Where some GMs see red flags, Ryan Grigson sees green lights.
You get the impression he spends his time at the NFL Scouting Combine seeking out at players that don’t put up impressive numbers or otherwise struggle. Vick Ballard tripped and knocked over the timer when trying to run the 40. Dwayne Allen turned in a hugely disappointing 4.89 time. Josh Chapman was injured and couldn’t participate at all. Bjoern Werner posted mediocre numbers across the board.
It isn’t that he somehow prefers flawed prospects, it’s that when a prospect shows his flaws to the full complement of NFL scouts, coaches and GMs, they tend to start sliding down the draft board – and into Grigson’s lap.
Their most pressing needs are interior offensive line, wide receiver, nose tackle, inside linebacker and free safety. The latter could become acute if Antoine Bethea is not re-signed, a distinct possibility.
They have two young interior linemen from last year’s draft already (Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes), and expect a healthy return from Donald Thomas, who joined Gosder Cherilus in Grigson’s big free agent class last year. So it might be a higher priority to add another veteran while allowing the younger players to develop.
With those things in mind, let’s take a stab at projecting the Colts’ picks this year. This is, of course, an exercise in futility, as players will fly up and down the board in the coming weeks, but it does offer a general idea of where the Colts might prioritize certain positions and what types of players best fit.
SECOND ROUND (No. 59 overall): WIDE RECEIVER
Even if Reggie Wayne does return to full health, there is little depth at the position and a long-term complement to T.Y. Hilton needs to be found. This is a strong year for receivers, so it makes sense for the Colts to prioritize here.
Two players widely projected as first-rounders did not post impressive 40 times at the combine, which could benefit the Colts. Allen Robinson of Penn State ran a 4.6 and Jarvis Landry of LSU a 4.75, although his time was at least partially attributable to a calf injury.
With Hilton an established vertical threat, the Colts should prioritize someone that will move the chains, work the middle of the field and make the possession catches. At 6-2, 220, Robinson fits that mold. The same is true of 6-3, 212-pound Jordan Mathews of Vanderbilt. But don’t sleep on Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, a precise route-runner with excellent hands and more quickness than speed who could be an ideal slot receiver.
THIRD ROUND (90): INSIDE LINEBACKER
Though Jerrell Freeman is progressing toward stardom as a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with some pop as a pass-rusher, the Colts desperately need a gap-plugging presence in the middle to strengthen what has been a porous run defense.
An ideal fit could be Stanford’s Shayne Skov – and not just because of his collegiate choice. At 6-2, 245, Skov has played in a similar 3-4 scheme and his strengths match up well with the Colts’ needs. Stanford’s defense was stout against the run and Skov not only played a key role, he was also a superb signal caller, another area the Colts could use a boost.
Another possibility might be Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, a high-motor player who is very aggressive but at 5-11 lacks prototypical size. Louisville’s Preston Brown is a 262-pound force to be considered.
FIFTH ROUND (154): NOSE TACKLE
It has become commonplace for players coming off knee surgery to need more than a year to regain full confidence in their recovery, which could be the case with Chapman. The Colts still hope the former Alabama star can become the block of granite they need in the middle of the line. But with veteran Aubrayo Franklin headed into free agency and Chapman coming off a less-than-impactful season, the Colts need help.
Arkansas State’s Ryan Carrethers fits the profile. At 6-1, 329, he is extremely strong and as a former wrestler has enough agility to win one-on-one battles. Also has a strong reputation for work ethic, which bodes well for his future.
Another possibility is Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech, another very big body but not as finely tuned as Carrethers.
SIXTH ROUND (187): FREE SAFETY
This deep in the draft, you’re not likely to find a step-in starter, so the priority is identifying potential, and that could lead to Wisconsin’s Dezmen Southward, who has the size and speed but lacks instincts and fluidity, in part because he didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school.
Three players who spent time at both cornerback and safety in college could also be on the board: Marqueston Huff of Wyoming, Jemea Thomas of Georgia Tech and Dontae Johnson of N.C. State.
SEVENTH ROUND (209): PUNTER
Though they could use a change-of-pace running back to complement Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard if Donald Brown leaves via free agency, it’s unlikely they’ll find a better prospect this late in the draft than two guys that finished the season on injured reserve, Chris Rainey and Boom Herron.
With Pat McAfee also heading to free agency and likely to command a higher price than the Colts can afford to pay at this position, it might be a good idea to take a look at Memphis’ Tom Hornsey, Iowa State’s Kirby Van Der Kamp, or Alabama’s Cody Mandell.