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S Nick Cross Simply Too Good to Pass Up for Colts

The versatile safety caused the Colts to do something they do not normally do on draft weekend.

When it comes to the NFL Draft, we always talk about how the Indianapolis Colts love to trade back.

General manager Chris Ballard is a big proponent of accumulating more picks throughout the draft. He has said on multiple occasions that acquiring more picks gives the Colts “more shots at the dartboard.”

However, the Colts have been known to trade up for players who they feel they cannot risk losing out on. In 2019, the Colts traded up over 20 spots in the fourth round to take safety Khari Willis, who has become a solid starter and leader on the defense. In 2020, Indy traded up three spots in the second round to take running back Jonathan Taylor, who has done nothing but become the best running back in football.

In 2022, the Colts made another trade-up for a player they felt was too good to pass up.

The Colts traded up with the Denver Broncos on Friday night to select safety Nick Cross out of Maryland with the No. 96 pick. Ballard sent a fifth-round pick (No. 179) and a 2023 third-round pick to the Broncos to select Cross. The junior tallied 66 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles in 2021 for the Terrapins, leading to honorable mention All-Big Ten for the third season in a row.

“I’m grateful to Mr. (Jim) Irsay, Coach (Frank) Reich, and Mr. Ballard for giving me the opportunity to represent this team,” Cross said Friday night. “The Colts have a history of great players. Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders. Guys who I grew up watching. It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of this organization.”

Cross, just like the three players taken before him by the Colts, possesses crazy athleticism. At 6’0” and 212 pounds, Cross ran a very impressive 4.34 40-yard dash with a 37-inch vertical and 10’10” broad jump at the NFL Combine. All of these metrics spoke to his explosive ability.

Speaking of his explosive ability, Cross is like a lightning bolt on film. As a deep safety, Cross has the speed and explosiveness to cover the entire middle of the field. He also has natural instincts as to where the ball is going to go, allowing him to make plays on the ball. Cross led the Terrapins in interceptions every season he was there.

As a box safety, Cross has plenty of pop to play around the line of scrimmage. He has shown the ability to lower his pads and make stops on ball carriers and is built to absorb hits from bigger players. Cross has also shown a knack for punching the ball out as the number of fumbles he forced grew each year in college. The Colts already have the punchout king in Darius Leonard, so it is safe to say Cross will fit right in.

“I bring high energy,” Cross explained. “I fly around and make plays. I’m physical on the back end and I’m able to come downhill and make solid tackles. I’m someone who can play the middle of the field and intercept the ball. Make sure no one makes any big plays down the field. I want to be someone who can take the ball away and cause havoc for the offense.”

Below is an excerpt from the Indy Draft Guide on Cross’ fit with the Colts.

Cross is a great athlete and the type of hard-hitting safety that people love to watch. He’s got instincts and no fear. Plus, his skills in coverage are better than most enforcer-type safeties. Similar to current Colts safety Julian Blackmon, Cross has the ability to play free or strong safety and can line up in man coverage with tight ends. He’d fit the team quite well.

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The Colts have shown that they do not trade up for just anyone. The player has to be a special talent, one the Colts have a strong conviction that they will be an impact player for this team. As Ballard talked with his scouts Friday night, they knew Cross fell into that category.

Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Jeremy Ruckert (88) can't reel in a pass as he is defended by Maryland Terrapins defensive back Nick Cross (3) during the first half of Saturday's NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on October 9, 2021. Osu21mary Bjp 696

“Just a really good athlete that can run,” Ballard said about Cross. “He’s young, he’s not even 21 years old yet. I remember asking the group, ‘Where would you take this kid if he was in next year’s draft?’ and it was second round. So, we don’t have any problem giving up our third (round pick) next year to go get him.”

It’s easy to see why the Colts traded up for Cross as he is a perfect fit for this defense. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley places a very high priority on creating turnovers, something Cross has done very well at Maryland with six interceptions and three forced fumbles. Versatility is another big factor, as Cross can play both safety positions and be moved around the defense.

Selecting Cross could also be a move for the future. While Willis and Julian Blackmon are entrenched as the starters for this season, Willis is entering a contract year and coming off a down year. Blackmon has flashed star potential but is recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in 2021. Blackmon also tore his ACL in his last game in college.

Cross will most likely be a rotational safety and a contributor on special teams his rookie year. However, if Blackmon is not ready to start the season or Willis begins to struggle, Cross has a great chance to see extended playing time this season. It would also not be a surprise if the Colts opt to let Willis test free agency after this year if Cross impresses and they feel he can take over as the starter.

Time will tell the type of player Cross turns into for the Colts, but the move Indy had to make to get him shows how much they believe in the kid’s potential.

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