The 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone, and while it is ridiculous to hand out letter grades on players that have yet to take a snap in the NFL, let alone reached their prime, it is reasonable to assess what the Colts draft may mean for the long and short term of the franchise. We will try to keep the cheerleading to a minimum.
The first thing that stands out about the Colts draft is that, while the Indianapolis only had five picks to work with, they seemed to make every one of them count. Each of the Colts five draftees is a skilled, talented player that fits their on-field philosophies. In fact, the biggest question marks seem to revolve around the off-field issues of their sixth round pick, Chris Rucker (DB – Michigan State).
It would be a major disappointment if the Colts first- and second-round selections (OT Anthony Castonzo and OT/OG Ben Ijalana) were not opening day starters. While third- and fourth-round picks (DT Drake Nevis and RB Delone Carter) may not start, they should be expected to make immediate contributions. As for Rucker, he was a cornerback in college and could compete for a spot in a deep and talented, but injury prone group of cornerbacks. If Indy is comfortable with the depth at corner, the team may also entertain the possibility of moving Rucker to safety, where the starters are set, but depth is a concern.
Most people, fans and “experts” alike, found little fault with the Colts draft, especially the first two picks, citing the obvious need for upgrades along the offensive line. And it is true – drafting Castonzo and Ijalana should allow for three to four “new” starters along the offensive line next year, with Castonzo and Ijalana being two, and old LT Charlie Johnson moving to a position more suited to his skill set (either LG or RT), and the final position (either RG or RT) being a training camp competition between the remaining linemen.
The true beauty of the first two picks may not be realized for a few years, however. It is possible that by 2012 or 2013, assuming the Mayans were incorrect and there is still life on Earth, the Colts offensive line could be full of young, talented, athletic linemen that also have some size. Castonzo and Ijalana could be joined by recent draftees Jamie Thomas and Jacques McClendon, forming an offensive line core that not only eases the burden on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, but on his successor, whomever that may be.
Third round selection Drake Nevis is a prototypical Colts defensive tackle – slightly undersized, but quick and penetrating. Like the offensive line picks, the selection of Nevis has been met with nearly unanimous praise. Perhaps the only issue with the selection is that Nevis is most likely a 3-technique tackle at the pro level – the same position now occupied by Fili Moala. This is not an indictment on the pick, however, as you can never have too much “put the quarterback on his butt” talent. Barring injury to either Moala or Nevis, this season will be used to ease Nevis into the Colts scheme, as he will be used mostly as a backup and in passing situations when the threat of the run is minimal.
As with the first two selections, the Nevis selection has a lot of long-term potential. The Colts have shown in a willingness to play two undersized tackles at the same time, regardless of game situation. If Moala and Nevis both progress and grow into the scheme properly (something Moala is already well on his way to doing), it is possible that they team up to form the Colts new starting interior.
Some caution should be used, however. As Colts fans know, defensive linemen – especially tackles – take some time to develop. Nevis will not only have to adjust to the Colts scheme and the speed of the pro game, but he will have to undergo some changes in technique – he had a tendency to play too high at the college level – and in the build of his body – he had a tendency to be overpowered at the point of attack on running plays, so some added bulk will be needed. So while he should make an immediate impact as a situational player in 2011, his true impact will not be felt until at least 2012.
The Colts’ fourth round selection, RB Delone Carter, is clearly destined for greatness, being born a mere 30 miles away from a certain dashing, charismatic blogger. Aside from having great taste in birth location, Carter is a hard-nosed north-and-south banger with great ball handling (0 fumbles lost in 204 carries). For those that enjoy reading between the lines, his style would suggest that it is RB Mike Hart, and not RB Joseph Addai, that fans should be concerned about losing. If Carter turns out to be the “power back” that Colts fans have been clamoring for, a backfield of Addai, Donald Brown, and Carter would form a truly diverse and well-balanced backfield, able to succeed in all situations.
The Colts’ final pick, sixth round selection of DB Chris Rucker, raised some eyebrows amongst fans and experts, as Rucker has had multiple run-ins with police- first being charged with both misdemeanor assault and battery and following that with a DWI charge. The fact that the Colts decided to draft him despite these red flags means two things: first, the Colts feel that he has learned from the mistakes of his past and will not repeat them in the future (or go swimming in the Broad Ripple Canal). Second, a sixth round pick is a small price to pay if he does embarrass the organization and they are forced to cut him.
If a team wants to be a contender year in and year out, it is vital that they are successful on most of their first day (rounds one through three) picks. The latter rounds, however, especially for teams with no glaring holes, are the perfect opportunity for teams to go for boom or bust, high-risk, high-reward picks. The Colts could get a highly talented player that does not get in trouble and helps the team for a long time, for nothing more than a sixth round pick. Otherwise, they spent a sixth round pick on right to have Bob Kravitz write about how the team is no longer able to play the “good character” card. Either way, it is a win-win for the organization.
If you believe in windows and their ability to be opened or closed, then you should probably get a job with ESPN and yell at me through the T.V. Before you do that though, you should take a good look at the 2011 Colts draft and be optimistic for the present and the future. This draft has the potential to not only keep the “window open” for the remainder of the Manning Era, but to also keep the window from closing too tightly for his successor.
Now, where did we put our pompoms?