Indianapolis Colts May Scouting Report
Here are my thoughts on the Colts’ 2017 rookie draft last week:
1.15 S Malik Hooker (Ohio State) At first I was a little surprised by his selection, even though he is a freakish athlete and a ball hawk. He was projected well inside the top 10, but there were also other top 10-12 talents on the board yet at positions of greater need. That being said, Hooker fits the bill for the team in that he is a flat-out playmaker, plain and simple. He is not as good of a tackler as I would like in a safety, but he can clearly cover a lot of ground and make things happen. With the flexibility that the Colts have with the other safeties on their roster, adding Hooker here allows them to give speedster S TJ Green another year to learn and groom his on-field discipline in a supporting role rather than a starting one. One of the reasons Hooker slipped a few slots is that he is coming off of sports hernia and labrum surgeries in the offseason, potentially delaying his participation in OTAs. The only potential criticism I would make is that there were other top talents that were sliding (like Reuben Foster and Gareon Conley) that could have shored up the defense even more quickly and with the same level of risk. FWIW, the Colts selected IMMEDIATELY when they got on the clock in round 1, so they absolutely were convinced of this pick all along.
2.14 CB Quincy Wilson (Florida) I said that the Colts had to come out of the first two rounds of the draft with two playmakers and starters on defense, and this pick was cited by many as their best value pick of the draft. There were some other higher rated corner on the board at the time, but none excel in press coverage as does Wilson -- something that is expected from corners in the Colts’ defensive scheme. He has good size, although not top end speed, and has a real knack for finding the ball in coverage plus the size to be a factor in run support as well. Like Hooker, he was a value pick because he was graded as high as a late first rounder by many scouts. While the bar is low to beat out the rest of the corners on the roster, he should step in as the opening day starter across from CB Vontae Davis and has the potential to develop into a top corner over time. So a team that struggled to cause turnovers in 2015 and 2016 has added two ballhawking secondary men - I certainly can’t complain there.
3.16 DE Tarell Basham (Ohio) The big problem I had with the first two picks is that the biggest need (a edge rusher) had not been addressed while many top pass rushers remained on the board at each selection. In hindsight, GM Chris Ballard played it perfectly by taking the shallowest position (safety) in round one and tapping into the draft depth in rounds two and three to fill the more pressing needs. While not a lot of people know about Basham (pronounced "BASH ‘em" – what a great name for a defender!) He tore up the MAC while playing as a 4-3 defensive end, so if he can make the adjustment to playing outside linebacker….he can be a real factor on the passing downs. I am not as yet convinced he can be an every down contributor at outside linebacker unless he really develops a lot as a pro and learns to play without putting his hand on the ground. My guess is that the team would have instead grabbed the stellar (but one-dimensional) pass rusher Alabama’s Tim Williams had he not been snapped up a couple of picks ahead of this slot.
4.31 OT Zach Banner (USC) Sitting at the 15th pick of this round, this is the spot that I thought the Colts might target a running back. I do not think it was coincidental that the Colts immediately traded down twenty-two slots as soon as Samaje Perine was snagged by the Redskins a handful of selections ahead of them; I believe he was a great fit as both a backup and an eventual replacement for Frank Gore, and they wanted him. Moving back, they then made a bit of a reach to grab a massive (6’8", 353lb) offensive lineman with extensive starting history at right tackle but a pro projection as a guard. Although the Colts’ beat reporter indicated that the team is planning on keeping him at tackle, they will need to work on his footwork and maybe keep an eye on his weight (a minor problem in college). I would be shocked if they did not try him at guard instead, as he simply lacks the footspeed to play on the end and protect "The Franchise." He is definitely more of a road grader than a pass blocker with his limited athleticism, but will at least offer depth and size on a young, smallish unit. He will probably compete with OL Joe Haeg at right guard or OL LeRaven Clark at right tackle, two guys entering their second year in the NFL; Haeg started 15 games as a rookie, while Clark most generally a game day inactive and had limited snaps.
4.37 RB Marlon Mack (USF) – With all the other projected future feature backs off the board, the Colts here took a guy that is a great complement to RB Frank Gore and will likely be a contributor from Day One. Mack is more of a slasher than a pounder like Gore, but does have the size to run inside as needed. The one thing I like is that he has experience running the ball behind iffy offensive lines from his years at South Florida, so he is the equivalent of a basketball player that can "create his own shot" moreso than Gore. He has better size than a traditional scatback, but better swivel and shake than your average 210+ pounder. Big play potential (that the Colts have been lacking in the ground game) is a real value here for a late 4th round pick. With a little mentorship on how to run between the tackles and cut down his high fumble rate from USF, he could be the heir apparent on all downs in Indy; at worst, he could be the quicker half of an effective time share down the road. This was the pick they got from the Patriots in the Dwayne Allen trade back in the early spring.
