The Indianapolis Colts selected nine players in the 2020 NFL Draft, addressing needs as well as bolstering existing strengths. While a draft class needs a few years to fully evaluate, the Colts have scored early praise for this class. How each pick fits in on the 2020 roster remains to be seen. With an eye on the future, though, we can project the best and worst case scenario for each of the nine rookie draft picks. For the purposes of this article, we will envision a full, 16-game regular season and no major injuries. Of course, losing a season due to ongoing coronavirus concerns or catastrophic injuries is the worst case scenario for everyone. Let’s begin.
WR Michael Pittman Jr.
The best case for Pittman, a big and athletic receiver from Southern Cal, is to step in as an immediate starter. Opposite T.Y. Hilton and his game-breaking speed, Pittman brings reliable hands, height, and leaping ability to add an element to the Colts’ passing game that has been missing for a long time. Combined with Pro-Bowl tight end Jack Doyle, second-year slot receiver Parris Campbell, shifty running back Nyheim Hines, and future Hall of Fame quarterback Philip Rivers, the passing game should be exponentially better than it was last year. From a statistical perspective, anything north of 50 catches, 500 yards, and five touchdowns is a win for Pittman.
Pittman’s worst case is to emulate a former Pac-12 rival. Philadelphia drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside out of Stanford in the second round last year, and he flopped. Despite appearing in all 16 games, Arcega-Whiteside managed only 10 catches for 169 yards and one score. Frank Reich runs an offense similar to the Eagles’, where he served as offensive coordinator from 2016-17. Arcega-Whiteside was supposed to provide a vertical element to the passing game and act as a red zone target. Pittman will likely fill a similar role. Here’s hoping his production is miles ahead of Arcega-Whiteside’s.
RB Jonathan Taylor
Taylor has the potential to make the Colts seventh-ranked rushing attack even more explosive. He and Marlon Mack both have the size, speed, and vision and to break long runs into touchdowns at any point. The best case for him in 2020 is to split carries with Mack early in the year before eventually becoming the lead back. By December, he should be leading the team in rush attempts, yards, and touchdowns. Mack topped 1000 yards in 2019, but Taylor has more breakaway speed and is 15 pounds heavier. He has the ability to become a star in this league, starting with an impressive rookie campaign.
The worst case scenario for Taylor and the Colts is a continuation of his college fumbling woes. At Wisconsin, Taylor put the ball on the turf 18 times. Granted, he had almost 1000 total touches over three seasons, but 18 is still too many fumbles. Running backs coach Tom Rathman is charged with fixing this problem. He had success with Hines in his 2018 rookie campaign after fumbling several times during the preseason, after all. If Rathman can’t solve Taylor’s fatal flaw, the bench awaits.
DB Julian Blackmon
Blackmon is recovering from a December knee injury, which will keep him off of the field through at least the preseason. His best case scenario is an early return to action, presumably some time in September or October. Once he regains his health, Blackmon will be given every opportunity to supplant Malik Hooker as the starting free safety. The team declined to pick up Hooker’s fifth-year option in 2021, making him an unrestricted free agent after 2020. In 2019, Khari Willis impressed early before ousting Clayton Geathers as the starting strong safety. The same blueprint for Blackmon and Hooker would be ideal, at least in the mind of Chris Ballard.
The worst case scenario for Blackmon is fairly straightforward: his knee injury keeps him sidelined all year. Without any playing time, the team will be left unsure how to proceed with its options at free safety. Do they try to bring back Hooker or roll the dice with Blackmon? Keep in mind, 2019 was Blackmon’s first season at safety. He had been a cornerback through his first three years at Utah. If he doesn’t prove that he is an upgrade over Hooker, Ballard’s gamble may not pay off.
QB Jacob Eason
Eason has some fans excited about his future as a starting quarterback. Others are uninspired. The best case for Eason is to outduel third-stringer Chad Kelly in the offseason and preseason. Rivers is firmly entrenched as the starter, and Jacoby Brissett is the primary backup, barring a trade. If Eason can learn how to decipher a NFL defense from Rivers, how to be a stellar teammate from Brissett, and how to prepare as a viable backup from Reich, he will be fine. A year of studying behind three excellent role models will do him good. That would also allow the team to move on from Brissett in 2021 and place Eason in the running to start. One can assume the Colts will re-sign Rivers in 2021 if he plays well in 2020, which would make Eason the heir apparent. In 2022, he could step into a starting role.
The worst case for Eason is to lose out to Kelly. If he wins the third-string job, he will probably stay on the active roster all year. If he does not, he may be stashed on the practice squad or cut outright. On the practice squad, Eason could be signed by any of the other 31 teams, ending his time in Indianapolis before it begins. Ballard also has no qualms about cutting a fourth-round rookie. He did so with Zach Banner in 2017. Eason needs to prove that he is worth the investment. Otherwise, the team will face an even more unsteady quarterback situation in 2021.
