It was a three-day extravaganza the likes of which the NFL had never seen before. Inside the palace affectionately known as “JerryWorld,” 256 prospective pros realized their dream of becoming an NFL draftee. They did so as part of a carnival environment of sorts both in and around AT&T Stadium, the first time the draft has been held inside an actual NFL venue.
For the Indianapolis Colts, perhaps the biggest necessity of this year’s draft involved shoring up their offensive line so that Andrew Luck‘s ever-dwindling prime years aren’t squandered. But the fact that he is their franchise quarterback meant the Colts were willing to trade down should an offer from another team prove too good to pass up. That’s exactly what happened when the New York Jets came calling. It was one of the five transactions listed below that eventually gave Indy 11 picks in this year’s draft.
- traded the third overall pick to the Jets in exchange for the sixth overall pick, two second-rounders (37th and 49th overall) and a second-round pick in 2019;
- dealt a second-round selection (49th overall) to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a second (52nd overall) and fifth (169th overall) round selection;
- traded a third-round (67th overall) and sixth-round (178th overall) to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for their second-round selection (64th overall);
- acquired a fifth (159th overall) and sixth (185th overall) round pick from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for their fifth-round selection (140th overall);
- sent defensive end Henry Anderson to the Jets in exchange for a seventh-round pick (235th overall).
With those picks, the Colts selected the following prospects. It marks the first draft class for new head coach Frank Reich as well as the second for general manager Chris Ballard.
First round, sixth overall: Quenton Nelson, guard, Notre Dame
Second round, 36th overall: Darius Leonard, outside linebacker, South Carolina State
Second round, 37th overall: Braden Smith, guard, Auburn
Second round, 52nd overall: Kemoko Turay, edge rusher, Rutgers
Second round, 64th overall: Tyquan Lewis, edge rusher, Ohio State
Fourth round, 104th overall: Nyheim Hines, running back, N.C. State
Fifth round, 159th overall: Daurice Fountain, wide receiver, Northern Iowa
Fifth round, 169th overall: Jordan Wilkins, running back, Ole Miss
Sixth round, 185th overall: Deon Cain, wide receiver, Clemson
Seventh round, 221st overall: Matthew Adams, linebacker, Houston
Seventh round, 235th overall: Zaire Franklin, linebacker, Syracuse
Indianapolis Colts 2018 Draft Grade: 8.8/10 B+
Indianapolis Colts 2018 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Quenton Nelson
Hands down, this was a slam dunk selection. Most experts saw Nelson as no worse than the second-best prospect in this year’s draft irrespective of position behind Saquon Barkley. And when the Giants decided to go with the Penn State running back at number two, it caused Nelson to fall into the Colts’ laps four picks later. As a result, the Colts filled their biggest positional need in this year’s draft with a prospect who seems destined to be a multi-year Pro Bowler.
In Nelson, the Colts are getting a player who epitomizes the term “mauler” at the line of scrimmage. Not only does he possess quintessential size for the position and the requisite play strength to boot. He brings an aggressive demeanor and an alpha dog mentality to the field. Couple that with the fact he’s as fundamentally sound as they come both as a pass and run blocker and you have all the makings of a surefire week one starter. Luck had to have been ecstatic when Roger Goodell announced this pick.
The Head-Scratcher: No Cornerbacks Taken
When all was said and done on the Colts’ wheeling and dealing, they found themselves with four second-round draft picks. With the team deciding to release Vontae Davis and losing Rashaan Melvin to the Raiders in free agency, cornerback appeared to be a priority. Not only that, but they’re coming off a season in which they ranked 29th in pass defense. Add in the plethora of potential game-changers they could’ve picked in round two and it’s hard to believe they chose not to.
In total, six cornerbacks went in the second round. They included Josh Jackson, M.J. Stewart, Donte Jackson, Duke Dawson, Isaiah Oliver and Carlton Davis. Many scouts gave Jackson a first-round grade with his somewhat underwhelming 40 time at the Combine one of the culprits for him sliding. The Green Bay Packers eventually took him with the 45th overall pick. That means Indy had two chances to get the potential steal of the second round and passed both times.
The Surprise: Darius Leonard
This one’s a surprise for a few reasons. Firstly, there’s the aforementioned head-scratching decision to not go with a cornerback at any point in the draft. Then there’s the fact that the Colts had four picks in the second round to go after a player in Leonard that NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein projected as a second to third round talent. It’s possible they could’ve snagged the South Carolina State product late in round two and addressed their glaring need at cornerback with their first pick that round.
