Drafting pass rusher at top of priority list for Indianapolis Colts

Linebacker Tarell Basham #58 of the Indianapolis Colts recovers a blocked punt in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 23, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard is all about rebuilding the Indianapolis Colts through the draft, so it’s understandable his eagerness is amped these days.

He holds nine selections in the April 26-28 NFL Draft, including the 6th overall. That offers ample ammunition to address a roster that lacks enough top-end talent to make a difference.

“At the end of the day,’’ Ballard said, “you’ve got to draft and develop and stack drafts – one, two, three drafts – on top of each other where these guys are homegrown Colts.

“That’s how you build a winner.’’

Between now and the draft, we’ll examine some of the team’s more pressing areas of needs:

Today: Pass rusher.

  • On hand: Jabaal Sheard, Tarell Basham, John Simon.
  • Key stats: Occasionally, numbers are deceiving. Often, they simply reinforce the obvious. The Colts fielded one of the least effective defenses in 2017 in large part because they couldn’t get to the quarterback. They generated 25 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL and tied for the third-fewest since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Free-agent acquisition Jabaal Sheard led the Colts with 5.5. It was the third-lowest total to lead a team. And then there’s this. Last season, the six teams that finished with at least 43 sacks had a combined 63-33 record (.656) with five reaching the playoffs. The nine teams that finished with 31 sacks or fewer combined for a 54-90 record (.375) with only two advancing to the postseason. We detect a trend.
  • Level of concern: As high as it gets.
  • What about?: Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State; Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio; Harold Landry, Boston College; Arden Key, LSU; Sam Hubbard, Ohio State.
  • About Chubb: The 6-4, 270-pounder is considered the draft’s no-doubt premier pass-rush threat. He’s a top-level run defender, but would represent an immediate upgrade to Indy’s lackluster pass rush. In his final three seasons at N.C. State, Chubb produced 25 sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss. As a senior, he posted 10 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Those are game-changing stats.
  • More from Chubb: If first impressions are the most important, Chubb knocked it out of the park when me met with the media during the February NFL Combine. He was personable, but confident and assertive.
    “If (the Colts) decide I’m the best fit for them,’’ he said, “I’ll take it with a full head of steam. If they don’t, the team that drafts me is going to get a very good defensive football player.’’
    He described himself as a “relentless pass rusher. Just high motor, high energy, passionate, just a guy who’s going to get after the quarterback. My confidence level is going to say I’m the best player (in the draft). I feel like I put it on tape for four years. I’m not going to say one person’s better than me.’’
    Chubb has molded his game after Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Denver’s Von Miller. Nice combo.
    “Just try to put those two together, have some power moves, have some speed moves that I go to,’’ he said.
  • Final word: As complicated as some insist on making the NFL, it still comes own to making those handful of plays that make a difference. Find a way to pick up that third-and-short while protecting a slim lead in the fourth quarter and time winding down. Get to the quarterback when everybody in the stadium knows he’s going to pass. Either get him on the ground or pressure him to the point he either throws before he’s ready or throws an errant pass that might be intercepted. The Colts possess zero difference-making players on defense, and it’s virtually impossible to play effective defense without players who can turn a came with two or three plays.
    If Chubb still is on the board when Ballard is on the clock with the 6th overall pick, we suggest he resist the urge to address other needs and address the one that most impacts his defense.