Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, in a 32-part series, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: Indianapolis Colts
Head Coach: Frank Reich
General Manager: Chris Ballard
Players selected in 2020:
Round 2, Pick 34 overall: WR Michael Pittman, Southern Cal
Round 2, Pick 41 overall: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Round 3, Pick 85 overall: S Julian Blackmon, Utah
Round 4, Pick 122 overall: QB Jacob Eason, Washington
Round 5, Pick 149 overall: OG Danny Pinter, Ball State
Round 6, Pick 193 overall: DT Rob Windsor, Penn State
Round 6, Pick 211 overall: DB Isaiah Rodgers, Massachusetts
Round 6, Pick 212 overall: WR Dezmon Patmon, Washington State
Round 6, Pick 213 overall: LB Jordan Glasgow, Michigan
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
K Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia
DE Kendall Coleman, Syracuse
WR Demichael Harris, Southern Miss
CB Travis Reed, South Alabama
OL Carter O’Donnell, Alberta
LB Brandon Wellington, Washington
Overview of the Colts’ 2020 draft: Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ultimately selected 13 in the 2020 NFL draft, this pick was originally the Colts’ property before GM Chris Ballard wisely swapped it for 26-year old former San Francisco 49ers’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who in turn traded the pick to the Buccaneers. With all due to respect to the rookies Ballard and Co. brought to Indianapolis – and there are some very good ones – Buckner, a 6-7, 295 pound superstar coming off a Second Team All-Pro campaign, will easily make the largest impact from this “rookie class” and therefore should be included in the Colts’ draft grade. Colts’ fans should be giddy with the addition of Buckner, one of the NFL’s most disruptive defensive linemen, especially after Indianapolis added immediate impact skill position stars to their offense in the second round in USC wideout Michael Pittman, Jr. and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. I am not quite as high on third rounder Julian Blackmon, though Ballard and head coach Frank Reich clearly saw a need at free safety given last week’s news that the Colts would not be exercising their fifth-year option on 2017 first round pick Malik Hooker. Spending middle and late round picks on developmental players with starting potential is GM 101 at the NFL level and Ballard demonstrated his understanding of this with the selection of Blackmon now, as well as the roll of the dice on strong-armed Washington quarterback Jacob Eason despite Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett and Chad Kelly all already on the Colts’ roster. As I wrote when the pick was made, I love this fit for the Colts and Eason, alike. Of Indianapolis’ final selections, I am highest on the first two, Ball State guard Danny Pinter and Penn State defensive tackle Rob Windsor, though for vastly different reasons. Pinter is a former tight end turned right tackle, whose raw athleticism (4.91 at the Combine at 6-4, 306 pounds) suggests that his best football may still lie ahead of him, probably at guard or center. Windsor is not as much of a project. He is a classic blue-collar type with the size, motor and grit to stick.
Best Player of the Colts’ 2020 Draft: WR Michael Pittman, Jr.
Buckner (and Taylor) deserve mentioning here, as well, but Pittman’s polish and physicality should make him one of those rare rookie receivers who actually makes an immediate impact. The Colts already possess one of the game’s elite receivers in T.Y. Hilton but he is a slim-built speedster and last year’s second round pick Parris Campbell is at his best using his RB-like vision and elusiveness on shallow routes. Zach Pascal stepped into become the Colts’ most dependable receiver late last year but the 6-4, 220 pound Pittman is simply bigger and faster. Reliable hands come naturally to Pittman, whose father of the same name played 11 years in the NFL as an early pass-catching star running back for the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos, hauling in 425 career passes for 3,512 yards over his career, along with 5,627 rushing yards. Like his father, Pittman, Jr. possesses strong, trustworthy hands and grown-man strength to bully defenders, making some of the best catches of his career with defenders draped over him. Philip Rivers frequently trusted Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to win jump balls for him with the Chargers with Pittman best suited of the Colts’ current receivers to play a similar role.
Best Value of the Colts’ 2020 Draft: RB Jonathan Taylor
I understand that there are some who believe that running backs virtually never warrant early round selections. Talents like Taylor do. His statistics are mind-numbing with Taylor averaging over 2,000 rushing yards each of his three seasons at the FBS level, a feat no back had ever attained. And let’s move past the tired cliché that Taylor’s production was disproportionately enhanced by a dominant Wisconsin offensive line. Don’t get me wrong, the Badgers do a great job of running the ball, but a total of three Wisconsin offensive linemen were drafted into the NFL during Taylor’s time in Madison, with the earliest being Michael Deiter to Miami with the 78 overall pick in 2019. At a time when undersized “air-backs” are all the rage, the 5-10, 226 pound Taylor is a freight train with the frame and mentality to carry the load. While he can put defenders on their backsides with the best of them, Taylor doesn’t invite punishment, unnecessarily. He is surprisingly slithery through traffic, showing terrific balance and coordination to subtly sting moves together, leaving defenders frequently off-balance and vulnerable to when he hits the accelerator. Taylor turned heads at the Combine in 4.39 seconds but this speed was just as obvious on the field for the Badgers, where he registered a staggering 37 plays of at least 25 yards as runner or receiver over his career. Greater proficiency in the passing game assures that incumbent starter Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines will get plenty of snaps, as well, but the idea of Taylor running behind the NFL’s best guard Quenton Nelson should strike fear into the hearts of rival defensive coordinators. Individual statistics aside, when the Colts prove one of the NFL’s most improved teams in 2020, grinding away wins with Taylor earning the hard yards in the fourth quarter to eat clock, that is when the value of this selection will become obvious.
Best Project of the Colts’ 2020 Draft: QB Jacob Eason
Obvious is an apt term for describing Eason, as well, as it perfectly applies to his arm talent, his value at No. 122 overall, his fit in Indianapolis, and, unfortunately, the reasons for the prototypically-built 6-6, 231 pound quarterback slipping to the fourth round in the first place. Eason was criticized by many for his decision to leave Washington after just one season as the starting quarterback, especially given that both he and the Huskies failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations. It is easier to understand his decision to make the NFL jump given that his three all-conference blockers (left tackle, right tackle and center), two most productive pass-catchers and top running back were all heading for their shot at the pros, as well. Eason’s strengths are obvious in his tape at Washington, as well as previously as a true freshman starter at Georgia. He is a traditional drop-back passer with the best arm in the 2020 draft. With time to survey the field, he can make throws through windows that only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL can make. The million-dollar arm doesn’t make up for penny-poor decisions, however with Eason crumbling, at times, amid pressure, either surrendering yardage by attempting to spin away from sacks or throwing the ball blindly. Off the field, Eason came off as immature and entitled to some, raising questions about whether he possesses the intangibles required for a field general. Forced to learn behind two ultra-competitive veterans in Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, while aided by the player-friendly, former QB himself, Reich, and surrounded by talent along the offensive line and at the skill positions, in many ways Eason found an ideal landing spot, albeit much later than he likely hoped. And for the Colts, Eason was the perfect low-risk, high-reward Day Three investment which could someday turn a very good class into a historic one.
Overall Grade for the Colts’ 2020 Draft: A
Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs