Breaking down the Indianapolis Colts' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 6 overall: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
My take: Nelson doesn’t play a headline-grabbing position, but he plays a position of significant need for the Colts. General manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly said they have to be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It has been obvious over the years that the Colts have struggled on the offensive line, as they gave up an NFL-high 56 sacks last season, and poor play up front has played a factor in quarterback Andrew Luck missing 28 games over the past three seasons. The 3.7 yards per rush by the Colts ranked 28th in the NFL last season. Nelson excels in zone and gap-run schemes, according to coach Frank Reich. “He’s just instinctive,” Reich said. “He’s not only big and tough and strong and got all the football character, but when we started talking, we want instinctive football players that process it quickly. They find ways to be playmakers. We talk about it all the time: playmakers on the edge. We talk about playmakers up front, as well, and this guy is in that category.”
Trading back paid off: Ballard, based on the number of quarterbacks that could go in the top five, felt the Colts would still be able to get one of the eight premium players they believed were in the draft, while also acquiring two second-round picks and an additional second-rounder next year after swapping picks with the New York Jets. Nelson, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and NC State pass-rusher Bradley Chubb were the top three of those eight players in the Colts’ eyes. Barkley went No. 2 to the Giants, and Chubb went to Denver at No. 5. Ballard got Nelson and the necessary additional picks to help speed up the rebuilding project ahead for the franchise. “There were a couple other guys in that group that we were perfectly content [with]. We think [they] are going to be really good players. But we had it narrowed down to about four guys that we thought would be instant starters for us, impact players and be Pro Bowl players eventually in time,” Ballard said.
Using first-rounders on the line: This is the second time in the past three drafts that the Colts have used their first-round pick on an offensive lineman. They selected center Ryan Kelly with the No. 18 pick in the 2016 draft. Kelly and Nelson join left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a 2011 first-rounder, as the foundation of the Colts' offensive line. The Colts still have questions at the other guard position and at right tackle. Jack Mewhort and Matt Slauson are the early candidates for the other guard position. Mewhort is the younger of the two players, but he only has played a total of 15 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. Denzelle Good and Joe Haeg were the two primary right tackles last season. “When you’re good up front, offensively and defensively, it creates a dynamic, it creates an attitude throughout the whole team that you can win,” Reich said.
Round 2, No. 36: Darius Leonard, OLB, South Carolina State
My take: The Colts have so many needs on their roster that they really couldn't go wrong with any position group at No. 36. They took Leonard over Boston College pass-rusher Harold Landry, who had 21.5 sacks in his final two college seasons. South Carolina State plays in the Football Championship Subdivision. Leonard planned to sign with Clemson out of high school, but he didn't get the necessary test scores until after the signing period. He had 19 tackles against Clemson in a game in 2016. Leonard had 14 tackles in the Senior Bowl. Leonard had 394 tackles, 22 sacks and six interceptions in 43 career games.
How he fits: Snaps will potentially be there for Leonard because the Colts are in desperate need for help at linebacker. John Simon and Jabaal Sheard are moving to defensive end in the 4-3 defense under new coordinator Matt Eberflus. Leonard is an athletic linebacker capable of playing on third down because of his ability to drop back into coverage. Leonard joins a linebacker group that also features Antonio Morrison, Jeremiah George, Anthony Walker and Najee Goode.
Round 2, No. 37: Braden Smith, OG, Auburn
My take: Ballard is fully committed to improve the offensive line for quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett. Smith is the second offensive lineman selected by the Colts in their first three picks. They selected Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson with the No. 6 pick on Thursday. One source told me that the Colts were tired of getting "bullied" on the offensive line. They gave up an NFL-high 56 sacks and 113 quarterback hits last season and have given up at least 32 sacks in five of the last six seasons.
How he fits: Depth and competition are the two important factors for the Colts on the offensive line. Smith said he also played some tackle while at Auburn, but his primary position was guard. Smith will compete with Jack Mewhort, Matt Slauson, Joe Haeg and Jeremy Vujnovich for a starting guard position. Nelson has the inside track for the starting left guard spot. Ballard has repeatedly said the Colts have to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense and defense if they expect to be able to have any kind of success.
Round 2, No. 52: Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers
My take: Pass-rusher has been a position of need for several years for the Colts. They haven’t had a legitimate one since Robert Mathis had 19.5 sacks in 2013. Turay had an impressive freshman season at Rutgers, recording 7.5 sacks. But consistency was an issue for Turay, who played standing up a lot. He had only seven sacks total in his final three college seasons. Part of the reason Turay was inconsistent was because he underwent two shoulder surgeries while in college.
How he fits: Turay will join a defensive-end rotation that features John Simon, Jabaal Sheard, Tarell Basham, Denico Autry and Henry Anderson. Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme puts an emphasis on speed and getting up the field. The Colts want to be able to rotate bodies in so that they can wear down opponents by the fourth quarter. “I’m a hard worker,” Turay said. “I’m going to chase the ball 15 yards and make a play. They’re going to get a winner. I’m the new generation of [Denver’s] Von Miller.”
