Colts stay focused on winning, not draft positioning

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Chuck Pagano

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The 2018 NFL Draft unfolds April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex., and has become an event of major interest for the Indianapolis Colts’ fan base.

Not necessarily Thursday night’s meeting with the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. Not the Dec. 23 visit to Baltimore or the Dec. 31 season wrap-up at home against Houston.

A potentially franchise-shaping byproduct of a frustrating and aberrant season is the Colts being in position for a pick near the top of next April’s draft. At 3-10, they’re tied with San Francisco but sit third in the pecking order based on having a weaker strength of schedule. Cleveland (0-13) has all but wrapped up the first overall pick while the New York Giants (2-11) occupy the No. 2 rung.

Selecting third would enable general manager Chris Ballard to 1) add an elite pass rusher to his defense, 2) address an offensive line that remains substandard, or 3) trade back to a team in search of a quarterback and accumulate additional picks.

But while we’re getting ahead of ourselves – more games to play, remember? – everyone should be reminded the top of the draft remains fluid, and Thursday night’s clash with the Broncos carries significant ramifications.

Denver is one of four 4-9 teams.  Three more teams are 5-8. A Colts victory would drop them into a tie with the Broncos. Another at the expense of the Ravens (doubtful) or Texans (certainly possible since they whipped Houston in November) could see them slide near the bottom of the top-10.

Monitor social media or listen to local talk radio, and the fans’ priority is clear. It’s the same as in 2011. Remember Suck for Luck?

Chuck Pagano wasn’t pleased when asked about that Tuesday.

“Crazy question,’’ he said. “I could give you what coach (Bill Belichick) said last night, the best coach in the league, right? ‘Give me a break.’’’

His pointed response was expected and appropriate. Coaches and players pay zero attention to a draft that’s four months away. They have tunnel vision on the current week, the next opponent. Besides, many might not be part of Ballard’s long-term plans.

You think Frank Gore, Darius Butler or any other player cares about whether the Colts add a pass-rush threat for 2018?

The NFL is about the here and now. Pagano was asked whether the team might look at young players over the final three games to better gauge their potential.

“We’re going to play to win, whoever that is,’’ he said. “I don’t care how old they are – first year 13th year.’’

Vance Joseph, Denver’s first-year coach, agreed.

“Well, we’re trying to win a football game, so we’re playing the best guys we feel that can help us win a football game,’’ he said. “But that being said, we do have some young guys that are playing right now due to injury.

“You can do both, really. You can win football games and still evaluate young guys. So that’s happening here, but our one focus is to win a football game.’’