the Colts, Bradley Chubb (Or Quenton Nelson, or Denzel Ward, or Roquan Smith, or even Saquon Barkley. People can’t make up their minds)? Well, yes, I guess I did, and I’m about to back it up as well.
As we all know, the Colts desperately need a linebacker. The likes of Antonio Morrison, Jeremiah George and Anthony Walker won’t cut it. And as we all also know, the Colts switched to a 4-3, Tampa 2 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. I’d argue that linebacker is the Colts’ biggest need, but not by much. Corner, Guard, and EDGE are all close behind. The Colts need a captain on the defensive side of the ball, which is something they have lacked for a long time.
Let’s quickly break down the 4-3 defensive scheme.
You have four down linemen, three linebackers, and four defensive backs. As for the linebackers, you have the MIKE, WILL, and SAM. The MIKE linebacker is your middle linebacker; the quarterback of the defense. He calls the shots and eats up blocks so other guys can make plays. Think Luke Kuechly. The WILL is the fast, rangy weakside linebacker who chases down the running back and makes tackles in space. He’s the playmaker of the group. Think Telvin Smith. The SAM lines up on the strong side of the formation, mainly looking to defend the run, and eat up blocks. Think Daryl Smith. The Colts don’t really have players who fit any of these prototypes, considering they came from a 3-4 style.
Let me say this first: I think Roquan Smith is an excellent player.
If he is drafted to the right team, in the perfect situation, he has All-Pro written all over him. Scheme fit is very important with Smith, and the Colts do not have the scheme for Roquan Smith to thrive in. Roquan Smith is your prototypical WILL linebacker. He has rare closing speed for a linebacker, excellent technique and discipline, and great tackling ability in space. Roquan Smith is limited by his stature (6’1″, 236). His inability to take up blocks rules him out as a MIKE linebacker. He is aware of his limitations, and so is everyone else. The Rose Bowl against Oklahoma is a prime example of a team game planning to abuse Roquan Smith’s biggest weakness: he can’t deal with trash.
Baker Mayfield constantly identified Roquan Smith as the “MIKE”, meaning that the offensive line would focus their blocks on him. The MIKE’s job is to eat up that initial block in the second level, opening up the rest of his team to make a play on the ballcarrier. But in Smith’s case, he is not strong nor long enough to take on any block at the point of attack. Oklahoma ran right at Smith over and over for excellent results every time.
Whichever team drafts Smith will need to build their defense around him. Let’s take a look at the Jaguars, and how they build their defense around Telvin Smith. They have great interior defensive linemen in Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson to eat up space. They also have linebackers who can effectively take on blocks in Myles Jack and Paul Posluszny. The Jaguars make up for Smith’s lack of size and strength, and allow him to play to to his strength, making him one of the premier linebackers in the NFL.
The Colts, on the other hand have nowhere near the personnel to make Roquan Smith work. They have no talented interior defensive linemen to clog up space, especially after releasing Johnathan Hankins. They don’t have any powerful, block eating MIKE linebackers. Roquan Smith would be asked to do too much in the Colts’ defense, and Matt Eberflus knows this. He is a linebackers guy, after all. As talented as Roquan Smith is, the Colts are just not a good fit given his skillset.
Tremaine Edmunds is a bona fide freak of nature.
His 6’5′”, 250 pound frame combined with his 34 1/2″ inch arms is rare for a any player, let alone a linebacker. He has the speed and fluidity of a safety and the length of a defensive lineman. At the combine, we all saw how well he moved in space. I believe Edmunds will make an immediate impact in coverage as a zone defender; heck he played in the nickel occasionally at Virginia Tech. This kid looks incredible. And let me set this straight: he is a kid. When Tremaine Edmunds enters the NFL, he will still be 19, making him one of the youngest players ever drafted. Despite all of his strengths, this youth is glaringly clear on tape. Tremaine Edmunds has a lot of work to do in the instincts and discipline departments.
Edmunds often cheats up at the snap of the ball before diagnosing the play. This causes him to miss his gaps, and be generally out of position. Often times, he looks like he has no idea what he is doing out there, yet he is still the best player on the field. If he would just be patient and diagnose, he would be in better position to use his otherworldly athleticism and make plays on the runner. When Edmunds used his length to get off of blocks and patiently pick his spots and time his tackle, it is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. He is as raw as they come, and whatever team drafts him needs to know that he is a major project. Yet, he will have linebacker coaches salivating all over the NFL at the chance to draft him.
Let’s be real: the Colts are a few years away from being a contender in the AFC, and even in the AFC South. Whether Andrew Luck returns full force or not, the Colts have too many glaring holes in their roster to fix in one draft. The Colts would be lucky to finish anywhere but last in the AFC South. And Chris Ballard, Frank Reich, Matt Eberflus, and the rest of the staff all know this.
Chris Ballard wouldn’t be preaching his strategy of building through the draft if he thought the Colts could make the playoffs next year. And through all of this, the Colts are the perfect team to take on a project like Tremaine Edmunds. Matt Eberflus is a linebackers guy. He had a large part in the development of Sean Lee, and the emergence of Jaylon Smith. He is the perfect man to mold Edmunds into the Hall of Famer lurking inside. If Edmunds can develop the discipline, nuance, and instincts needed to be a 4-3 MIKE linebacker, the Colts would have their leader on defense for many years to come. The Colts won’t ask Edmunds to be a great linebacker during year one, or even during year two. By the time the Colts are ready to contend again. Edmunds could be fully developed as the All-Pro linebacker that his ceiling suggests.
Now Chris Ballard, I implore you, don’t waste this opportunity.
This draft has a few can’t miss prospects. Those prospects include the likes of Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, and Tremaine Edmunds. Unfortunately for the Colts, three of those four may very well be gone by the time they are on the clock. Will, and should the Colts pass on Bradley Chubb, Barkley or even Nelson if he falls to six? Probably not. Unlike the first three, Edmunds likely won’t be a superstar any time soon. But, the fact that the Colts could get a player that fills arguably their biggest position of need, and could become the best defensive player in the NFL, may be too enticing for the Colts to pass on come April.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.