4.38 DT Grover Stewart (Albany State) After that great value pick, the Colts did not get top value (I won’t say wasted) from their compensatory one here. They had a need for a tight end in a tight-end deep draft….and a guy with a 2nd round grade was still on the board (Jake Butt) due to a January ACL tear. This is exactly the time and place to take a risk on a guy like that – a selection that could make this draft into an immediate franchise changer. Instead of risking a pick on a proven commodity at a need position….they took a project player at a non-need position. Stewart is a mountain of a man with amazing speed and quickness for a giant dude, but is extremely raw and played against Division II competition without being as physically dominant as one might have liked to see from a man his size (although his productivity is unquestioned). The team also just committed over $40 million to a relatively young nose tackle in DT Jonathan Hankins, so his snap counts might not be as high as needed for rapid development. But Ballard has often said that there is never enough good defensive or offensive linemen on your roster, and in short yardage situations his size alone will make him a factor. He is a rare physical specimen who needs a lot of technique training. With that kind of development he could be a real draft bargain, but I think that they could regret taking the risk on this kid and not taking the risk on Jake Butt.
5.14 CB Nate Hairston (Temple) This was the extra pick that the Colts got from the 49ers when they moved down in round 4. Hairston is another somewhat raw player, but one who I can see paying more long term dividends, possibly giving the Colts two starting corners out of this draft by 2019. Hairston converted from receiver just last year and is still learning the techniques of the position, but held his own against mid-level competition on the corner. He does have pretty good size for a corner, and (like every other player with something to prove) he is very aggressive and a high-motor guy. He will likely pay dividends as a starter down the road (see also former Colt Kelvin Hayden who followed this same path to NFL success), and definitely will show instant impact on special teams as a gunner. Good value and upside, and at least adds depth and size and aggression to a unit that lacked all of the above.
5.17 ILB Anthony Walker (Northwestern) - Like several of the players that have had success for the Colts’ defense in the last decade, Walker is a guy that plays far more effectively than his measurable should indicate. A typical "Colts’ guy", he is off-the-charts smart (academically and on the field) and a tough-nosed leader who gets the most out of his limited athleticism. Walker just seems to get the job done at a high level while making others around him better. With all the mid-range free agents that the Colts signed this year at linebacker, he might struggle to find snaps in the regular defense barring some injuries. However, he should be a significant factor on special teams while he is groomed to take over one of those spots as those veterans weed themselves out a bit over the season. He probably will lose a little weight as well, since he got a bit stiff and slowed down in 2016 after bulking up a little too quickly last summer. Not a bad pick, especially if he becomes anything like Kiko Alonso, a player to whom he has been compared.
The rest of the roster – every year the Colts are among the most active (and the most successful) in identifying and signing undrafted free agents in the 24 hours after the final pick is made, but I don’t see a lot of promise in this year’s crop. The first signing announced and the one garnering the most attention is Arizona WR Trey Griffey, the son of baseball HOFer Ken Griffey Jr. He is a big guy, but has not done much on the field; I don’t expect he will be anything more than a camp body. Included in the list of 17 signees is a very big receiver that is inappropriately named WR Bug Howard. With that name, you might think he is a little quick guy… but he is a very solid 6’4" possession receiver with below average speed. With the depth signing of WR Kamar Aiken and Howard’s inability to play on special teams, he likely won’t stick unless there are injuries -- or a conversion to tight end is in order. Among the 17 guys they signed in the 24 hours after the draft, the one which received the biggest signing bonus is P Rigoberto Sanchez out of Hawaii who also is a solid kicker. There is a real possibility that he will be the replacement for Pat McAfee as the punter and kickoff specialist with a slim chance of being Vinatieri’s replacement down the road. The only other potential fantasy players in the UDFA class are a pair of unheralded runners, RB Dalton Crossan of New Hampshire and Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff. Crossan is versatile with excellent hands, but lacks the size to play fullback or the speed to be converted to a slot receiver; Radcliff offers nothing special over the other options on the roster. Neither is likely to stick, but I give Crossan a better chance due to versatility.
As they began to sign undrafted free agents this week, they had to release 10 players on the fringe of their roster to make room for all the new guys. The only surprise or household name (at least to Colts’ fans) was former ProBowl LS Matt Overton. Overton had been the long snapper since 2012 and this means that PK Adam Vinatieri will be breaking in a new holder and a new snapper this season. This releases was fairly well telegraphed as there have been two other long snapper signings in the offseason. As the three specialists had been running like a well-oiled machine and have been the best in the business, this bears watching as an impact on Vinatieri and the entire special teams unit.
That is all for now from the Crossroads of America. Until next time, friends, remember to stay …COLTSTRONG!
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