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Entering the second year of general manager Chris Ballard’s tenure and following a 4-12 campaign, the Colts got a complete makeover. Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, was hired as the team’s newest head coach. The upcoming draft was vital. A complete roster overhaul was expected, and the process of acquiring high-end talent while also starting to build depth was the main goal of the entire off-season. Ballard followed through with that mission.
Prior to the draft he elected to trade back – completing a trade with the New York Jets. Sliding back from the No. 3 to the No. 6 overall selection, the team acquired two second-round choices in 2018 and a second-rounder in 2019.
Here’s a look at how the team executed Ballard’s off-season vision and how their roster is in better shape than it was prior to free agency and the draft.
Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame: Round 1, Pick 6th Overall
After making the trade with the Jets, Ballard felt as if there were eight premium players in this draft class. The feeling was that the team could get a premium player in that same tier with the No. 6 pick as they could at No. 3. That was the biggest reason they were comfortable with trading back. How did he describe a premium player?
“A guy that we think makes an impact and difference for our team on game day.” Ballard said. “Makes game-winning plays for us. Guys that on Monday and Tuesday, the other team is game planning for.”
Nelson was a prospect included in that premium tier of players that Ballard spoke about in his pre-draft press conference. It was widely rumored that the Colts were heavily interested in Nelson because Notre Dame was only the school’s pro day that Ballard traveled to. A team that was in desperate need of protection for their franchise QB in Andrew Luck, the former Fighting Irish guard immediately establishes an identity for an offensive line that has sorely been lacking in that area.
Braden Smith, Guard, Auburn: Round 2, Pick 37th Overall
Two of the three picks acquired in the trade with the Jets resulted in offensive line selections. After drafting Nelson in the first round, Braden Smith was selected in the second round. It could be argued that he falls under many categories on this list, but with Jack Mewhort’s inability to stay healthy the past few seasons and being signed to only a one-year deal, it seems as if Smith is going to be the player to occupy the right guard spot for the foreseeable future. Adding Smith with Nelson and center Ryan Kelly, the team now possesses a rock solid interior line for the future and added protection for Luck.
Immediate Role Player
Darius Leonard, Linebacker, South Carolina State: Round 2, Pick 36th Overall
An FCS product, Leonard was one of the most productive players in school history, winning conference defensive player of the year in consecutive seasons. After finishing with the 26th ranked run defense (120.4 yards per-game) in the league last season, getting faster on the first and second levels of the defense was a priority for the Colts. Leonard provides sideline-to-sideline speed amongst a group that sorely lacks explosiveness and athleticism, but he still has some questions as a run defender. His consistency and physicality vs the run is one of the biggest areas that he will need to improve upon going forward.
Nyheim Hines, Running Back, North Carolina State: Round 4, Pick 104th Overall
With Frank Gore moving on to the Dolphins via free agency, that left 2017 fourth-round pick Marlon Mack as the team’s remaining contributor in the backfield. Needing to add another weapon, Ballard did exactly that with drafting Hines. Known as a swiss army knife, he’s a prospect that can line up all over the field in multiple roles and formations. Hines does most of his damage in the backfield, but he’s also can be a threat from the slot or as a return specialist. On a roster that lacked explosive playmakers, Hines is sure to make contributions in many ways throughout his career. Hines or Mack will never be bell cow type of rushers, but the plan is for them to split the carries and employ a running back-by-committee backfield.
Tyquan Lewis, Defensive End, Ohio State: Round 2, Pick 64th Overall
With the switch to a 4-3 defense, Ballard wanted to get multiple bodies along the defensive line and in the linebacking core. There was a clear interest in Lewis, as Ballard traded up to secure him. The positive aspect about the former Buckeye is that he checks multiple boxes. He can play inside at the 3-technique spot, while also being able to lineup at defensive end on third-down or passing down situations. His 55 games played during his Ohio State career is also another positive, as he’s shown to be durable during his collegiate career. His biggest weaknesses come in run defense and he has improvements to make in that area, but mainly playing spot duty in certain situations will limit that concern early on in his career.
