INDIANAPOLIS – It is the smallest draft class in the 5-year tenure of Chris Ballard, and it didn’t address the biggest position of need.
-Round 1: DE-Kwity Paye (Michigan)
-Round 2: DL-Dayo Odeyingbo (Vanderbilt)
-Round 4: TE-Kylen Granson (SMU)
-Round 5: S-Shawn Davis (Florida)
-Round 6: QB-Sam Ehlinger (Texas)
-Round 7: WR-Mike Strachan (Charleston)
-Round 7: OL-Will Fries (Penn State)
The draft is complete and we have heard from big-time decision makers in Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard and Frank Reich.
Here are my 11 takeaways from the Colts 2021 Draft:
-What About Left Tackle? With the month of May here, the Colts still have no obvious answer to the new starter at left tackle. Chris Ballard did say the Colts are not planning to move Quenton Nelson or Braden Smith from their already entrenched spots. So that means the Colts will either turn to a Sam Tevi, Julie’n Davenport or Will Holden already on the roster, or pursue another veteran on the open market. From what Ballard and Jim Irsay said this week, Tevi seems to be the early favorite. Many have thrown out the name of veteran free agent Eric Fisher due to the Kansas City/Chris Ballard connection, but he is 30 years old and is coming off a torn Achilles in January. Him being ready for the ’21 season opener is unlikely. It is puzzling to see the Colts going from Anthony Castonzo to a roster that doesn’t even have a young tackle pick to groom. They’ve drafted one tackle in the last three drafts and that was Jackson Barton in the 7th round of the 2019 Draft (7th round pick Will Fries is labeled as a guard). The Colts were adamant this weekend that no pick came down to a left tackle or another player. Their respective picks were all ranked much higher than any LT on the board at that time. Fair questions are to be asked in May: How much of a step back will the Indy offensive line take in 2021? Will it impact Carson Wentz as he tries to get back to an adequate level quarterback?
-Edge Need Solved? The position means too much to stop swinging. We preached that entering the offseason, and, again, in the draft. The Colts have now spent 4 premium picks on edge rushers in 5 Chris Ballard drafts. Kwity Paye is the latest. What separates Paye from other rushers they’ve drafted early is a combination of traits in explosion and strength, plus a rare character makeup, and a guy who should play on run downs, too. That’s what sold the Colts on getting a guy they believe can/will play on 3 downs, with the coaching staff tasked to get Paye to an upper-level rusher in this league. From a floor standpoint, view Paye as a Jabaal Sheard type early-down presence, with the hope that his sack numbers will rise to a consistent double-digit mark. As if they needed it anymore, this should be another wake-up call to Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu. Paye was a needed selection at a really important need.
-Offseason Support For Carson Wentz: Several weeks before the Colts traded for Carson Wentz, Jim Irsay was throwing out the need to add another weapon or two at wide receiver and/or tight end. In free agency, the only move the Colts made at those spots was re-signing T.Y. Hilton. In the draft, the Colts took tight end Kylen Granson, who is known for his receiving ability, in Round Four, and then took a Division II wideout in Mike Strachan in Round Seven. Strachan’s impact in 2021 is unlikely. Two of my main three goals for this draft revolved around giving Wentz more support (solidifying the OL and finding another weapon in the air). The first wasn’t accomplished and we’ll see how seriously the second was addressed. The Colts do have a loaded backfield and an intriguing wideout group (if healthy), but what Irsay really wanted back in January never turned into fruition. From an offensive personnel standpoint, is there enough support for Wentz to get back to being a top-half QB in the league?
-Wake Up Call For The Young Defensive Line: Chris Ballard said it was a goal entering this draft to spend some high-end picks on the D-line. I would love to get some truth serum on what Ben Banogu, Kemoko Turay and even Tyquan Lewis thought of the Colts draft. A clear message has been sent to those former second-round draft picks. Yes, we know the Colts want ample depth on their defensive line, but we also have to be honest here. If any of those three guys had already established themselves as unquestioned building blocks moving forward, the Colts wouldn’t have felt the urgency to double-dip along the defensive line in 2021. But with the futures of Banogu, Turay and Lewis (who did have a nice a 2020 season) very much up in the air, the Colts are again spending precious picks on their defensive front. If you count the 1st rounder traded for Buckner, the Colts have spent 6 first or second round picks in the last four drafts on defensive linemen. Past misses at this spot for Chris Ballard have played into the GM still feeling the need to seriously add to the group.
-No Cornerback Pick: It looks like the belief Chris Ballard has in Rock Ya-Sin won out over Jim Irsay mentioning the need to find a third cornerback last month. Despite cornerback having some strong depth in this draft class, the Colts didn’t take one. That’s great news for Ya-Sin, Marvell Tell and Isaiah Rodgers. Ballard has long been a public defender of Ya-Sin, stating the difficulty of playing corner in the NFL and also praising the work ethic of the former second-round pick. Xavier Rhodes and Kenny Moore are obvious locked-in starters, but who fills out that 3-corner nickel personnel grouping will be a competition this offseason. One thing that Jim Irsay made very clear on Saturday is that the additions of Paye and Odeyingbo (both who he called ‘edge’ players) will greatly aid the cornerback group, thanks to the D-line’s ability to pressure the QB.
