The Indianapolis Colts have plenty of young, budding talent that people are aware of, but they've also got some sneaky prospects hanging down on the depth chart who could surprise some people this summer in training camp.
Yesterday, we pointed out one player at each offensive position group that could turn some heads, and now we bring you the defensive prospects.
Fans waited with bated breath for the Colts to make some sort of outside move in free agency this offseason, and after losing defensive lineman Denico Autry to the Tennessee Titans, they made the modest move of signing former Los Angeles Chargers lineman Isaac Rochell.
Listed at 6'5", 285, Autry had the size and strength to play inside and out on the Colts' line, seeing 610 snaps on the edge and 65 inside for them in 2020. Immediately, fans wondered if Rochell, who is 6'4", 280 and has 1,244 edge snaps and 100 inside snaps in his career, could fill that role, and do it in a similar manner.
When the Colts signed Autry back in 2018, he was a relative unknown but the Colts got the most out of him to the tune of 20.0 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in three years. Rochell is also far from a household name and could be used similarly to Autry. Will the Colts get the most out of him?
Fans (understandably) seemed to drop Rochell to the back of their mind, though, after the Colts drafted defensive linemen Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo with their first two picks. Both players are capable of playing inside and out.
It's exciting that the Colts made the moves that they did in the draft, but it changes nothing in terms of what Rochell could show the Colts in camp and the preseason.
The Colts signed Cline as an undrafted free agent last spring, and while he spent the whole year on the practice squad, he did get brought up for one game, totaling 1 tackle and 1 quarterback pressure on 12 defensive snaps.
When the Colts signed Cline, he was listed at 6'4", 257 but is now 283, which most likely shows they wanted him to bulk up to hold up better inside at defensive tackle. Looking at his pre-draft testing numbers, Cline has high-end athleticism for the defensive tackle position, although that was 25 pounds ago.
Behind DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, and Antwaun Woods, there's no one keeping Cline firmly at bay from grabbing a spot on the roster.
The Colts allowed former starting MIKE linebacker Anthony Walker to move on in free agency which officially shuffles Bobby Okereke from SAM to MIKE, leaving a void at SAM.
Veteran leader Zaire Franklin likely gets the first shake at it, but the Colts drafted uber-athletic E.J. Speed two years ago. Now is the perfect time for him to move from special teams standout to a more consistent role in the defense.
The Colts know exactly what they have in Franklin. He's a smart player who is good at diagnosing things in front of him but has likely reached his peak. Speed, on the other hand, is much more athletic, rangier and is able to do more in pass defense and as a pass-rusher.
Marvell Tell III
The only thing making Tell somewhat sneaky this summer is that he missed 2020 as a COVID-19 opt-out. The last time we saw him on the field as a rookie in 2019, he definitely looked like a player who could develop into something decent.
He transitioned from a college free safety to an NFL cornerback, and it went smoother than expected. Tell played in 13 games on top of playing nearly 200 snaps on special teams. Overall, he totaled 26 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 5 pass breakups.
Like Speed, this young defender has elite athleticism and terrific size. In Year 3, it's time to see what they've really got.
The Colts' CB3 role is going to be an open competition in camp with Tell battling it out with Rock Ya-Sin, T.J. Carrie, and Isaiah Rodgers. With it being a genuinely open spot, Tell can show his development and grab a starting gig.
Who? I know. But it's the unsolicited praise from guys like Frank Reich, Andrew Luck, and Matt Eberflus that helped put Milligan on this list.
Like Tell, Milligan opted out of the 2020 season, but previously during his time with the Colts, the aforementioned three figureheads all singled Milligan out as an unknown guy (to fans) who was making plays in practice.
He worked his way up from the Colts practice squad to see action in 11 games in 2019, including one start. He totaled 15 tackles and 1 quarterback hit on defense in 130 snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Milligan also posted 4 "stops," which they consider to be a forced failure against the offense. In coverage, he allowed 10-of-14 targets (71.4%) for 119 yards (11.9 avg) and 1 TD for an opponent passer rating of 120.8.
Those aren't favorable numbers, but the Colts have liked what they've seen from the 26-year-old on the practice field enough to keep him around.
One big feather in Milligan's cap is his versatility. Normally listed as a safety, he was able to see snaps at a bevy of locations, which helped him receive game action quickly. In total, he played 109 snaps in the slot, 10 out wide at cornerback, 6 along the defensive line (likely on the edge for a blitz), and 5 in the box. Milligan played primarily on special teams, however, as a core-five special teamer, seeing 164 snaps on the kickoff coverage and return teams, punt coverage and return teams, and field goal/extra points block.
Most assume that Sean and Shawn Davis will be up next on the depth chart after Julian Blackmon, Khari Willis, and George Odum, but don't be surprised if Milligan is making plays on the practice field and hangs around.
Who are your surprise players in this year's training camp? Drop your thoughts below in the comment section!