Towards the end of January, it was clear in Indianapolis that a new direction was needed. Ryan Grigson could not build a team around an elite franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, and a fanbase lost its patience, helping to push the general manager out. Soon after, the Colts found their potential savior, Chris Ballard.
Ballard, a former scout with the Chicago Bears and an executive with the successful Kansas City Chiefs, had a strong suit in an area Grigson struggled with, the NFL Draft. As optimism built around this Colts team, Ballard’s first draft with the team approached and he subsequently knocked it out of the park. With one pick in each of the first three rounds, three fourth rounders, and two fifths, Ballard put together an impressive draft, with talent being found during each day of the draft.
Indianapolis Colts 2017 Draft Class
Round 1 Pick 15- Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Round 2 Pick 46- Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Round 3 Pick 80- Tarell Basham, EDGE, Ohio
Round 4 Pick 137- Zach Banner, G, Southern California
Round 4 Pick 143- Marlon Mack, RB, Southern Florida
Round 4 Pick 144- Grover Stewart, iDL, Albany State
Round 5 Pick 158- Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
Round 5 Pick 161- Anthony Walker Jr., LB, Northwestern
Furthermore, the next phase of the offseason arrived, and the undrafted free agent frenzy was underway. Once again, Ballard proved his worth, bringing in several UDFAs that may make the roster. Unequivocally, none of these prospects will make out to start [exception- Thomas Hennessy- LS] without injuries, suspensions, or cap-cuts ensue. That does not mean that they will not see the field though; several undrafted free agents will have a shot to not only make the roster, but to play a role in a rotation, or be included in special packages.
Some of the more “relevant” undrafted players, or players I expect to make the roster/practice squad and [possibly] contribute are:
- Deyshawn Bond, G, Cincinnati
- Dalton Crossan, RB, New Hampshire
- Darrell Daniels, TE, Washington
- Thomas Hennessy, LS, Duke
- JoJo Natson, WR, Akron
- Philip Walker, QB, Temple
- Jhaustin Thomas, DL, Iowa State
- Garrett Sickels, EDGE, Penn State
For a roster in need of an overturn, the staggering amount of rookies, 16, may seem like an unnecessary abundance, but bringing in young talent is the only way to rebuild. For some rookies, starting on either side of the football is the route to contributing for their team. On the other hand, most rookies face a daunting challenge, the bottom of the depth chart.
Obviously, many rookies will be included in the bottom 25 of the 53-man roster. While they are not starting, playing time is still given through rotations and injuries. In fact, many of the prior stated rookies will get their share of playing time through rotations and acting as the depth of the roster. Especially in the National Football League, where injuries are imminent, being delegated to a bench role is not the worst of fates. To add, most of the rookies in this year’s class will see the field over the course of the game, though they will not be starting.
As a group, I expect this rookie class to be imperative to the Colts’ future development, but a few can play major roles this season. While Chris Ballard rebuilds this team into a contender, the Colts will most likely inhabit a realm of mediocrity, leading to more playing time for the young guns. Especially on defense, where Indianapolis focused on during this past draft, rookies will get a chance to play. Though a ton of potential is present with the Colts’ recent draft picks, an underwhelming start may already be underway. There is no guarantee Malik Hooker nor Quincy Wilson starts to begin the season, and third round pick Tarell Basham was recently quoted stating, “I’m probably not where they need me to be right now.” For what it’s worth, we are only in training camp/preseason, so we should not invest too much time into the progress of rookies without seeing any actual on-field play.
Moreover, the three rookies that will most likely start for at least half of the season are Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson, and Thomas Hennessy.
Hooker, the 15th pick in the draft, has the most upside of any rookie that the Colts brought in this offseason. So far, he has had an average preseason, but has steadily gotten an increasing amount of first team reps. There are concerns with my second ranked safety from last year starting immediately, most regarding open field tackling and defending the run. On the other hand, he is a legitimate ball hawk and is excellent in coverage, making him an upgrade to the porous Colts secondary from last year. Him and Clayton Geathers should become an effective safety combo for the future.
To add, the Colts selected Quincy Wilson in the second round, potentially to be Vontae Davis’ replacement as the number one corner. Though he may not start immediately, he will earn his spot eventually. The latest he would start is week six, the first divisional game, in Tennessee. Wilson, a well-rounded corner who’s a jack of all trades at his position, should make an impact, especially if he starts day one. Obviously, growing pains will be seen, considering matchups against DeAndre Hopkins, Corey Davis, and Allen Robinson may occur more often than not.
