By Joe Hopkins
Coming into the offseason, improving a defensive unit that ranked 30th in total defense was a top priority for the Colts. After adding eight players to Indy’s defensive front-seven through free agency, Chris Ballard used his first draft to make significant upgrades in the secondary.
The rookie general manager balanced taking the best player available and addressing positions of need with grace and efficiency. The Colts used six of their eight draft picks to add talent and depth to all three levels of the defense. In the middle rounds, Ballard nabbed a run blocker to compete for the right guard and tackle positions, and an electric running-back with starting potential.
Though most of the incoming rookies will need time to develop before they are ready for a starting role, the majority will be able to contribute in some regard from the get-go. Only time can reveal the true quality of this draft hull, but the initial impressions should have Colts fans feeling quite optimistic about the future.
Overall Grade – B+
Below I grade each draft pick based on that player’s overall talent, whether they address a position of need and what other options were on the board at the time. I compare the incoming rookies to a professional they resemble in body type, athleticism and play style.
Round 1 – 15th Overall: Malik Hooker – Safety – Ohio State
Selection Grade – A-
NFL Comparison- Ed Reed
Hooker, a top ten talent, provided the Colts with great value. The ball-hawk’s range and ball skills remind Chuck Pagano of Ed Reed, who he coached at Miami. The one-year starter must improve his tackling and durability, as a torn labrum and double sports hernia prevented him from working out prior to the draft. This pick would have graded higher had All-American linebacker Reuben Foster not still been on the board.
Round 2 – 46th Overall: Quincy Wilson – Cornerback – Florida
Selection Grade – A+
NFL Comparison- Aqib Talib
Ballard landed a first round talent at a second round price. Wilson’s size, physicality, closing burst and ball skills make him a perfect match for Indy’s press-man scheme. Though he’s no track star, the 20-year-old should be an immediate starter who bullies receivers and contributes against the run.
Round 3 – 80th Overall: Tarell Basham – Edge Rusher – Ohio
Selection Grade – B+
NFL Comparison- Tamba Hali
Another bargain pick at a position of need, Basham has intriguing pass-rush potential. The MAC Defensive Player of the Year possesses ideal length and good but not great athleticism. He plays with power and a non-stop motor. The 23-year-old must refine his hand-use and develop some counter moves before he can become a full-time starter.
Round 4 – 137th Overall: Zach Banner – Offensive Lineman – USC
Selection Grade – B-
NFL Comparison- Trent Brown
Finding value on the offensive side of the ball, Banner is a run-blocking specialist. The three-year starter uses his incredible size (6’8” 353 lbs.) and strength to bulldoze defenders out of the way. A lack of quickness and agility will probably force him to play guard, where he has a chance to start if he can prove himself in pass-protection.
Round 4 – 143rd Overall: Marlon Mack – Running Back – USF
Selection Grade – A
NFL Comparison- LeSean McCoy
Mack’s big-play ability made him one of the biggest sleepers in the draft. His explosive athleticism and impeccable change-of-direction ability led him to become South Florida’s all-time rushing leader. The three-year starter has the size to be an every-down back but must improve his vision and take what the defense gives him.
Round 4 – 144th Overall: Grover Stewart – Defensive Tackle – Albany State
Selection Grade – C
NFL Comparison- Ra’Shede Hageman
A massive human being with impressive athleticism for his size, Stewart dominated small-school competition. He relied on his physical advantage in college and remains extremely raw. The 23-year-old is a project but could become a solid nose-tackle two or three years down the line.
Round 5 – 158th Overall: Nate Hairston – Cornerback – Temple
Selection Grade – C+
NFL Comparison- William Gay
Another developmental player, Hairston switched to corner in 2015 and is still learning the nuances of the position. The former receiver has good size and quickness and brings plenty of physicality against the run. Though he lacks elite long speed, the one-year starter has the tools to be molded into a solid slot corner with time.
Round 5 – 161st Overall: Anthony Walker – Linebacker – Northwestern
Selection Grade – B+
NFL Comparison- Eric Kendricks
Walker could end up being a steal, as he has the potential to start early in his career as a downhill middle linebacker. The three-year starter has excellent work ethic, intelligence, leadership and awareness. He uses those attributes to accommodate for change-of-direction limitations and a lack of length.