In his first NFL Draft as the Indianapolis Colts new general manager, Chris Ballard knew he had high expectations to live up to. At this moment, it looks like those expectations have, for the most part, been met. Indianapolis had a lot of missing pieces on the roster coming into this draft weekend and Ballard seems to have found cogs for most of them. Revamping an aging and ineffective defense was priority number one, and that priority was well-served in this draft.
1st Round, 15th Overall: S Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
2nd Round, 46th Overall: CB Quincy Wilson (Florida)
3rd Round, 80th Overall: DE Tarell Basham (Ohio)
4th Round, 137th Overall: OT Zach Banner (USC)
4th Round, 143rd Overall: RB Marlon Mack (USF)
4th Round, 144th Overall: DT Grover Stewart (Albany State)
5th Round, 158th Overall: CB Nate Hairston (Temple)
5th Round, 161st Overall: ILB Anthony Walker Jr. (Northwestern)
Colts 2017 Draft Grade: 8.5/10
Indianapolis Colts 2017 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Malik Hooker
It’s almost always a surprise when someone who is mocked to go in the top 5-7 picks falls to the middle of the draft board, yet it happened here again with the Colts’ selection of Ohio State safety Malik Hooker in the first round. Hooker has immediate starting potential (as all first rounders should) and will cement a perceived weak spot alongside second year safety Clayton Geathers in the back of the secondary. The Colts moved corner back Darius Butler to safety during the off-season to alleviate the loss of veteran Mike Adams, but we can expect Butler to see significant playing time in the nickel corner back position as well.
Hooker brings exceptional ball-hawking ability – and comparisons to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed – to a Colts team that desperately needs it (ranking near the bottom of the league in interceptions during the 2016 campaign). Hooker is coming off of dual surgeries to repair a torn labrum and hernias suffered during the 2016 college football season, but expect him to be ready for the start of the season this coming September.
The Head-Scratcher: Grover Steward
Grover Stewart was a surprise coming off the board, not because of the need for depth in the front of the defense, but because of holes in other areas that would need to be addressed in the draft. Stewart is by definition a “project” player – not someone who is going to come in and start right away. With the Colts’ addition of Johnathan Hankins in free agency, it didn’t make much sense for the Colts to go here with this pick.
The exodus of drafted tight ends over the past two years leaves significant concerns at the position for the Colts, as the only returning tight end with significant playing experience is fifth year man and 2016 diamond-in-the-rough Jack Doyle. With John Mackey Award winner (and projected late second or early third round pick) Jake Butt still on the board, I expected the Colts to fill in some depth at tight end here. The pick for Stewart isn’t necessarily bad, but he is definitely a project player and I don’t expect him to contribute significantly right away.
The Surprise: Quincy Wilson
The pick of corner back Quincy Wilson in the second round, brought complete confusion to many fans and analysts. That is not to say that Wilson is not a great corner and addition to the team – he is – but rather the need at linebacker (inside or outside) was more pressing here, especially after picking Hooker in the first round. With Houston’s Tyus Bowser and Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham still on the board, it was thought that Ballard and the Colts would address these needs first. Obviously Ballard and the scouting department felt that the ceiling was higher on Wilson however, and they pulled the trigger in that direction. Wilson will immediately find playing time as the number two corner opposite Vontae Davis, which cannot be discounted considering the multiple failures the Colts have attempted to plug at that position over the past three years.
The Steal: Malik Hooker
It’s a rare thing when the best player taken lines up with your steal pick, but that’s what happened with the Colts and safety Malik Hooker. Hooker had seven interceptions in his 2016 college campaign, compared to eight total for the entire Colts defense in the NFL that year (and Hooker did it in three less games). The Colts had definite needs in other areas that could have been addressed in the first round, but none of them came at the value that someone like Hooker brings.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Tarell Basham
Basham was the Colts draft solution for a pass-rushing specialist, and he will be exciting to watch coming off the ball this summer. There is definitely a lot of competition (something Ballard has preached since arriving in Indianapolis in January) at the position. Expect Basham to carve out a starting position or at the very least a third down specialist role when pitted against the other linebackers brought in during free agency. With long arms and an explosive start off the line, expect Basham to come off the edge and pressure quarterbacks with regularity.
The Colts used two picks in this draft to select offensive players – the lowest number used on such picks since 2002. Those picks were USC right tackle Zach Banner and USF running back Marlon Mack. Banner brings a run-blocking specialty to an offensive line that needs a shot of youth and power in that area, and Mack brings a speedy change-of-pace back to ageless wonder and future Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore in the backfield.
The Colts also used their last two selections in the fifth round to select corner back Nate Hairston out of Temple and inside linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. out of Northwestern. Hairston will be used as a depth player in nickel-plus packages and on special teams, and Walker will be expected to immediately compete for the starting inside linebacker position with returners Antonio Morrison, Edwin Jackson and free-agent pickups Jon Bostic and Sean Spence.
The Bottom Line
The first draft of a new GM is always a bit of a look inside of their mind when it comes to team-building strategy and areas of concern. While there were more important positions that could have been filled earlier, Ballard hit on every major area of need for the Colts in his first draft as their new general manager. With a reinvigorated and youthful secondary and young blood coming in to compete for playing time at outside linebacker and running back, the Colts are set up to take some of the pressure off of young superstar Andrew Luck with a hopefully revamped defense and a more punishing and clock-controlling run game.