Moving on to the rookie long snapper Thomas Hennessy. This UDFA has little to no competition for his spot and has seemingly locked it up already. If this is to continue, Hennessy will inhabit the starting long snapper role and play at an adequate level. Just expect him to do his job, and be a young, cheap alternative for the Colts at long snapper.
Stat Predictions For Malik Hooker, S: 3 INT, 11 Passes Defended, 82 Tackles
Stat Predictions For Quincy Wilson, CB: 2 INT, 16 Passes Defended, 51 Tackles
In a pass-heavy NFL, these two starters will get plenty of opportunities, and will look to showcase their skills. Though the numbers may not be eye-popping, I still believe that they will be effective, but not great. I’m sure they will develop into above average starters, and will hold down the Indianapolis secondary for years to come. In terms of tackles, Hooker will most likely not have too many, considering his lackluster tackle ability and unimpressive run support. Expect average play from both of them, with Hooker showing more upside.
As prior stated, not all of these rookies will start. Some may even land on the practice squad. There is a plethora of rookies for the Colts this year that will make their impact felt while not starting. Tarell Basham, Anthony Walker Jr., Marlon Mack, Grover Stewart, and Nate Hairston will all see meaningful snaps this season.
Mack will get a few plays a game to show if he is the back of the future at Lucas Oil. Gore is still the lead back, and Turbin will play in his shadow, but even as the third stringer, Mack will attempt to make a name for himself.
Basham, once again, has been underwhelming thus far, but he is talented enough to be an effective rotational piece this year, with a potential larger role next year.
Another rotational defender is Anthony Walker Jr.. Walker will receive snaps at inside linebacker, though he will at least start the year behind Antonio Morrison and Sean Spence, and Jon Bostic will battle him for snaps as well.
Moving onto corner, a surprise candidate to start at the nickel by the end of the season is Nate Hairston. A talented defensive back, he is still behind Vontae Davis, Quincy Wilson, Darius Butler, and Rashaan Melvin. Through injuries, poor play, and fatigue, Hairston will get an opportunity to play.
The second defensive tackle on the depth chart, Grover Stewart will most likely substitute in for Jonathan Hankins multiple times per game. As a depth player, he has a lot to prove, and will become an interesting subject if the Colts underperform, and after some coaching changes they switch to a primarily 4-3 defense. I also believe that the cutting of Kendall Langford will improve his playing time.
My statistical estimations for Indianapolis’s drafted prospects that will see the field are as follows:
Stat Predictions For Marlon Mack, RB: 33 Rushes, 108 Yards, 1 Touchdown
Stat Predictions For Tarell Basham, EDGE: 3 Sacks, 41 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Stat Predictions For Anthony Walker Jr., LB: 1.5 Sacks, 65 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Stat Predictions For Nate Hairston, CB: 0 Interceptions, 5 Passes Defended, 16 Tackles
Stat Predictions For Glover Stewart, DL: 2 Sacks, 39 Tackles
For the undrafted free agents, none of them will have a major impact on the Colts season, and predicting any statistics would be a real crapshoot. I can say with confidence that Darrell Daniels will surprise people at tight end if he gets adequate playing time, and that JoJo Natson should be a good, versatile depth receiver. Philip Walker will have a shot at the backup quarterback role, but the practice squad is his most apparent destination. Both Banner and Bond will make the team as depth interior offensive lineman, but playing time will be minimal to none if everyone stays healthy. Dalton Crossan and Jhaustin Thomas both are talented pieces that will either be healthy scratches or practice squad players, like Walker. On defense, Garrett Sickels may lock up a depth role, but I do not see him getting a spot in the rotation.
In summation, Chris Ballard has taken the reigns of this franchise, and looks to rebuild it with tons of young talent. He accomplished this through both the draft and through the undrafted free agents that Indianapolis brought in. These rookies will have a variety of roles, but each of them are important to this team’s development and future performance. As the young guys grow, the Colts will improve and contend once again with the frontrunners in the AFC. While the statistic predictions are just estimations based off of film and playing time, I feel they are an accurate representation of what will occur over the course of this season. Hopefully, the Indianapolis Colts’ 2017 rookie class develops into a young core of players ready to win games.