OL Danny Pinter
Pinter went to Ball State as a tight end, transitioned to right tackle, and will be a guard for the Colts. His best case scenario is to learn the ropes quickly and push Mark Glowinski for playing time. Glowinski is the weak link up front, and he needs to improve or be replaced. With three former first-round picks on the left side and a second-round pick at right tackle, right guard is the only reasonable position to be upgraded. Pinter is a remarkable athlete for his size, and he has the skills to make the Colts’ great offensive line even better.
Of course, many fifth-round picks fail to sniff NFL playing time. That would also be the worst case scenario for Pinter. He may struggle to learn his third different position in four years. Ballard also drafted Javon Patterson to provide depth at center and guard last year. The Colts may not keep multiple unproven interior linemen after final cuts. Who would then be the odd man out? Patterson or Pinter? If he falters, Pinter will most likely spend 2020 on the practice squad.
DT Rob Windsor
At Penn State, Windsor played both defensive tackle spots in the Nittany Lions’ four-man front. As a result, he has played between 280 and 310 pounds, depending on what coaches asked of him. In Indianapolis, Windsor’s best case scenario is to bulk up and make a name for himself as a force inside. DeForest Buckner is going to man one of the tackle spots. Denico Autry, Sheldon Day, and Grover Stewart are the main candidates to hold down the other. If Windsor can bring his tenacity and refined technique to the next level, he adds even more depth and talent to the line. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus recently mentioned giving Autry and Tyquan Lewis reps at end, in an effort to replace Jabaal Sheard. Eberflus would feel more comfortable doing that if he knew Windsor was a viable option in the tackle rotation.
Like Pinter, Windsor’s worst case scenario is to fail to crack the depth chart. As a sixth-round pick, he faces an uphill battle, especially his rookie year. He is nowhere near the athlete that Buckner and Autry are, so his game needs to be built on strength. Is he strong enough right now to hold his ground against professional guards and centers? How will a truncated offseason strength and conditioning program inhibit his growth? If he can’t answer these questions, Windsor will end up on the bubble come cut day.
CB/KR Isaiah Rodgers
Rodgers has the benefit of making the team in multiple positions. In addition to playing cornerback, the former Massachusetts Minuteman is a prolific special teamer. He can return kicks as well as cover them. His best case scenario is to earn special teams reps in the preseason and show his versatility on defense. Kenny Moore is the unquestioned starter at slot corner, and T.J. Carrie was signed to back him up. Similarly, Hines and Campbell are the top kick and punt returners, respectively. Will Rodgers unseat any of the four names above him by September? That’s unlikely. Will his ability to play outside corner, slot corner, punt gunner, and return man help his chances of making the team? Absolutely.
The worst case scenario for Rodgers is to struggle on both defense and special teams. He weighed only 170 pounds in pre-draft workouts, which is much lighter than most professional players. His speed is an asset, but will he be able to show it against a jump in competition? Rodgers has the comfort of low expectations in 2020. Anything a sixth-round pick can bring to the table is simply gravy. Most teams aren’t counting on sixth-rounders to play big minutes in the regular season. If they are, those teams probably aren’t very good. Rodgers needs to get his foot in the door on special teams or he will be a longshot to play in this league.
WR Dezmon Patmon
Patmon comes to Indianapolis by way of Pullman, Washington. As a Washington State Cougar, Patmon played in Mike Leach’s pass-happy Air Raid offense. The Colts, by comparison, ran the ball more often than 27 other teams last year. Patmon’s best case scenario is to prove himself a willing run blocker who left his drops behind him. He is nearly identical in size to Pittman, and the two can combine for an imposing presence on the outside. Jump balls and end zone fades are suddenly back on the menu in a big way if Patmon and Pittman live up to their potential. Beyond simply being big and jumping high, Patmon brings good run-after-catch ability to the Colts, too. He can work his way into the receiver rotation by the end of the season.
If Patmon cannot overcome his focus drops, he will not make the team. Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Daurice Fountain, and Marcus Johnson have all earned consideration as the team’s fourth and fifth receivers. Patmon could outperform all of them, sure, but those are long odds. Pascal is a great blocker, Dulin has special teams value, and Fountain and Johnson provide the same big-bodied skillset that Patmon does. Whether he lands on the roster depends entirely on him finding a niche. What does he do that sets him apart? Only he can answer that.
LB Jordan Glasgow
Glasgow played a hybrid role at Michigan, serving as a linebacker on some downs and a safety on others. He also made an impact on special teams, making tackles in coverage as well as blocking kicks. His role with the Colts, like Rodgers, will almost certainly start on special teams. There is homegrown depth in front of him on the linebacker depth chart, so his ability to impact the third phase of the game is key. Glasgow’s best case scenario is to make the roster as a backup linebacker (ousting Matthew Adams or E.J. Speed) and become a special teams dynamo. Anything he can provide on defense is an added bonus. His true value comes on kickoff and punt coverage.
Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, and Bobby Okereke are the starting linebackers. Adams, Speed, Zaire Franklin, and Skai Moore are all veteran backups. Glasgow is also not fast enough to contribute at strong safety behind Willis or George Odum. His worst case scenario would be to remain a ‘tweener in the NFL without the requisite physical skills to survive. He is small by linebacker standards and slow by safety standards. If he cannot replicate his college production on special teams, his NFL career will be snuffed out.