Despite the overwhelming success Andrew Luck had as a rookie in leading the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs as a rookie, they entered the 2013 NFL Draft with a ton of holes to fill. They have the most important piece of the puzzle with a franchise quarterback and he can cover up a lot of warts but he needs help and General Manager Ryan Grigson was down a second round pick from the trade they made with the Miami Dolphins for cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis made the most of his change of scenery and was a valuable contributor for them getting into the playoffs but they had to work the draft without a second round pick. The strategy the Colts opted to go with in the draft was interesting and it could prove to pay dividends immediately but it was made more so for in the future than immediately. As it turns out, the Colts only have one pick that looks like they will have significant playing time at this point unless they can make an impact at training camp but they did improve the talent level for Head Coach Chuck Pagano going into next season.
The Colts could have gone any number of different directions with the 24th pick in the draft as they had a ton of great options in which to choose. One option was giving Andrew Luck more weapons or maybe one big one to grow and work with over the course of his career in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison. They also could have attacked any level on their defense as they have holes on the defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs, particularly at safety. Grigson ultimately went with Bjoern Werner, the defensive end out of Florida State. Werner is a somewhat raw player who made a great deal of plays and impact on motor and hustle, but still needs to refine his game. Had he stayed at defensive end, his best fit might have been as a wide-9 end, so moving to outside linebacker should be fine along the lines of a Ryan Kerrigan type player. Werner has the size, strength, and closing speed with good instincts and a sense of how to attack blocks to give him angles to the football but he needs to do a better job of getting low and establishing leverage and power when he takes on a block as well as his block shedding.
On paper, the situation Werner comes into behind Robert Mathis and Erik Walden is a good one for the sake of being able to take their time and really develop him into what they want him to be as a player. The question is will either Walden or Mathis be able to play well enough to keep him out of the starting lineup. That would allow Werner to be able to focus on being more of a pass rusher and specialist but he may simply be too good or to keep on the bench or perhaps just as accurately, Walden or Mathis will not be good enough to keep him in the primary rotational player role. The concern that many will jump on is that Werner will struggle to play in coverage and he might, but that is not what they drafted him to do. He was brought in to go get the quarterback and as long as he does that, he will be fine.
Without a second round pick, the Colts did not select again until the 86th overall pick where they selected Hugh Thornton, a guard from Illinois. A small surprise but Thornton had some buzz going at the end of the process and the draft community seemed to be catching onto what the teams already knew; Thornton was a second day player. Thornton has the tools to develop into a productive linemen for years if he can just improve his technique on the line. His story is remarkable and he is a guy people will like and root for almost immediately. He found his mother and sister murdered, been abused by his father, and had some small issues he has gotten over himself and turned himself into a quality football player and reliable person. He is converting inside from tackle to play guard.
The Colts offensive line has been extremely frustrating for fans, the team, and certainly the players as well because of injuries. Anthony Costanzo is their left tackle but he has missed time. Ben Ijalana missed a ton of time and he could potentially play one of the guard spots or tackle if/when he is healthy. The Colts also brought in some free agents to help in Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas. The indication is that the Colts basically want all the competition they can get and let that sort out who should be blocking for Luck this coming year. Thornton could be a factor at either guard spot and while it would not be an awful situation for him to be depth for a year, the Colts would probably like Thornton to prove to be good enough to come in and start immediately, since the guys slated to start right now are both journeymen and little more than that at this point. With Costanzo, Ijalana if he can recover and get back to the player they hoped he can be when he was drafted and with Thornton and their fourth round pick, they could have the makings of a nice young line that can develop and gel together.
That fourth round pick was Khaled Holmes, center out of USC. Considering what the Colts currently have at center in Samson Satele and A.Q. Shipley, they really hope Holmes can take the starting job sooner than later. Holmes has gotten somewhat of a raw deal when the circumstances of this season were taken into account. When the name Khaled Holmes comes up, too many people immediately remember back to their nationally televised game against Utah and Star Lotulelei throwing him around like a rag doll. Holmes was playing that game on one leg and one healthy shoulder and the sanctions that took away scholarships from USC really killed their depth. As a result, Holmes at 50-60% was better than the guy behind him. Combine that with Lotulelei being one of the best players in the country and the result is a highlight tape. This is a testament to Holmes’ toughness if nothing else but a healthy Holmes can be an effective NFL center which is what the Colts expected when they drafted him. He was a far better player as a junior. Holmes has been a smart, tough, gritty, hard working lineman that brings leadership and character to the position and in many ways is reminiscent of Jeff Saturday. He has a few technical issues to work on but for the most part, what you see is what you get with Holmes, which has been an effective center throughout his football life.