Still, Leonard brings a skill set that should translate well to his new team. With the Colts shifting to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, there’s a need for athletic outside linebackers with sideline to sideline range and the ability to effectively wrap up ball-carriers. That’s Leonard in a nutshell. Though his play strength is a little lacking, he should be able to contribute on special teams right off the bat while eventually settling into a consistent role as both a strong and weakside backer.
The Steal: Deon Cain
This was a really puzzling draft from the standpoint of wide receivers. Calvin Ridley, projected as a potential top 10 pick in some mocks, plummeted to 26 when the Atlanta Falcons nabbed him. Only two went in the first round with D.J. Moore going to the Carolina Panthers two picks ahead of Ridley. Then there were plenty of wideouts with middle-round grades who suffered their own precipitous drops, including Marcell Ateman, Cedrick Wilson and Equanimeous St. Brown among others.
Cain falls into that latter category. At 6’2″ and 202 pounds, the Clemson product boasts a pro-ready frame and he also tested favorably at the Combine. His 4.43 40-yard dash tied Ridley while his 6.71-second three-cone drill was fifth best among wideouts. That combination of initial burst and lateral athleticism should give him the ability to consistently separate at all three levels of the pass game. Cain also runs crisp routes, is a threat both underneath and vertically, and has an extra gear after the catch. To get a player with this kind of skill set in the sixth round is borderline unfair.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Braden Smith
There are a few potential routes to take here. Kemoko Turay is a raw yet naturally gifted edge defender with the potential to revamp a Colts pass rush that struggled last year. In Daurice Fountain, Indy drafted an underrated receiver from FCS Northern Iowa who already did some head-turning with his performance at the East-West Shrine Game. Though both will have the chance to make an impact once training camp begins, it’s Braden Smith who could outshine them all en route to potentially starting in the Colts’ season opener at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Smith was a three-year starter at Auburn and regularly held his own against elite SEC speed on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, he’s likely to see a lot of those same players line up in front of him at the NFL level. Like Nelson, he brings a high level of physicality and an aggressive play demeanor to the offensive line. Neither Jack Mewhort nor Matt Slauson were particularly effective at right guard last year. That should give Smith the opportunity he needs to immediately break into the starting lineup with an impressive preseason.
Turay came onto the radar of scouts at the Senior Bowl where he consistently displayed the ability to set the edge against opposing tackles. As mentioned above, he’s a raw talent at this point. But in time, he could help energize the Colts’ ability to get at the quarterback.
One of three Ohio State defensive ends who went in this year’s draft (Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes the others), Lewis boasts traits distinct from Turay in that he’s more adept as a run defender than he is rushing the quarterback. He has value sneaking inside as a three-technique interior defender on passing downs.
In addition to his football exploits, Hines was a track star at N.C. State in the 100 meters and 4×100 relay. He showed that blazing speed at the Combine where he ran the fastest 40 among running backs. Hines will bring a change of pace element to Indy’s run game but his diminutive size will likely preclude him from becoming a bell cow.
Fountain was a bit of a late bloomer at Northern Iowa with only one year of above average production. He brings an impressive catch radius to the table with 34-inch arms and his explosiveness showed up big time at his Pro Day with vertical and broad jump numbers that would’ve led all receivers at the Combine.
More of a depth add at running back, Wilkins was one of nine SEC running backs to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2017. He boasts good side-to-side quickness which, combined with his vision, gives him regular access to cutback lanes. He doesn’t have a great deal of mileage on his legs so could be a potential sleeper.
The Colts decided to bolster their depth chart at middle linebacker with both seventh-round selections. Adams finished with 88 tackles for Houston in 2017 which was good enough for second on the team.
Franklin is a bit undersized but he exhibited great leadership qualities in college as a three-time captain at Syracuse. If he can make the team, he has the makings of a solid locker room presence.
The Colts deserve high marks for addressing the offensive line with two players who should become bookend guards for years to come. Nelson was arguably the steal of the first round and Smith should similarly become an instant impact player. Though not adding a cornerback is concerning, especially in the second round when there were still quite a few big names on the board, the roster received noticeable upgrades at other positions of need. Luck has a few more weapons to throw to, including two capable pass-catchers at running back. And the front seven is significantly better. Overall, the Colts’ 2018 draft has the team on a path to reclaim its status as top dog in the AFC South.