INDIANAPOLIS – There are some great debates to be had when projecting rookie playing time for the Colts biggest draft class since 1992.
The Colts made 6 picks on offense (most since 2012) and 6 on defense this year.
Following the team’s rookie minicamp this past weekend, it’s time for a very early gauge on what this fall could look like for the dozen draftees.
Based off a 1-to-10 scale (1 being lucky to make the roster, 10 being a definite full-time starter), let’s project the playing time for the Colts 2023 draft class:
1. QB-Anthony Richardson (7-8)Source:Getty
Obviously, virtually all the intrigue on rookie playing time revolves around this name and position. We have a long ways to go in this offseason (13 on-field 11-on-11 sessions in the spring, plus training camp and the preseason), but I’m still going with Anthony Richardson will play sooner rather than later, and could very well be the opening day starter. Shane Steichen and Jim Irsay have both been very public in their stance of the need for Richardson to play, truly grow and develop. Unless signs of that drastically change during these spring/summer practices, it’s hard to see Richardson sitting for much, if any, of this season.
2. CB-JuJu Brents (8-9)Source:Getty
If you were going to pick one rookie to start all 17 games this season, this Indy product is probably the smartest bet there. JuJu Brents walks into a cornerback room with one locked-in starter, and that’s Kenny Moore in the slot. What could hurt Brents though is the fact that he’s not going to be full-go this spring due to a wrist procedure he had after the Combine. That means Brent will miss out on those 13 team sessions.
3. WR-Josh Downs (6-7)Source:Getty
Technically, Downs might not receive a huge number of starts, but I still expect him to play a good amount in Year One. As the likely slot receiver, a lot of Downs ‘starts’ will be up to if Shane Steichen begins a game with the Colts offense in a 3-receiver personnel grouping or not. Downs should have a consistent rookie role though, as I see Isaiah McKenzie has more of the gadget/smaller/specific package tool for this offense. Remember, Downs brings some punt return background and that’s an unanswered question in post-Nyheim Hines role.
4. OT-Blake Freeland (3-4)Source:Getty
Freeland might be one injury away though from this being a 9-10. The Colts have their starting tackles in 2023—Braden Smith at right tackle and Bernhard Raimann a left tackle. But one injury to either and the assumption is Freeland would bump into a rookie starter. The Colts no longer have veteran tackles in Matt Pryor and Dennis Kelly from last season. So Freeland is the expected backup swing tackle in 2023, bringing 15 starts at right tackle and 26 at left tackle from BYU.
5. DL-Adetomiwa Adebawore (3-4)Source:Getty
Day 3 defensive lineman typically are trying to earn a reserve role in their first NFL season. That’s the case for Adebawore. The Colts feel Adebawore’s best spot in the NFL is as a 3-technique defensive tackle (where DeForest Buckner plays). On passing downs though, the Colts have some other interior options to line up next to Buckner in Dayo Odeyingbo, Tyquan Lewis and veteran Taven Bryant. And the Colts still have 5th round pick from last Eric Johnson as a defensive tackle. Still the unique power/speed of Adebawore will get him a chance to earn some rotational reps as a rookie.
6. CB-Darius Rush (5-6)Source:Getty
This is the Day 3 pick who could very well earn the most playing time in Year One. Rush walks into a barren cornerback room. And he also does it after playing at a pretty high level in the SEC. Where Rush has a nice advantage over Brents (who was taken in Round 2) is he should be available to participate in the entire spring offseason program, including those valuable 13 on-field team sessions. Therefore, he’ll get a chance to prove himself before Brents does in training camp.
7. S-Daniel Scott (3-4)Source:Getty
Year One expectation for Scott should be a core special teamer and a back end of the safety. Scott does enter the NFL as a 24-year-old defensive back who lined up all over the place at Cal. So that should make him attractive to coaches feeling comfortable in using him, if need be. But special teams remains the likely rookie role for Scott.
8. TE-Will Mallory (2-3)Source:Getty
Honestly, this low of a number for Mallory becomes more to do with the crowded-ish room he walks into. But if we see a surprise cut at tight end (Mo Alie-Cox? Kylen Granson?), then Mallory could be an earlier piece. Still though, it’s hard to peg that for him in Year One. The practice squad shouldn’t be ruled out either if the Colts get tight with their numbers here. Keeping 3 or 4 is a difficult group to pare down right now. Mallory is the son of a 15-year NFL special teams coach (Mike), so you’d think he would have what it takes to play on 4th down.
9. RB-Evan Hull (4-5)Source:Getty
It is not often you see a rookie running back earn a third-down role in Year One. But Hull is going to have a chance. Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss should be more in the first and second down roles for the Colts. That’s where an opportunity arises as the Colts look for a new third-down back after Nyheim Hines. Hull had a very nice career at Northwestern in catching the ball out of the backfield (he also ran for more than 2,000 yards) and Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald offers high praise for his intelligence, too. Hull does have special teams history, too, which will be important for him.
10. DE-Titus Leo (1-2)Source:n/a
This screams practice squad redshirt. While Leo played college football, he played it at the FCS level (Wagner) and is still new to the pass rushing position. Leo played four different positions in college before making the more permanent move to defensive end each of the last two seasons. The Colts aren’t filled with an abundance of ‘no doubters’ at defensive end, but they have enough to keep Leo in that major growth situation in Year One.
11. CB-Jaylon Jones (3-4)Source:Getty
For most 7th round picks, this is a pretty high number. But, again, it comes more so to do with how up in the air the playing time is going to be at the cornerback spot. Things are wide open, especially for the team’s outside cornerbacks. It’s possible the Colts play 1 or 2 of their drafted corners a good amount here in 2023. So that’s an opportunity for Jones, who started 32 games in his 3 seasons at Texas A&M.
12. OT-Jake Witt (1-2)Source:n/a
Probably more so than Leo, this pick should have a redshirt season on the practice squad. Witt didn’t even start playing organized football until his junior year of high school and that was 8-man football. And he didn’t start playing college football until his third year in college (first playing basketball in 2018, then transferring to be a normal student in 2019, before he got the itch to play football in 2020). With the new expanded practice squad rules, placing the likes of Leo and Witt there is a smart move as they try to grow into NFL players, especially with neither playing at the top level of college football.