Indianapolis Colts 2017 NFL Draft Big Board: December
A handful of things will factor into this – first, what do the Colts need? Also, where are they in the standings to indicate which players might actually be in their range? On top of that, though the Colts have a draft philosophy that they like to stick to, I cannot say that I agree with their justification of it, so by no means is this a projection of what they will do.
Unless they win out and/or find a way to win the AFC South, the Colts will likely be picking somewhere between 10-16 come April; currently, they are 10th.
These rankings are bound to change each time, especially as the above factors adapt and as I begin soaking up more draft prospect study and further develop my favorite players.
1. Reuben Foster | Linebacker | Alabama | 6'1", 236lbs
You'll notice a pattern as this big board goes on, not only in this edition but throughout the draft process, and that is defense, defense, defense. The Colts are relying on some pretty old guys to be big-time players for them on that side of the ball; in fact, six players who are counted on to start are 30 or older.
The front office has started the process of injecting the defense with youth by adding key players or starters like Henry Anderson, David Parry, Zach Kerr, Hassan Ridgeway, Clayton Geathers and T.J. Green, but their linebacking corps is ancient. Specifically inside, at 33, D'Qwell Jackson is far from the player that he used to be, and his current fellow starter Edwin Jackson broke camp at about sixth in the pecking order. Josh McNary is just a guy they like to keep around in case they need him, and Antonio Morrison is probably never going to be anything more than a run-stopper.
The Colts defense needs someone in the middle like Alabama's Reuben Foster, a three-down, do-everything defender. He roams sideline to sideline, attacking gaps and can pick up running backs and tight ends unlike what the Colts have been able to do in the past several years. He has been a leader for the Crimson Tide, and he is a smart, instinctual player. Take a look at this for example:
2. Tim Williams | Edge Defender | Alabama | 6'3", 252lbs
On the outside of the Colts' linebacking corps, it's in even worse shape than the inside. The Colts have hung their hat on the production of Robert Mathis, who at 35 years old has just 3.0 sacks on the year and has dealt with lower leg and now bicep injuries. Erik Walden is probably the surprise of the year on defense, leading the team with 8.0 sacks and currently tied for sixth in the league. However, it would be ridiculous for the Colts' front office to think that's who he is now after averaging just 2.1 sacks per year in his previous 10 years. Akeem Ayers turned out to be a really good free-agent find, as he has been arguably the Colts' best pass rusher. Curt Maggiitt may develop into a quality player, but he has not shown enough this season for them to count on it. Currently, the Colts rank 20th in the league with 22 sacks. In 2015, they finished 22nd with 35 sacks.
Tim Williams is the type of player the Colts could add to the edge to – no pun intended – give them the edge over offenses. It is frustrating to think how many more games the Colts have won over the last two seasons (or just not got blown out) if they just had any semblance of a consistent pass rush. Or a pass rush at all for that matter. Williams is a ferocious defender who "plays with his hair on fire", and though he may never be much against the run, that hardly matters when it comes to a player who could reach double-digit sack totals on a consistent basis.
3. Teez Tabor | Cornerback | Florida | 6'0", 201lbs
First and foremost, the Colts' cornerback group is vulnerable – of their top three, Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson and Darius Butler, they have missed a combined nine games this season, all missing at least two. Rashaan Melvin is the only cornerback on the roster who has played every week. And, last week's "Antonio Brown Show" was an example of what can happen when Davis has a bad game. The Colts need as many reliable corners as they can get to help their 30th-ranked pass defense (278.7 YPG).
Florida's Jalen "Teez" Tabor has many tools the Colts can work with, and he may be more ready to play right off the bat than some other corners in this class. He can press like the Colts like to do with their corners, and he has the speed, quickness and smarts to not be a liability in coverage. The Colts swung and missed with their 2015 third-round pick of D'Joun Smith, and it has set them back. They were likely relying on him to be a starter for them by now, but they have already parted ways with him, plus they had to spend much-needed free agent cash to sign Robinson to start. The money used on Robinson could have been used on free agent departure Jerrell Freeman, so it shows you the ripple effect that missing on a hopeful starter can have. Tabor is a relatively safe (and very useful) pick for the Colts.
4. Dalvin Cook | Running Back | Florida State | 5'11", 206lbs
The Colts aren't quite a one-dimensional offense, but they sort of come off as one by the time most of their games are done. They try to establish the run in the first half of games, but it rarely works, and due to their leaky defense, the Colts are typically forced to abandon the run in the second half. They currently rank 25th in the league with 95.4 rushing yards per game. Their line is a better run-blocking unit than it is at protecting the pass, but their running backs are more of gashers than home-run hitters.
