What to Expect: The 2011 Class in Review

Last spring, I wrote a series on what to expect from the 2011 draft class. It’s time to revisit those expectations and see how they did.

Anthony Castonzo:

Then: “It’s perfectly reasonable to expect Anthony Castonzo to start every game his rookie year. In fact, given the state of the Colts’ line, anything less would be a legitimate disappointment.  However, it’s also entirely possible that Castonzo could start at right tackle not left.  It is not at all unusual for a rookie lineman to start at the easier of the tackle positions.”

Now: Castonzo started 12 games at left tackle. He missed four games with an ankle injury that hampered his progress.

Verdict: Met expectations. Even with a shortened offseason due to the lockout, Castonzo won the left tackle job. He started every game he was physically able to, and played the final half of the season on a bad ankle. It’s difficult to evaluate him fairly because of the injury, but the projection of being a solid to good NFL tackle is still easily within reach.

Ben Ijalana:

Then:  “Ijalana, like most second round tackles, is more of a risk, but could become the better player in time.  A fair expectation for his rookie year is 16 games started at guard. A fair hope is that he winds up at one of the tackle spots before the year is up.”

Now: Ijalana played in four games before blowing his knee against Tampa Bay.

Verdict: Failed to meet expectations. Ijalana never won a starting job, but seemed to be playing well for the few minutes of game time he got before going down with a season ending injury. Obviously, any grade on him is incomplete, but the Colts have to be frustrated not to get more of a bead on his actual development.

Drake Nevis:

Then: “A fair expectation would be for him to make the team and manage to become a rotation player by the end of the year.  A 20 tackle, 1 sack season would actually be superior to Quinn Pitcock‘s ‘promising’ rookie campaign. He needs only 12 tackles to have a top 10 rookie season for third round DTs since 2000. In other words, if he manages to show up in the stat sheet a couple of times and makes even one good play all year (a sack, a tackle for a loss), then he’s had a good rookie year for where he was selected.  The odds of him contributing in a meaningful way to the Colts in 2011 are very, very low.  Again, that’s not based on him as a player, just on the collective experience of 31 other players selected at a similar point in the draft.  Any kind of regular meaningful contribution as a rotation player would constitute an outstanding rookie year for Nevis.”

Now: He played in 5 games, collecting 9 tackles and a pass defended before being lost for the year to a back injury.

Verdict: Failed to meet expectations (due to injury). Nevis needed only 12 tackles and an impact play or two to be a top flight tackle for his draft position. He collected 9 tackles in just five games. He has achieved regular rotation status. Despite missing most of the season due to injury, he was well on his way to shattering all reasonable hopes for his rookie season. He came up short, but all in all, it looks like a good pick. The pity is that now that the Colts are altering their defense, he may not have a spot with the team. Some 4-3 team should be keen on trading for him.

Delone Carter:

Then: Almost all fourth round backs make their NFL team, so it’s reasonable to expect Carter to play in all 16 games and pick up 75-100 carries, with around 400 yards and 3 or four touchdowns. If his yards per carry is anything close to 4, it would be a coup. However, because the yards he is asked to get will be particularly difficult ones, fans shouldn’t worry if his YPC is lower than other backs.  He needs to pick up 2 yards on 3rd and 1, not 5 yards on 1st and 10.  In all, such numbers would actually be a remarkable season from a fourth round back (3rd or 4th best in recent years), but given the Colts stated plans for him, such expectations are reasonable, if not conservative.

Now: 101 carries, 377 yards, 2 TDs. He played in 16 games and started three.

Verdict: Met expectations. Carter wasn’t that great on short yardage and his fumbles were a problem, but for a fourth round back, the Colts got almost EXACTLY what they should have expected. Delone Carter is what a fourth round back should look like. The expectations for Carter were a little higher than normal for his draft position, and he basically landed right on the numbers.

Chris Rucker:

Then:  The history of 6th round DBs is not illustrious.  A fair expectation for Rucker is that he makes the team and contributes a dozen tackles over the course of the season.  That would be a top 10 season for a 6th round rookie DB since 2004.  There is very little chance he’ll ever become a starter or a marquee player. The only 6th round DB since 2004 to make a Pro Bowl was Bethea.  Rucker is the kind of player teams pick to shore up special teams and to create depth.

If he gives the Colts anything at all in 2011, he’ll have exceeded expectations.

Now: Rucker played in 15 games, starting four. He contributed 23 tackles and two passes defended.

Verdict: Exceeded expectations. It doesn’t take much to get value from a 6th round DB, and Rucker gave the Colts more than they could have asked for. That’s not saying he played great, but his rookie season puts him solidly in the top 10 DBs taken in that range since 2004. He made the team and cracked the starting line up in a horrible secondary. It’s not high praise, but it is praise. Most guys like him don’t even make the team.

Final Verdict: The Colts top three picks missed 27 games. It’s hard to accurate judge a draft class when guys go out with contact injuries. As much as people criticize the Colts for having injuries, there isn’t any way to prevent blown knees and ankles. Nevis and Castonzo had never been hurt in their lives, and both expressed dismay and frustration at having promising campaigns cut short. Ijalana remains an enigma.

Carter and Rucker are adequate third day pickups. Neither is likely to become a star, but it’s reasonable to expect both to have decent NFL careers. They met and exceeded all fair expectations for their draft slots.