Considering the circumstances and weak offensive line play the Colts had last year that forced Luck to run for his life far more than he should have, it would not be too surprising to see a close competition go to Holmes and Thornton and hope they can grow into the roles over the course of the season. Especially in the case of Holmes, the competition is not overwhelming and he may take the starting job sooner than later.
The Colts continued attacking their lines in the fifth round but went to the other side of the ball when they selected Montori Hughes from Tennessee-Martin. Hughes is a small school player who looked like he had NFL potential in the Senior Bowl. Hughes offers them the athletic ability to play either at nose tackle but is more likely to get on the field faster as a rotational defensive tackle behind Ricky-Jean Francois. When Josh Chapman was selected, they stashed him on injured reserve for a year and if he is ready to go, he could be a force and push Aubrayo Franklin for the starting nose tackle job. In that scenario, he would be the third string nose and struggle to find time on the field. If he looks promising in camp, he will likely get snaps elsewhere. It is not impossible that Hughes could basically be a redshirt this year and purely spend the time to develop but when a player is 325lbs and can move, they are going to find some snaps for him somewhere. Francois is a good player and a solid free agent signing so Hughes will really have to earn playing time on that side short of keeping him fresh. Franklin is a plug and pray type situation who can be effective but is reaching the end of his career quickly. If Chapman is not ready to go, Hughes could make some noise there. Hughes might be able to have some impact this year and the Colts hope he can but they really made this pick for next year and the years after when Franklin and Cory Redding are gone and guys like Chapman and Hughes are ready to step in and take the job.
While some of the Colts picks could have an impact this year but were drafted for the future, the sixth round pick was drafted to likely not play this year at all. John Boyett, a safety from Oregon, was highly regarded coming into the season but knee injuries to both knees and the resulting surgeries ended his year and could jeopardize his rookie year, which is why he was available in round six. It is possible he will only need to spend time on the Physically Unable to Perform List but it would not be a surprise if he needs to spend the entire season on injured reserve to come back next season at 100% with a year learning the system. The Colts have signed Laron Landry to be their strong safety as a stopgap measure and the Colts may be hoping he can do a serviceable enough job to not need Boyett for a year, maybe two. If all goes according to plan, they can use Boyett alongside Antoine Bethea, their long time free safety.
In the seventh round, the Colts brought in a weapon for the offense in Kerwynn Williams, a running back from Utah State. The Colts have a couple backs they can plug in and pick up yards but no one has established themselves as the guy in that backfield. Williams is not likely to be that guy either as he is built to be a third down and change of pace type runner with speed and agility. He is a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield as well as run it and has great stop and start ability as well as agility and then the acceleration to punish teams. It is somewhat remarkable that Williams lasted this long in the draft given his skill set, but that could be a nice pick up for the Colts. The Colts have so many weapons on their offense on the outside with speed that adding one in the backfield other than Luck makes a great deal of sense. Williams is also a potential contributor on special teams. The Colts have guys like Vick Ballard and Delone Carter that eat up yards but if Williams can show he is a better NFL player than college, he could conceivably get more and more carries eventually getting the majority and having the other guys come in and give him a break, though that is not terribly likely.
The other aspect to this pick is that the Colts have a pile of running backs who have yet to really set themselves apart in the NFL like former first round pick Donald Brown, Carter, and Davin Meggett that it only appears as though Ballard has really assured himself a roster spot at this point. Williams is not guaranteed a roster spot but given his specific role, it seems like he will and as a result, a number of these other guys are going to be cut. The question of which will be answered in training camp.
