Mock drafts lack consensus on how Colts’ invest first-round pick

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Frank Reich head coach of the Indianapolis Colts is seen during training camp at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on August 21, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – The dominoes have started falling.

As Chris Ballard and Frank Reich attempt to nudge the Indianapolis Colts roster to the necessary next level, they took the first step by addressing the most influential position. A month after quarterback Philip Rivers retired, Ballard filled the massive void by acquiring Carson Wentz in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

OK, it can’t be a done deal until March 17, but it’s unofficially official.

So, what’s next?

The NFL’s offseason is all about the dominoes falling in proper order. The general progression: re-sign your own, veteran free agency, the draft, the post-draft flurry to fill out the roster with undrafted rookies.

The trade for Wentz was something of an aberration in the step-by-step roster-building/tweaking process, but the first two phases are locked in and directly impact the third, which is the April draft.

That in mind, even though the draft is still two months away, the Mock Draft Industry is hummin’ along. A scan of 10 mock drafts reveals the lack of consensus on how Ballard might approach his fifth draft as general manager.

All are in line with addressing what we perceive to be overriding areas of concern: left tackle, edge pass rusher, cornerback. We would include wide receiver.

But again, there’s no consensus. The 10 analysts project the eight different players to the Colts with the 21st overall selection. The only duplicates are Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins and South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.

One thing to keep in mind as mock drafts are adjusted in the coming weeks: everything is subject to change.

For instance, the Colts’ immediate need at corner would lessen if Xavier Rhodes is re-signed. However, even then a young addition through the draft wouldn’t be a surprise. Same at wideout if T.Y. Hilton returns and at edge pass rusher if the team re-ups Justin Houston or finds a suitable replacement on the open market (Melvin Gordon, Carl Lawson, etc.).

The one projection we’re sticking with: Ballard addresses his left tackle issue in the draft. Acquiring a high-profile, big-ticket free agent (Trent Williams, Alejandro Villanueva) certainly is a possibility, but that has the potential of tossing the overall budget completely out of kilter.

Ryan Kelly already is the NFL’s highest-paid center ($12.4 million per year). In the next year or two, left guard Quenton Nelson might be the league’s highest-paid lineman and right tackle Braden Smith figures to get an extension in the $15-18 million range.

Finding a left tackle in the draft makes sense on so many levels.

A sampling of how various draft analysts envision Ballard investing his first-round pick. A reminder: the Colts hold six picks, including the 21st overall. They sent their third-rounder to the Eagles as part of the Wentz trade.

MEL KIPER JR., ESPN

  • The Player: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami
  • Comment: The Colts would probably love to get a tackle to replace the retired Anthony Castonzo, but I don’t see a great fit based on my rankings. Instead they can address their pass rush and get younger with Justin Houston likely leaving in free agency. Rousseau, who opted out of the 2020 season, had 15.5 sacks in 2019, though he’s still raw.

CHRIS BURKE, The Athletic

  • The Player: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
  • Comment: Darrisaw could plug in at tackle for the Colts and – bonus – allow Quenton Nelson to stay at guard. A Darrisaw-Nelson combo on the left side would absolutely maul defensive fronts.

TODD McSHAY, ESPN

  • The Player: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
  • Comment: Maybe Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw is the play, replacing Anthony Castonzo. Perhaps cornerback is a focus. But with three of the team’s top defensive ends out of contract – Justin Houston, Denico Autry and Al-Quadin Muhammad – I think replenishing the edge is going to be critical. Drafting Paye gives the Colts a playmaker (he had 8.5 sacks over his last 16 college games) and simultaneously blocks a division rival with a big need in that place set to pick next.

DANIEL JEREMIAH, NFL.com

  • The Player: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
  • Comment: Free agency could create a void at the position for Indy, and teams are very high on Newsome, a height-weight-speed corner.

LANCE ZIERLEIN, NFL.com

  • The Player: Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
  • Comment: The Colts could go with a cornerback here, but they covet elite length and explosiveness off the edge. Oweh might be too tempting to pass on despite his need for pass-rush polish.

WALTER FOOTBALL

  • The Player: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  • Comment: The Colts have an outstanding cornerback in Xavier Rhodes, but they could use more talent on the other side of the field. Jaycee Horn is a fast, fluid athlete.

TREVOR SIKKEMA, The Draft Network

  • The Player: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
  • Comment: The Colts have their quarterback (they hope) in Carson Wentz. Now, they have to make sure they give him the best offensive line they can to block in front of him. With Anthony Castonzo retiring, Indianapolis has a hole at left tackle to fill. In comes Jenkins. Jenkins is an aggressive offensive lineman from how he initiates contact on pass sets to his punch timing to how he finishes blocks. He’s be an Earth-mover next to Quenton Nelson.

CODY BENJAMIN, CBS Sports

  • The Player: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  • Comment: Xavier Rhodes finished strong on his one-year deal in 2020, but the Colts still need long-term pieces at corner. After presumably filling offensive needs in free agency, they shore up the secondary here.

ANTHONY TREASH, Pro Football Focus

  • The Player: Azeez Ojulari, DE, Georgia
  • Comment: Indianapolis’ edge unit ranked 25th in pass-rush grade a season ago and has their two most productive players at the position, Justin Houston and Denico Autry, hitting free agency. Regardless of their future with the team, Indy needs to bolster its lackluster pass-rushing edge. Ojulari is a true speed rusher who can get away with his lack of standout strength and power with his athleticism. He broke out in a big way in 2020, raising his 71.4 pass-rushing grade to 91.7, second in FBS.

CHARLEY CASSERLY, NFL.com

  • The Player: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
  • Comment: With Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, Jenkins fills in as a Day 1 starter to man Carson Wentz’s blindside.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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