-Believing In The Trenches: Chris Ballard’s biggest roster building belief was felt loud and clear in this draft. Trench building is always something Ballard thinks about and that has only risen in 2021. Ballard mentioned the additional 17th game adding to the importance of wanting to feel comfortable in relying on 8-9 defensive linemen, each week, while also wanting versatility and flexibility up front. The Colts feel that they have some D-line pieces who can line up at multiple spots in Tyquan Lewis, Isaac Rochell, Dayo Odeyingbo and Kwity Paye. When you look at the defensive line depth chart right now, the Colts are going to have some roster decisions to make on some notable names. Obviously, Odeyingbo’s health could/will limit him in camp, but this defensive line group will have some very interesting battles to watch. Entering Saturday of the draft, Ballard had made 40 draft picks in his Colts tenure, with 22 of those coming to the offensive and defensive fronts.
-2022 Capital: It was a bit surprising to see the Colts not trade back on Day 1 or Day 2 of this year’s draft. That meant just 2 selections in the first 125 picks, and it also means a limited amount of premium draft capital for next year. With the Carson Wentz trade calling for the Colts to send a conditional 2nd round pick in ’22 (and most likely a 1st rounder based off Wentz’s playing time) to the Eagles, they are looking at a second straight year of having just two picks in the first three rounds, and possibly without a 1st rounder. Now, the Colts could be in line for a couple of Day 3 compensatory picks next year (thanks to Denico Autry and Jacoby Brissett leaving). But it does appear a limited amount of high-end draft assets will be there for the Colts as they try to build around Wentz.
-Wentz or Fields? For those that thought the Colts would need to climb into the top-7 or top-8 to get one of the first-round quarterbacks, that didn’t matriculate. Justin Fields went No. 11 to the Bears. Mac Jones went No. 15 to the Patriots. Let’s focus on Fields, who was a prospect the Colts really liked. The Colts ended up giving up a 3rd rounder (2021) and likely a 1st rounder (2022) for Wentz, while paying the 28-year-old $47 million for the next two years. The Bears gave their 20th overall pick, a 5th rounder (2021), a 1st rounder (2022) and a 4th rounder (2022) to move up and take Fields, plus they will pay the rookie around $18 million on 4-year deal, with a 5th year team option. Would you rather have Wentz for the lesser package, but more money? Or take a chance on Fields, mortgaging more draft picks, but on a much more affordable deal? This is something to monitor in the coming years, as the Colts clearly didn’t think Fields would make it to a much more reasonable range than what ended up happening.
-Getting Younger On The Defensive Line: The Colts have ushered in a new-ish era along their defensive line. In the Matt Eberflus era, Denico Autry and Justin Houston have been the Colts’ most consistent presences along their defensive front. Now, neither are around. Autry chose to leave the Colts (signing with the Titans) and it sounds like the Colts won’t be bringing back Houston, with 2 premium draft picks coming at the defensive line this year. While Autry and Houston had their respective limits as players, they were important contributors in the Colts making such a big jump defensively. At the age of 27, Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner are now the oldest defensive linemen for the Colts. Typically, the Colts have had at least one 30-year-old logging important minutes.
-Jacob Eason Still The Backup Favorite: Even though the Colts drafted a quarterback late in Round 6 on Saturday, Jacob Eason should still be viewed as the favorite to be Carson Wentz’s backup in 2021. In an ideal world, Eason would show strides in his second NFL offseason, play well in the preseason and secure that backup spot. And then rookie Sam Ehlinger (Texas) would learn in that 3rd QB role, like Eason last season, and spend a year on the practice squad, while bringing a different skillset to the position, something that could help in scout team looks. The Colts know that they need to see Eason in consistent practice/preseason game reps to get a true evaluation on him. This selection of Ehlinger should in no way limit the second-team reps Eason gets early in the offseason. If Eason shows that he’s not ready to be the backup in camp/the preseason, then the Colts could go get a veteran backup at the end of August. The pick of Ehlinger is just fine. When you aren’t 100 percent positive about your starter being the definite answer of the future, having an identified/drafted QB third on the depth chart and growing on the practice squad is a wise move, especially for a QB-centric coaching staff.
-Right Tight End Skillset: Many have been clamoring for the Colts to pursue Zach Ertz this offseason. But the age of Ertz and his skillset is too similar to what the Colts already have at tight end. Indy not only needed to get younger at tight end, but they needed to add some receiving pop to a position Carson Wentz and Frank Reich want to use. Fourth-round pick Kylen Granson is not a complete tight end, but his strength as a receiver and impressive short area quickness gives the Colts something they didn’t have within the position group. Granson averaged 16.1 yards per catch and scored 14 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Those are very notable numbers for a collegiate tight end. Granson was moved all over the SMU offense and you know Frank Reich is envisioning a new chess piece to help diversify the tight end room, and the Indy offense.