Colts' Jaylon Carlies Draws Comparisons to Cato June With Switch to LB

The Indianapolis Colts successfully converted Cato June from linebacker to safety and hope to do it again with Jaylon Carlies.
Missouri Tigers defensive back Jaylon Carlies (1) tackles Memphis Tigers wide receiver Demeer Blankumsee (0)
Missouri Tigers defensive back Jaylon Carlies (1) tackles Memphis Tigers wide receiver Demeer Blankumsee (0) / Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports
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The Indianapolis Colts have a history of converting players to different positions than they played in college.

Braden Smith was primarily a guard at Auburn but is now one of the top right tackles in the NFL. Will Fries moved to right guard after spending his college career at Penn State as a tackle. On defense, the Colts converted Yale linebacker Rodney Thomas II to safety.

And now they will look to do it again with Jaylon Carlies, who the Colts selected with the No.151 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Carlies was listed as a safety for the Missouri Tigers, but the Colts have confirmed they see Carlies as a linebacker at the next level. Wherever he lines up, Carlies is just happy to be a Colt.

"Just having this opportunity in general, it's really a blessing to me," Carlies revealed after the draft. "They just took a chance on me and I'm (going to) make sure I pay them back whatever way I can."

While he was listed as a safety for the Tigers, Carlies played all over the formation on defense. He logged snaps at safety, linebacker, and cornerback throughout his four seasons at Mizzou. Despite playing multiple positions, Carlies racked up 221 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, nine interceptions, 17 passes defensed, three sacks, and three forced fumbles in his college career.

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) is pressured by Missouri Tigers defensive back Jaylon Carlies (1).
Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) is pressured by Missouri Tigers defensive back Jaylon Carlies (1). / Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

According to Pro Football Focus, Carlies logged 299 snaps at free safety, 153 as a box defender, and 141 in the slot last season. Carlies' assignments were game plan specific, changing each contest based on the type of opponent they were playing and the opposing team's tendencies.

"At Mizzou, I was primarily safety," Carlies explained. "That was my position my sophomore through senior year, with corner being my freshman year position. But it was just, in terms of our schemes that we were running, it seemed like my role (was to) come down to being more of like an outside linebacker in certain coverages and certain formations that we had drawn up.

"Just depending on who we played as well," he continued. "If we ran (into) a lot of run-heavy teams, then I probably had a lot more outside linebacker position plays going on. But then in terms of pass coverage, if (we're) playing a lot of pass, then I'm mainly just lined up at safety for the whole game."

But at nearly 6-3 and 229 pounds, Carlies has the body type of a linebacker in the Colts' defense. His athletic profile (8.35 RAS) also fits what the Colts covet in their linebackers. His speed (4.5 40-yard dash) and explosiveness (10-5 broad jump) will serve him well, displaying his ability to cover sideline to sideline.

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The Colts have experience converting safeties to linebackers, dating back to the 2000s, one of the winningest eras of any organization in NFL history. In 2003, the Colts took safety Cato June from Michigan and transitioned him from safety to linebacker. It worked out just fine for June.

June burst onto the scene and ascended to the Colts' starting WILL linebacker by his second season. In four seasons with the Colts, June amassed 363 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, 20 passes defensed, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns. June earned a Second-Team All-Pro nod and Pro Bowl selection in 2005 while also being a key member of the Colts' Super Bowl XLI team in 2006.

What made June such a dangerous linebacker was his coverage ability over the middle. He could line up on tight ends, running backs, and even slot receivers, and former Colts' head coach Tony Dungy had faith June would get the job done.

The Colts drafted Carlies for the same reason they did June in 2003. They believe he can immediately add a coverage element to their linebacker room that has been sorely missed. With his experience lining up all over the field, Carlies is confident he can be an asset against the pass.

A pass to Tennessee wide receiver Bru McCoy (15) falls incomplete while he is covered by Missouri Tigers safety Jaylon Carlies (1).
A pass to Tennessee wide receiver Bru McCoy (15) falls incomplete while he is covered by Missouri Tigers safety Jaylon Carlies (1). / Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY

"I feel like I'm comfortable at all (positions) just because throughout college I played different positions," Carlies said. "Like my freshman year I played corner, so I had a whole year guarding receiver strictly. Then going through my years as they went on, like my junior and senior year, I kind of developed more into a tight end coverage guy, and don't really have a problem there with running backs as well. So I feel like I'm comfortable guarding pretty much anybody, any position that a team needs."

Carlies will likely start as a core special teams player for the Colts while contributing on obvious passing downs on defense. Carlies will also have June to lean on throughout this process, as the former linebacker currently serves as the Colts assistant linebackers coach. Having June and linebackers coach and run game coordinator Richard Smith in his corner, expectations are high for Carlies and his potential impact on the defense.

That does not mean Carlies could not also see snaps at safety if the Colts are in a pinch. The versatility he brings will allow the Colts coaching staff to use his talents in a variety of ways. No matter the situation, Carlies is determined to make Indy look good in their decision to take him.

"I feel like it will help me a lot," Carlies admitted about his versatility. "Just knowing at the end of the day, you're just still playing football. This is really what I came here to do, and it's what the Colts blessed me to have the opportunity to keep doing. I'm just coming in, making sure I'm giving them my all, and showing them that they didn't waste their pick."

From Zaire Franklin to Bobby Okereke to E.J. Speed, the Colts have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough at the linebacker position. Do not bet against Carlies becoming the next one.

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Andrew Moore


Andrew Moore is the Senior Analyst for Horseshoe Huddle and an Indianapolis Colts expert. Andrew is also the co-host of the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast and the former co-host of A Colts Podcast.