Round 2, No. 64: Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State
My take: Ballard’s plan has become obvious as the draft has unfolded: build on the inside and work to the outside. Four of the Colts’ first five draft picks were on the offensive and defensive lines. The Colts were 26th in the NFL against the run (120.4 yards per game) and 31st in the league in sacks (25) last season. Lewis joins Turay on the defensive line. “I had some frustrating moments last year where I thought physically we didn’t match up, especially against teams in our division,” Ballard said. “These are young players and they’re going to have to grow and work and become NFL players. They all have talent.”
How he fits: Lewis is about to join a defensive line that will likely rotate players throughout the game. He had at least seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in each of his final three seasons at Ohio State. The Colts don’t plan on having one key pass-rusher; they want to be able to have several so opponents can’t focus on just one player each week. “You win up front, you win when you rush, you win with speed and that’s how we’re going to play,” Ballard said. “We’re going to play in waves. The defensive line is always going to get the priority with us.”
Prospect Profile: Nyheim Hines
Take a look at NC State RB Nyheim Hines' college highlights.
Round 4, No. 104: Nyheim Hines, RB, North Carolina State
My take: The Colts decided against re-signing veteran Frank Gore during the offseason as they make the transition to being younger in the backfield. Hines is joining a crowded backfield that already has Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson and Christine Michael. There may end up being a primary back, but the Colts plan to rotate running backs depending on the situation of the game.
How he fits: Speed, speed and more speed. Hines’ 4.38 40-yard dash was the fastest among running backs during the combine. Hines fits in with coach Frank Reich’s offensive system of moving players around the field to force mismatches. Hines spent his first two seasons as a receiver at NC State before moving to running back last season. He describes his style of play as similar to Darren Sproles, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. Hines rushed for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at North Carolina State. Hines will also have the opportunity to be a return specialist for the Colts.
Round 5, No. 159: Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa
My take: Receiver became a position of need after the Colts didn’t re-sign Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken. T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers are the only returning receivers that caught a pass for the Colts last season. K.J. Brent, Dres Anderson, Ryan Grant, Seantavius Jones, Krishawn Hogan, Justice Liggins and Kolby Listenbee, DeAndre Smelter and James Wright are the other receivers on the roster.
How he fits: The opportunity will be there for Fountain to get snaps. Hilton, Rogers and Grant are projected to be the top three receivers on the roster. Fountain doesn’t have great speed, but he’s known for his leaping ability. He only had four games of at least 100 yards receiving last season while playing in the Football Championship Subdivision. “My numbers don’t define how I play,” Fountain said. “I’m a big receiver, I can stretch the field and can play in the slot for mismatches.” Fountain said he’ll be the steal of the draft.
Round 5, No. 169: Jordan Wilkins, RB, Mississippi
My take: Wilkins is the second running back the Colts selected on the final day of the draft. They picked Hines in the fourth round to bring the running back total up to six players on the roster. It will be a tough training camp for snaps as the Colts work to figure out who will be in their running back rotation.
How he fits: Wilkins rushed for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards a carry last season at Ole Miss. He missed the 2016 season because of an academic suspension. Wilkins only had 32 receptions in three seasons in college. He’ll have to show he can catch the ball out of the backfield in Reich’s offensive system in order to get on the field.
Round 6, No. 185: Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Prospect Profile: Deon Cain
Take a look at Clemson WR Deon Cain's college highlights.
My take: The Colts focused on the offensive and defensive line in the first two days of the draft and shifted to the skill positions on the final day. Cain is the second receiver -- along with two running backs -- selected on Day 3. Some people had Cain projected to be selected in the second or third round.
How he fits: Cain, who had 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns in his three seasons at Clemson, was suspended for the College Football Playoff in 2015 for reportedly failing a drug test. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. Cain has a great combination of speed and size, but also earned a reputation for having too many drops while at Clemson. He said he was surprised that he was still on the board in the sixth round. “I was hearing because of off-the-field issues, production level,” Cain said. “I’m still a growing player, growing person. I learned from my mistakes made in college.”
Round 7, No. 221: Matthew Adams, LB, Houston
My take: The Colts finally added to their depth at inside linebacker with the addition of Adams. Inside linebacker can be looked at as one of their weaker positions. Antonio Morrison started there last season. The Colts signed Najee Goode, who spent the past five seasons in Philadelphia, and they also have Anthony Walker, a rookie last season, on the roster.
How he fits: Matthews only had 6.5 sacks in his career at Houston to go with 20.5 tackles for a loss. He led Houston in tackles (82) in 2016 and finished second (88) last season. Matthews started 22 games over his final two seasons with the Cougars.
Round 7, No. 235: Zaire Franklin, LB, Syracuse
My take: The Colts ended the draft with their second straight linebacker. By taking just two linebackers in the draft, the Colts don’t appear to be too worried about that position. Franklin, Adams, Najee Goode, Anthony Walker, Jeremiah George, Jermaine Grace, Antonio Morrison and Darnell Sankey are the inside linebackers on the roster. The Colts are shifting to a 4-3 defense next season.
How he fits: Franklin had 101 tackles during his junior season at Syracuse. Don’t expect Franklin to get after the quarterback, as he had only 8.5 sacks in his four years at the school. He’ll likely have to make an impact on special teams in order to make the roster.