Deon Cain, Wide Receiver, Clemson: Round 6, Pick 185th Overall
Coming into Clemson, Cain was a highly decorated recruit. Following in the shadows of first round receivers in Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams, he just never lived up that billing. Struggling with concentration drops and even being sent home prior to the 2016 National Championship game, he had some red flags off of the field. His talent suggests that he should’ve been a top-100 pick, but the other issues that came with him were the major reasons why he slipped to the sixth-round. Outside of T.Y. Hilton, the team needed help on the perimeter, hence why he’s labeled as good depth opposed to other categories that he could be placed in. He’s a prime candidate to outplay his draft slot early on if he’s able to put it all together, as he will receive many opportunities with a lack of talented threats ahead of him on the depth chart.
Jordan Wilkins, Running Back, Ole Miss: Round 5, Pick 169th Overall
It is no secret that Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines will spearhead Reich’s offensive attack. Wilkins was another talented rusher added to provide depth to a backfield that needed it. The difference between Wilkins and Hines, though, is that Wilkins is more of a threat between the tackles. At 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, his game is predicated on being a strong inside rusher, while the other two do most of their damage on perimeter runs and split out wide as receivers.
Kemoko Turay, Defensive End, Rutgers: Round 2, Pick 52nd Overall
Pass rushers are a hot commodity throughout the league and defensive end is seen as a premium position. Turay burst onto the scene as a freshman – finishing with 7.5 sacks. After that point though, he battled multiple shoulder injuries and as a result, his production suffered. In his final season though, he seemed to show some flashes of being that player that he once was. At 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, he possesses an explosive first step and unique bend that allows him to consistently win off of the edge. He has some work to do as far as developing a counter move and his overall awareness of play recognition, but for a team that lacks pass rushers, Turay is poised to see a heavy amount of action early on.
Daurice Fountain, Wide Receiver, Northern Iowa: Round 5, Pick 159th Overall
After a career high in catches, yards and touchdowns during his senior season, Fountain was invited to participate in the East-West Shrine Game. He showed that he was the best player in St. Petersburg and saw his draft stock skyrocket. He was relatively unknown prior to that point, but started his rise during the pre-draft process from there. For a team that desperately needed options out wide, he is sure to be a down the line contributor at some point. Early on, it most likely will be on special teams, but as the season progresses and he gets more comfortable adjusting to the playbook and speed of the game, he may be a bottom of the depth chart player that has some promising moments.
Matthew Adams, Linebacker, Houston: Round 7, Pick 221st Overall
The first of two late-round linebacker selections, Adams was another added piece of a completely rebuilt unit. He was very productive in his final two seasons at Houston with 182 tackles combined. He’s most likely projected to be a heavy special teams contributor because there just isn’t a lot of open spots to contribute early on. Combine that with being a seventh-round selection, he’s fighting an uphill battle just to make the roster. He still has some improvements to make in coverage as well.
Zaire Franklin, Linebacker, Syracuse: Round 7, Pick 235th Overall
The final selection of the teams 2018 draft class, it came as a bit of a surprise that Ballard selected yet another linebacker. It seemed like a bit of overkill at this point to draft three prospects at the same position in one year, but he wanted more chances at potentially finding a hidden gem late in the draft. Production seemed to be what the team targeted at this point, as he was another linebacker that had a heavy amount of tackles – finishing his career with 310 total. Franklin will have a chance to be a special team contributor and provide depth early on behind Anthony Walker at weakside linebacker.
Free Agent Rookie Signings
The Colts signed 10 undrafted free agents to get the roster to 90 players total. Here is the complete list of the prospects that they added:
Wide Receiver – Steve Ishmael
Safety – Chris Cooper
Safety – George Odum
Cornerback – Lashard Durr
Cornerback – Robert Jackson
Cornerback – Henre’ Toliver
Defensive Tackle – Tomasi Laulile
Linebacker – Skai Moore
Linebacker – William Ossai
Kicker – Michael Badgley