Where Colts Stand Entering Combine

PhilB24

INDIANAPOLIS — As the NFL Scouting Combine returns this week to the Hoosier State, where do the Indianapolis Colts stand entering the extensive player evaluation phase?

Since finishing 2019 with a 7-9 mark and missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, the Colts gave kicker Chase McLaughlin and tight end Mo Alie-Cox one-year contracts. McLaughlin’s rookie year for three teams culminated in capably kicking the last four games for the Colts after all-time leading scorer Adam Vinatieri was placed on injured reserve with a left knee injury that required surgery. Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest player at 47, is a free agent and the Colts have yet to say if he’ll be asked back.

The team also made a series of assistant coach hirings by adding Brian Baker (defensive line), Mike Groh (wide receivers), Tyler Boyles (head coach assistant), Matt Raich (special defensive assistant/assistant defensive line coach) and Jerrod Johnson (offensive quality control coach).

The Colts want to re-sign offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who is set to become a free agent. Colts owner Jim Irsay expressed on Sunday “a strong likelihood” that Castonzo would return for his 10th season. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time in his career last season.

Here’s a look at where the Colts stand entering the combine.

— 2019 Season in Review

Despite the unexpected August retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts rebounded initially with backup passer Jacoby Brissett to get off to a promising 5-2 start that included a road win over eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City. But as injuries mounted — most notably to pass catchers T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Eric Ebron and Parris Campbell — Brissett struggled down the stretch and the Colts lost five of their last six games. A defense with several young players also failed to protect late leads and finish games. The Colts were 5-6 in one-score games.

— 2020 Draft Position

The Colts’ first selection is 13th overall, but general manager Chris Ballard likes to trade down for future picks. He has three picks in the first 44, including No. 34 received from Washington for trading out of the first round last year. The Colts have eight picks overall. Don’t be surprised if Ballard utilizes one or more of those early picks to trade down again for more selections. If he’s proven anything in three years at the helm, Ballard covets draft picks and stockpiles them whenever possible.

— Help Wanted

Depending upon what the Colts do at quarterback, either sticking with Brissett or signing a free agent like Philip Rivers to be a bridge to a future talent, the Colts are expected to consider drafting one with one of those first three selections. That said, Ballard has adamantly stated he won’t force the situation in the draft based on need. It has to be the right fit, be it with a pick or as a free agent. Adding someone like Rivers would provide at least another year to draft a quarterback, thus allowing the focus to be on either wide receiver or defensive line, the latter with an eye on a pass rusher. Cornerback is also a consideration in the early rounds, but don’t expect one too early because the Colts drafted Rock Ya-Sin in the second round last year and have cover corner Pierre Desir signed to a long-term deal. The reality is Hilton has been hurt each of the last two years and when he’s out of the lineup, the Colts are 1-9 since his third-round selection in 2012. If the Colts don’t go wide receiver, look for a pass rusher because defensive end Jabaal Sheard is about to become a free agent and leading sack man Justin Houston is entering the last year of a contract. Even if the Colts re-sign Houston in a year, they lack depth in pass rushers with promising third-year pro Kemoko Turay coming off a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery.

— Five Players the Colts Must Watch

The run on wide receivers likely starts just before the Colts pick, which means Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb or Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy might be off the board at No. 13. LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson would also be enticing. Iowa edge rusher A.J. Epenesa is a big body at 6-6 and 280, which could fit nicely into the Colts’ rotation at defensive end/tackle and pass-rushing linebacker. Two more Alabama prospects worth keeping an eye on are edge rusher Terrell Lewis and wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. The Colts were excited to add Campbell in the second round last year after being the fastest wide receiver in combine workouts. Ruggs might be the fastest wide receiver at this combine.

— Who Makes The Call and Recent Draft Hits and Misses

The owner reminded Sunday that he ultimately has a final say on team decisions, but typically backs what his braintrusts suggest. It’s Irsay’s job to ask the right questions and the responsibility of Ballard and head coach Frank Reich to answer them. Ballard had an exceptional draft two years ago in adding Pro Bowl offensive guard Quenton Nelson in the first round and linebacker Darius Leonard in the second. Leonard led the NFL in tackles as a rookie. Nelson and Leonard became the first NFL rookies on the same team to be named first-team All-Pro since eventual Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gayle Sayers with Chicago in 1965. But Ballard’s first draft was so-so as he missed on three of the first five players. That said, first-round pick Malik Hooker is a dynamic playmaker at safety when healthy and running back Marlon Mack, taken in the fourth round, has been the leading rusher each of the last two years. The jury is still out on last year’s draft because an inconsistent Ya-Sin took too many penalties for grabbing pass catchers while Campbell endured three injuries/surgeries and second-round selection Ben Banogu eventually lost snaps at defensive end/linebacker due to a lack of production. Third-round linebacker Bobby Okereke blossomed into a reliable player, as did fourth-round safety Khari Willis. 

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