With the last pick of their draft and the draft overall, the Colts made Justice Cunningham Mr. Irrelevant. The former Gamecock was drafted to a team that has a pretty good group of tight ends. The reason they brought in Cunningham is to be a blocking specialist. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are talented receiving options and they even have Weslye Saunders on the roster that was another receiving option. There is always a spot on the roster for a guy who can just come in and block for the running game, goal line, special teams, so on and so forth. While hardly guaranteed a roster spot, this is a good use of the last pick in the draft if they want a guy who is likely to make the team and be able to contribute. Because of being a full on blocker, he could contribute immediately.
My Thoughts: Andrew Luck has been everything the Colts wanted him to be and more, which is both great and puts the Colts in a difficult position. While the Colts had a successful season in his rookie year, they entered the draft picking at the back end of every round which puts a lot of pressure on the front office to make those picks count. Ryan Grigson had a tremendous first draft last year and if this draft produces similar results, the Colts could be a year away from being a Super Bowl contender. That is an extremely tall order, but one that Grigson happily accepts considering the alternatives.
In many ways, the situation mirrors the one Dan Marino was in with the Miami Dolphins when he took over and took over the league. After getting to the Super Bowl and losing, the Dolphins front office was unable to draft well late in rounds and the team around him was never up to his level and he ultimately was never able to get over the hump. So far, Grigson has looked the part of a good talent evaluator with a good plan so hopefully the Colts will not be put in a similar position as Marino. Marino’s success was both a blessing and a curse for the Colts.
Specifically regarding this draft, it was difficult to project what the Colts were going to do. A player like Justin Hunter would have made sense to pair with Luck to give him a premier weapon. Cordarrelle Patterson could have been a worthwhile gamble to develop with him and develop a dynamic duo. I cannot argue with them going with a pass rusher as the Colts defense, as average as it has been, knew how to play with a lead with Mathis and Dwight Freeney able to consistently get after the quarterback when Manning got them a lead. The same thought process could be in place for Luck, having signed Walden and now drafting Werner. It is difficult not to love Werner’s effort and drive for the game, especially for someone who has not played a ton of football. He has been a sponge for soaking up football knowledge and if he can continue developing his technique and capitalize on his athletic ability, he could be a premier player on their defense.
Getting Vontae Davis paid immediate dividends, but I like the approach they took with their third and fourth round picks. Luck’s offensive line struggled his rookie year and his athletic ability is a blessing but not one to be taken for granted. Having Costanzo is good but adding talented young players like Thornton and Holmes could help him stay that way for years to come if they can develop. It remains to be seen if they will ultimately be the answers to those positions but given their circumstances, protecting Luck and hopefully opening more running lanes to take pressure off of him makes a ton of sense. By building from the inside out, they can come back and take premier edge players as they need them in the future. The talented young players they brought in last year will have the opportunity to grow and develop with Luck and if they need to add a premier player at wide receiver, they can address it later.
The defense is a work in progress and Chuck Pagano is going to be put to the test in making it work this year. Between stopgaps and young talent, it is going to be a test of his ability to put them in positions to succeed. Werner is his project and if guys like Hughes and Chapman can contribute, his job gets easier but it could be trying to hold out long enough for Luck to come in and win games like he did last year. If he cannot do that like he did last year, it would not be surprising to see the Colts regress a little bit as a result, which could ultimately be a blessing in disguise as it would get Grigson more assets to use in next year’s draft to add more talent to the roster and put them in position to be a real contender.
The wildcard pick in this draft for me is Kerwynn Williams. I like this pick and think he could be a nice surprise for the Colts this year. I do not expect him to get 1,000 yards or anything but he could be a guy who just has a knack for making plays both as a runner and receiver and scoring some points for the Colts with big plays, which is exactly what he did for Utah State. Every year a few running backs drafted late make a big impact and while he may not be quite at the level of Alfred Morris, he could certainly prove to be a valuable asset in the Colts organization and a good role player.
Considering the position the Colts were put in with this draft, I think they made the most of their opportunities. Ultimately, it will depend on how the players do, but getting a player at each level of the defense and working to fortify the line with a couple of role players on offense that could make contributions as rookies without having a second round pick is a solid weekend of work for Grigson and the Colts front office.
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