GM Chris Ballard has said he wants to build a core of players before adding any big name free agents, and he may have added more than just a core with ONE draft, and he has, even more, picks in this year’s upcoming draft. The picks he spent in this year’s draft have not only produced but been key elements to the Colts offense and defense. Rookies like Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson have produced as high draft picks, as well as UDFAs like Zach Pascal and George Odum. In this article, we are going to take a look back into the past and re-evaluate GM Chris Ballard’s 2018 rookie class.
RD1, P6: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame, LG
The Colts had the highest overall pick they have had since they drafted Andrew Luck, the decision to move back with the pick and swap with the Jets, who were eager to take Sam Darnold. The Colts traded the third overall pick to the Jets and received the 6th pick and a few other picks. Still the highest selection since Andrew Luck. Ballard went with the safest pick he could have made, but also probably the best, selecting LG Quenten Nelson out of Notre Dame. He is 6’5” and recorded 35 reps of bench press, he has been an absolute mauler and he immediately provided a strong interior lineman, and after a few weeks of adjusting to NFL physicality and schemes, he looks to be the best lineman drafted in 2018.
RD 2, P36; Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina St.
The darling of Ballard’s 2018 class, Leonard impact has been irreplaceable, as well as unexpected. Coming from a small college in SC St., most people didn’t expect much. But the linebacker has made plays from day one and is the frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year. He leads the NFL in tackles with 88, 58 being solo. He has had an impact all over the field and has also supplemented four sacks. He is a top 10 rookie linebacker as a rookie and has to potential to become an all-time great.
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RD 2, P37: Braden Smith, G, Auburn
Another bruiser of an interior lineman, although at the NFL level, Frank Reich is utilizing his athletic ability as he was a former defensive lineman. He has shown great power, balance, and technique on the right side of the line. He struggled a bit to open the season, but with time he has become a legitimate NFL right tackle. He could dominate on a special way and become a staple on the Colts offensive line.
RD 2, P52: Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers
Turay is a specimen and a tremendous athlete that contributed from game one. He has been serviceable but not a dominant pass rusher and has a tendency to disappear for long stretches of games. Weighing 253 lbs and running a 4.65 forty yard dash makes him into a possible star pass rushers in the NFL, but some of his problems in the run game have held the Colts back. He needs to learn to consistently set the edge as well as win one on ones with tackles.
RD 2, P64: Tyquan Lewis, DL, Ohio St.
Lewis has spent his 2018 season hurt, but the hybrid defensive lineman will look to make an impact once he is back from injury, he could be a reliable run stopper and also add a pass rush on the interior defensive line.
RD 4, P104: Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
This was obviously a scheme pick. Hines is a smaller, lightning quick back in the gadget back mold. He has contributed greatly this season in the passing game, as well as the running game, racking up 238 yards on 52 carries, and also collecting 34 receptions. He has 81 touches and is averaging five yards per touch. His dynamic skill level has brought a dimension the Colts haven’t seen in a long while.
RD 5, P159, Reece Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa
Perhaps the most intriguing rookie of the Colts class, the FBS product has the potential to be a legitimate deep threat, but mysteriously he hasn’t made his way off of the practice squad. Perhaps in a move of patience, whatever the reason, Colts fans are already clamoring for his presence and call for him to be called up on a weekly basis. But he may need time to mature into the player he can be before he will see snaps.
RD 5, P159, Jordan Wilkins, RB, Ole Miss
The SEC product certainly has the effort and talent. But there is such a thing as trying too hard. He lacks patience and timing as a runner and often times gets ahead of himself. He is a straight line runner, that doesn’t look to be patient. Although they are his downfalls, it does make him a very effective short yardage back. He also doesn’t provide much in the passing game. He is a great depth player and filled in somewhat nicely when Marlon Mack went down early in the season.
RD 6, P185: Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
The uber-talented receiver went down with a torn ACL in the preseason, but in training camp, he looked to be a dynamic option for Andrew Luck, with good size, ball skills, and speed. T.Y. Hilton could look to mentor the young deep threat, and he could possibly be a very talented wide receiver. But he must become more polished and stay healthy.
RD 7, P221; Matthew Adams, ILB, Houston
Adding some depth at linebacker was a big-ticket issue for the Colts, as the only backers on the roster were Najee Goode and Anthony Walker, with Antonio Morrison being traded later. Adams was known as a big hitter in college, but hasn’t had many opportunities in the NFL.
RD 7, P235: Zaire Franklin, LB, Syracuse
Franklin has been a solid special teamer and played sparingly on defense, he could potentially be a spot starter for this team and eventually a staple on special teams. A high work ethic player, don’t be surprised to see him make a few plays down the stretch on special teams or play in some lopsided games on defense.
Remember, these grades are tentative and only through eight games of their rookie season.
The Colts’ 2018 rookie class looks to be a special one, and perhaps these players could all reach their potential. But for now, be happy and excited to watch these rookies perform.