For the Colts, selecting a running back in the first round may seem like a luxury pick, or to others a total "Ryan Grigson" move, but there are a couple of factors that go into this: 1) Frank Gore has been a tremendous asset for the Colts, but he will be 34 when the 2017 season begins, and he is physically limited now. 2) Dalvin Cooks don't just come along every year. There is something about Cook that reminds me of a young, pre-ACL injury Edgerrin James. Both are agile, could find a crease and take it to the house, and both were exceptional as pass-catchers. James was probably a better pass blocker coming out, but if Cook adds the extra 10 pounds that James had on him, then he could be better not only in protection, but also short-yardage situations. Cook would likely be ready to be a three-down back for the Colts right away and could be used as a passing-game asset like quarterback Andrew Luck had in the past with Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw and Boom Herron.
5. Derek Barnett | Edge Defender | Tennessee | 6'3", 265lbs
Continuing with the Colts' need for help on the edges, not only have they struggled at generating pressure on opposing passers, but they have also struggled mightily at setting the edge. Runners have had a field day at times when they get to bounce runs to the outside of the Colts' defense, and that includes plays in the passing game as well (five opposing running backs have had at least 40 receiving yards against them so far.)
Derek Barnett is rather well-rounded as an edge defender, not just a one-trick pony as a pass-rusher. His size and frame make it so that he could play either the rush linebacker or strong side linebacker spot – either of which he'll still be asked to rush the passer.
6. Leonard Fournette | Running Back | LSU | 6'1", 230lbs
Many people's RB1 is Leonard Fournette, and for good reason. He comes from the same vein of can't-miss running back prospects like Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. Fournette was initially my RB1, but I have since swapped him with Cook by a narrow margin (but that's for a different article).
At 6'1", 230lbs, Fournette has great power, plus speed and nimbleness that you would not expect from a player his size. He isn't as much of an asset as Cook in the passing game, but you know that Fournette is probably going to go out there and get you at least 4.0 yards per carry.
7. Marlon Humphrey | Cornerback | Alabama | 6'1", 196lbs
Back to defense. To help that banged-up secondary is a player with huge upside and yet another member of the vaunted Crimson Tide defense, Marlon Humphrey. His size, athleticism and willingness to hit make him an attractive target in the middle of the first round. He is not as polished as Tabor, however, relying on God-given talent as much as technique up to this point. Humphrey isn't likely to be a heavy Day 1 contributor for whichever NFL team picks him up, but if they have the patience to work with and develop him, the Colts could be the team to get this possible shutdown corner.
8. Zach Cunningham | Linebacker | Vanderbilt | 6'3", 230lbs
If Foster is gone by the time the Colts are on the clock, their next best option at inside linebacker is Zach Cunningham. Another sure tackler in the middle with good size, range and the ability to stay on the field on all downs. Cunningham is also capable of being a high-volume tackler. While Foster has the potential to be a star linebacker, Cunningham could still give the Colts what they lost when Freeman left town.
9. Jamal Adams | Safety | LSU | 6'0", 211lbs
With Geathers and Green, the Colts have two young defensive studs that should be starting for the foreseeable future. However, what if the two weren't necessarily the team's future starting safety tandem, and instead Jamal Adams was thrown into the mix? In this scenario, Adams replaces the 35-year-old impending free agent Mike Adams, and Jamal starts alongside Green, while Geathers moves up to start at inside linebacker. Geathers is most effective in the box and plays linebacker occasionally already, so the switch would not be much of a stretch, plus it likely upgrades both the safety and inside linebacker groups. Geathers isn't finished developing and is still going to be a very good player, but Adams is likely to be a better safety.
Adams doesn't struggle as much in coverage as Geathers, and he is good in the box as well. If the Colts were to pull this off and both players fulfilled their potential in their positions, the Colts would have pulled off a tremendously beneficial move for their defense.
10. Desmond King | Cornerback | Iowa | 5'10", 203lbs
King was a first-round-quality cornerback last year if he would have declared for the draft after winning the Jim Thorpe Award, awarded to the nation's best defensive back, and now he's got another year of experience under his belt. He is shorter than you'd like as a boundary corner, with a stout frame, but he has risen above it and developed himself into a shutdown corner with ball-hawking ability (13 interceptions and 25 pass breakups in the last three years). For the Colts, if Davis continues with his iffy health, it would be a relief for them to know that they had a player like King to rely on otherwise.
Jake Arthur is the AFC South Division Manager, Indianapolis Colts Team Manager, Assistant Director of NFL Content and a Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot. He is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @JakeArthurPFS on Twitter as well as on h, Google+ and FanCred.
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