Sports are back! Well, sort of. In this unprecedented desert of live action, tomorrow night will serve as veritable oasis for sports-hungry fans. The NFL Draft will go on as scheduled, although team decision-makers will be sequestered in their homes, as will commissioner Roger Goodell and all of the draft-eligible players. Even though it will resemble your neighborhood fantasy draft, Thursday’s primetime event is must-see TV for all of us football fans. With that in mind, what can we expect from the Colts this weekend? Hopefully, some fireworks. The Colts do not have a first-round pick at the moment, thanks to the DeForest Buckner trade, but they still have plenty riding on their remaining seven picks.
As bitterly as many of us remember the 2019 season, the team still finished 7-9 and was a few missed kicks away from potentially 10 wins and a playoff berth. They need a lot of lucky breaks to seriously contend for a Super Bowl in 2020, but Chris Ballard has elevated the quality of this roster beyond reproach. With Philip Rivers under contract, the quarterback position has been addressed. Otherwise, here are the remaining areas of need:
- Offensive weapons (wide receivers and tight ends)
- Defensive back depth (cornerbacks and safeties)
- Pass rush (defensive ends)
- Offensive line depth (left tackle and right guard)
- Quarterback of the future (to learn behind Rivers)
Before the Buckner and Rivers acquisitions, most predictions for the Colts’ 13th pick were quarterbacks, defensive tackles, or wide receivers. Two of those positions have since been filled. Barring a trade back into the first round, the Colts will not select until Friday night, at 34 overall. They have an additional second-rounder at 44, and they also hold the 75th overall selection in the third round. Will they use one of those picks on a quarterback to groom? Will they give Rivers targets to throw to? Will they add further talent to their disappointing defense? All of those options are on the table, but Ballard is nothing if not unpredictable.
Best Case Scenario
In a perfect world, the Colts will be able to land a future star at quarterback without having to mortgage their future to do so. Of course, no one remembers (or cares) what Kansas City gave up to trade up for Patrick Mahomes. Ditto Houston for Deshaun Watson. But Ballard is a shrewd trade partner, and he usually prefers to move down instead of up. A quarterback falling into his lap at 34 is the dream, whether that be Jordan Love, Justin Herbert, or someone else. Once he’s secured the heir apparent to “Old Man Rivers,” he can continue building the team to win now as well as in the future.
This is a great class of receivers, so the Colts should be able to land a contributor in any of the first five rounds. The tight end class is thinner, but talent still exists in the middle rounds. Pass rushers and athletic defensive backs are scattered throughout and must be pursued. Lastly, an eventual successor for Anthony Castonzo needs to be on the table. If they can find an upgrade to Mark Glowinski at right guard in the process, all the better.
Worst Case Scenario
If the Colts’ preferred quarterback options are gone by the time they pick, they cannot panic. Reaching for a quarterback just for the sake of having one is not conducive to success. Ballard has stated that he will not force the issue, and we must hope that he stays true to his word. Worse than reaching for a quarterback too early would be drafting a bad one on purpose. If Jake Fromm or Nate Stanley end up in Indianapolis, this draft class would be a failure.
This may sound crazy, but not drafting a quarterback this year could be manageable. The team is secure at that position with Rivers and Jacoby Brissett in 2020. Of course, they would then need to find a quarterback next year, because none of the team’s quarterbacks (including Chad Kelly) are under contract in 2021. Moving past that one position, draft classes are difficult to judge within the first few years. However, the worst case for 2020 is that none of the players selected are still on the roster in 2024.
What will Ballard identify as his priority? Those outside the organization are likely to scream “QUARTERBACK,” yet he may feel differently. He has shown an affinity for building depth and competition across both lines. Could an offensive lineman be the choice at 34? Since being named general manager, Ballard has “double-dipped” in each of his first three drafts. He took two cornerbacks in 2017, two runningbacks, two receivers, and three linebackers in 2018, and two cornerbacks and two edge rushers in 2019. Whichever position group he thinks is most lacking, he will surely grab more than one player to fix it.
With aging stars on offense in Rivers, Castonzo, T.Y. Hilton, and Jack Doyle, Ballard may want to bring on insurance policies in the form of developmental players who will become starters within a few seasons. He also needs to fix the defense’s propensity to give up big plays. The Colts’ December record was 1-4, and only one of those losses was by a single score. Buckner, Sheldon Day, and Xavier Rhodes are a good start. Adding more playmakers to the mix will be the next step.
Players to Watch
The draft lasts seven rounds, and championship teams find franchise players in all of them. In the absence of a first round choice, Ballard needs to plug the holes on his roster with smart, well-researched decisions. Here are some players that could fit his profile:
Day Two (Second and Third Round)
- Wide Receiver Brandon Aiyuk
- Defensive Back Ashtyn Davis
- Quarterback Jacob Eason
- Defensive Lineman A.J. Epenesa
- Offensive Lineman Josh Jones
- Tight End Cole Kmet
- Offensive Lineman Prince Tega Wanogho
Day Three (Fourth through Seventh Rounds)
- Tight End Devin Asiasi
- Offensive Lineman Ben Bartch
- Defensive Back Julian Blackmon
- Wide Receiver Devin Duvernay
- Quarterback Jalen Hurts
- Quarterback James Morgan
- Defensive Lineman Julian Okwara
Thank you for reading our draft coverage, and be sure to stay up to date on all news and notes with FPC!