INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Yes, the Indianapolis Colts have some level of interest in Bradley Chubb.
Probably somewhere in the high-to-stratospheric-high interest level.
Saturday, the North Carolina State defensive end – and undisputed premier pass-rush prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft – revealed he already has had two information meetings with the Colts.
“And I have a formal interview tonight,’’ he said. “A lot of people have been saying I’m going to the Colts, but you never know.
“If that happens, I’ll be happy of course to get drafted to such a great city.’’
Chubb was a 6-4, 270-pound disruptor in N.C. State’s 4-3 defense – 25 sacks, 54 tackles for loss in 40 games –and he’s noticed the Colts are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under first-time head coach Frank Reich.
“Something I’m very comfortable with,’’ he said. “If they decide I’m the best fit for them, I’ll take it with a full head of steam. If they don’t, the team that drafts me is going to be a very good defensive player.’’
Chubb was personable and straightforward during his 15-minute session with the media. He undoubtedly will meet with the vast majority of teams during formal interviews, and made it clear his bottom-line message will be repeated often.
Why should this team or that team draft him?
“Relentless pass rusher,’’ Chubb said. “Just high motor, high energy, passionate, just a guy who’s going to get after their quarterback.’’
And that’s what’s been missing from the Colts’ roster since Robert Mathis piled up a club-record 19.5 sacks in 2013. They finished last season with 25 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL and tied for the second-fewest in team history in a non-strike season since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
The returning defense features several solid front-seven components: end Jabaal Sheard, outside linebacker John Simon, tackles Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, Henry Anderson and Hassan Ridgeway. Tarell Basham, a ’17 third-round pick, should realize a nice first-to-second-year bump.
But the unit lacks a bona fide pass rusher, a dynamic player who can win one-on-one matchups or fight through double-teams and get to the quarterback.
General manager Chris Ballard has talked of reshaping the Colts to resemble the 2000s group. It was based on speed and athleticism to maximize the fast indoor surface of the RCA Dome and Lucas Oil Stadium. The defense fed off of edge rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
“Just think back to when Indy was really hummin’, when y’all were really hummin’ offensively and defensively,’’ Ballard said during the 2017 draft. “That team was built strictly on speed . . . when you get the lead, we’re going to be able to freekin’ run and rush the passer and go.’’
But not with the current collection of talent.
And it’s unlikely the NFL’s veteran free-agent market will offer the required help.
“People don’t let them out. They just don’t,’’ Ballard said. “It’s hard to find guys in free agency because they just don’t let them out of their building.’’
That places an inordinate amount of pressure on Ballard finding that guy in the draft.
The Colts nailed it in 2002, using the 11th overall pick on Freeney. They hit the lottery in ’03, finding Mathis in the fifth round with the 138th overall pick. Freeney is tied for 17th in NFL history with 125.5 sacks. Mathis holds the Colts’ career record and stands 19th all-time with 123.
However, they find themselves still in search of a difference-making pass rusher heading into the April 26 draft because they’ve whiffed too often recently: Jerry Hughes (round 1, 2010) Bjoern Werner (round 1, 2013), Jonathan Newsome (round 5, 2014).
It’s much too early to draw any conclusions on Basham, the 80th overall pick a year ago who generated only 2 sacks as a rookie.
Chubb is clearly the premier option from the 2018 class, and a lock to be next in line of pass rushers snatched early in the draft process. He might even be the best player in the draft, better than Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or any of the quarterbacks.
“My confidence level is going to say I’m the best player,’’ Chubb said. “I feel like I put it on tape for four years. I’m not going to say one person’s better than me.’’
Since 2011, nine pass rushers have been taken with top-5 picks. Interestingly, a pass rusher has been selected with the third overall pick in four of the last five drafts: Solomon Thomas (2017 by San Francisco), Joey Bosa (’16 by the Chargers), Dante Fowler (’15 by Jacksonville and Dion Jordan (’13 by Miami).
The other top-5 picks: Myles Garrett (first overall by Cleveland in ’17), Khalil Mack (fifth by Oakland in ’14), Ziggy Ansah (fifth by Detroit in ’13) and Von Miller (second by Denver in ’11).
Wouldn’t the Colts love to align themselves with Chubb and have him offer the type of immediate impact as did Bosa, Mack or Miller? Bosa and Miller were Defensive Rookie of the Year. Mack started relatively quietly with 4 sacks as a rookie, but was Defensive Player of the Year two seasons later.
The NFL remains a quarterback-driven league, and the best way to counter that is with relentless pressure on the quarterback. Again, that was lacking from the Colts defense a year ago. An inconsistent rush contributed to them ranking 31st in third-down efficiency (44.7 percent) and 32nd in yards per pass attempt (8.0).
Chubb is well-schooled on the causation his skills provide.
“It impacts the game tremendously,’’ he said. “If a team doesn’t have a quarterback, they don’t really have anything. My job is to get after one of the best players on the field, one of the highest-paid players on the field. It changes the dynamics of the game.’’
In last month’s Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles essentially denied New England when Brandon Graham generated a sack-strip-fumble against Tom Brady with 2 minutes remaining.
“Take it back to when the Broncos won,’’ Chubb said of Super Bowl 50. “Von Miller just going crazy in that game. Super Bowl MVP of that game.
“This position is such a priority and such a premium in this league because you’re getting after one of the most important positions.’’
Chubb hasn’t hesitated to watch video of premier pass rushers and take this from that player, something else from another. He cued up video on Freeney after Freeney had relocated to the Arizona Cardinals.
“Heard a lot of people talk about the things he used to do,’’ Chubb said, “so I went back on film and watched that famous spin move he used to do. A great pass rusher and a great player.’’
Chubb has tried to mold his game after Mack and Miller, taking their disparate games and “put them into one person. Khalil Mack’s a more powerful guy, probably the best long arm in the game right now. Von Miller’s the speed/finesse guy.
“Just try to put those two together, have some power moves, have some speed moves that I go to. I feel like I do both of them pretty well. There’s a lot of room for improvement, of course.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.