The Indianapolis Colts had a very productive and active offseason. Despite Chris Ballard not spending most of his cap, the Colts made some great acquisitions. Today, I will rank each of these decisions 10 to one. This list includes draft picks, signings, trades, and more abstract things. Let’s get to number 10!
10. Drafting Darius Leonard
Drafting a linebacker who played four years in the FCS seems iffy. Also, drafting a linebacker when there was superior talent on the board seems iffy. But, when you turn on the tape, you realize that the Colts got a player in a position of a dire need who can ball a bit too. Leonard, despite playing at South Carolina State, turned down an offer from Clemson and dominated Tarik Cohen at Indiana. Leonard is long and lanky with great range and cover ability, making him a perfect fit at WILL and maybe even a MIKE in the future. He’s only 22 and has the room to grow into a Pro Bowl linebacker under the tutelage of Matt Eberflus.
9. Drafting Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain
Entering the draft, everyone knew the Colts needed weapons. Outside of T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, and Ryan Grant, the Colts had no established wide receivers. Chris Ballard wisely waited until later in the draft to address the position, in favor of addressing bigger needs earlier. The Colts drafted maybe two of the best value receivers in the entire draft. Daurice Fountain is an ultra-athletic receiver with lightning feet, who can refine his skills under the guidance of offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, a former wide receivers coach. (I will list Sirianni as an honorable mention here. He was key in developing Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams and should turn these young receivers into great players.) Deon Cain is a player whom most expected to be drafted way earlier than he was. He could be one of the biggest steals of this draft.
8. Taking It Slow With Andrew Luck
This could be higher on this list, as without Luck the Colts are nothing, but this is just Ballard making the correct, simple, sensible decision. This being said, there definitely is some value in a front office being able to make the correct decisions, even if they are the easy ones. We’ve seen former Colts’ front office members (Ryan Grigson) fail to make the easy decision and pay for it. Andrew Luck isn’t even playing football yet but that is ok. Because of the cautiousness of Chris Ballard and his staff, Andrew Luck has a solid shot to play all 16 games in 2018.
7. Chris Ballard Not Spending All of His Cap Space
Many Colts fans were disappointed when Chris Ballard didn’t make any big moves in free agency. Ballard decided to pass on big names like Andrew Norwell, Allen Robinson, and Tyrann Mathieu. Admittedly, these players would improve the roster but this is not Chris Ballard’s formula. He wants to build through the draft and develop his own talent. This is how the best teams are built. Also, the Colts probably aren’t in contention for the division anyway, so why waste the money now. Indianapolis is projected a small $192,912,590 in salary cap next season. Let that sink in.
6. Hiring Rusty Jones
This hire is the most underrated move of the offseason. I bet plenty of Colts’ fans don’t even know who Rusty Jones is. The hardcore Colts and NFL fans know that he is regarded as the greatest strength and conditioning coach of all times. His innovated nutrition and exercise practices helped the 1990s Bills reach four straight Super Bowls. He was often regarded as their “secret weapon,” and the Colts lured him out of retirement. For a roster that had over half of their starters injured last season, a great strength and conditioning coach could help turn the Colts’ fortunes around.
5. Drafting Braden Smith
Many Colts’ fans waivered when they drafted Braden Smith, another guard, in the second over other players. What this says to me is this: Chris Ballard will never, ever, EVER, let anyone hurt Andrew Luck again. Smith helps complete this young offensive line. He will act as a valuable swing guard behind Jack Mewhort and if Mewhort gets injured or moves out to right tackle, Smith could seamlessly take on a bigger role in the offense. With a few years of development, this offensive line could transform the Colts’ formula and culture altogether.
4. Hiring Matt Eberflus
Matt Eberflus was Josh McDaniels’ guy. Even though McDaniels isn’t the Colts’ head coach, Chris Ballard made a great decision in keeping him around. Eberflus is a former linebackers coach for the Cowboys who coached Sean Lee and developed Jaylon Smith. The Colts’ linebacker corps was atrocious last season and Ballard did quite a bit to help it. The Colts’ linebackers have an average age of 22.6, with Jeremiah George being the only one over the age of 23. Eberflus has a young, exciting linebacker group to develop. His shift to a 4-3 defense is also a good one, as the Colts are going more athletic on defense. Expect the defense to have some struggles this year but be better than in years past.
3. Trading Down With The Jets
At the third overall pick, the Colts had their pick at Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson. After trading down with New York, they still got their guy. Despite the Jets winning the NFL lottery in landing Sam Darnold, the Colts fleeced the Jets in every sense. Not only did the Colts drop only three spots, but they acquired two 2018 seconds, which became Braden Smith and Tyquan Lewis, and a 2019 second. The Colts are building their team for the future, and the future is certainly looking brighter in Indianapolis.
2. Hiring Frank Reich
The day the Colts fired Chuck Pagano was a national holiday. Looking into the future, the Colts put all of their eggs into the Josh McDaniels basket, which was admittedly a bad decision and a miserable failure. They quickly got back on their feet and got their guy. Reich has championship pedigree and should transform the Colts’ offense. This offense looks to become faster, more up-tempo, and something Andrew Luck should strive in. The Colts’ coaching single-handedly lost them some games last season. Along with an excellent coaching staff, Reich should get the Colts back on track in 2018. They may not be a dominant force but the Colts will surprise some people and win some games.
1. Drafting Quenton Nelson
The number one slot on this list isn’t even a question. The draft as a whole was a win for the Colts and that starts with Quenton Nelson. They were able to trade down three spots and still nab the best player in the whole class, in my opinion. We all know how good Nelson is. He puts grown men on their backs on a daily basis and is a great all-around lineman. Expect him to make the Pro Bowl in year one or two. The Colts’ absolute number one priority should be protecting Andrew Luck; with the additions of Nelson and Smith, along with resigning Jack Mewhort, this offensive line should be one of the better ones in the NFL soon. Along with Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, and Malik Hooker, Nelson will be a cornerstone of this franchise for many years to come.
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.