These past two off-seasons, Indianapolis Colts fans have been witnesses to the finesse of general manager Chris Ballard in terms of moving back in the NFL draft.
For the 2018 draft, Ballard moved back three spots, picked up three extra second round picks and still picked up the guy his team wanted: an All-Pro offensive guard as a rookie, Quenton Nelson.
In the recent 2019 draft, Ballard made a trade with the Washington Redskins while the Colts were on the clock at pick No. 26 late in the first round.
With pressure from the fan base to take a player after months of waiting, mock drafts and speculation, the Colts’ leader in terms of roster construction made a deal with Redskins general manager Bruce Allen to swap the Colts’ 26th overall pick with Washington’s pick at No. 46 overall, along with Washington’s second round pick for the 2020 draft.
And it is that trade on that Thursday night in April that generated the idea for this article.
Right now, the Colts have a stupid amount of depth across their roster. They may not have the most Pro Bowlers or All-Pros, but if someone has to take a play, a series, or a game off there’s at least one capable player who can come off of the bench and provide meaningful snaps so that the squad barely misses a beat.
Therefore, come next spring, Ballard might not need all of those draft picks. He could, say, package them up and shoot himself up into the top part of the first round to take a player he considers a generational talent.
Ballard’s said before, quite often, that he likes draft picks. And considering how well he drafts, Colts fans are glad he does.
Ballard also stated on multiple occasions that if it’s for the right player, he’ll move up. He did so for safety Khari Willis in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL draft, giving up both of his fourth rounders to do so. He moved up in the 2018 draft to take Tyquan Lewis in the late second round, giving up a third round pick and a sixth round pick in the process.
The man isn’t shy to make moves. In this article, we’ll look at some scenarios that could result in the Colts taking their first round pick and coupling it with their second round pick from Washington, along with another pick in 2020, for a player they covet heavily enough to give up draft capital.
Teams that are in the top 10 of a draft, typically, are in rough times as a franchise, so moving back for an extra couple of draft picks seems attractive, while allowing Ballard to maximize his outcome from the 2020 draft.
We’re more than 11 months from the 2020 NFL Draft in Paradise, Las Vegas, but below, there are five players who might pique Ballard’s interest enough to make a phone call to move up.
Fun fact: All of these players play in the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference (SEC) and that is by pure coincidence.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The idea of T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell and Jerry Jeudy all lining up together for a single offense should scare defensive backs coaches… just the thought.
The First-Team All-American and winner of the 2018 Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s best receiver, has solid size (6’1” and 192 pounds) and can run just about any route you want him to do.
There’s a handful of high-caliber receivers coming into the 2020 NFL Draft, but none are quite like Jeudy. While it’s said oftentimes of receivers that they can take any catch to the house, no one exemplifies that more than Jeudy, who’s not only fast, but also shifty, has great hands, adjusts well to throws, and sees blocks in front of him well.
In 15 games as a sophomore in 2018, Jeudy reeled in 68 receptions, 14 of them for scores, and 1,315 yards. That was after a freshman season that saw him play in eight games, recording 14 receptions, 264 yards and two touchdowns. When Jeudy was the man and not having to play behind the likes of Calvin Ridley and Robert Foster, he really shined as a weapon going down the field and running across it. And with Jeudy, wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa all returning for 2019, it’s hard to imagine that Jeudy’s production is going to decline.
Not much would make Frank Reich happier as the Colts head coach than to have the Hilton-Campbell-Jeudy trio in his arsenal. At this time, it’s looking like Jeudy is likely going to be a top-tier pick in next year’s draft, so this might cost Ballard some premier draft capital, but Jeudy is the kind of receiver who you move up that much for and, hey, a fan can dream.
Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Colts fans love Anthony Castonzo. And they have reasons.
For the most part, he’s been reliable. He’s been the main blind side protector for Andrew Luck during the quarterback’s entire professional career.
Castonzo, the Colts’ first round pick in 2011, has recorded 116 games with Indianapolis, all of them starts. In those games, he’s only been penalized 38 times (18 for false starts and 18 for holding) and he’s only given up 46 sacks at a position where week in and week out he’s going up against the individuals on this planet who are most qualified to get around him and to the quarterback.
But, Castonzo is coming up on the end of his second contract with the Colts, he’ll be 31 years old by the time the season starts and there are some really talented offensive linemen who are eligible for the 2020 draft.
Andrew Thomas, a Second-Team All-American in 2018, can play either tackle position, which bodes well for a generation of football where your value as an offensive lineman significantly increases if you have position flexibility.
If you’re a pass rusher going up against Thomas, make sure he doesn’t get his hands on you. Because you’re likely either going into the dirt or staying put, as seen here:
He also has solid mobility in getting to the second level and pushing around linebackers.
Ballard has made it known of his emphasis on building up front. On offense, your quarterback isn’t going to be able to get the ball downfield if they don’t have time to throw. And your running backs aren’t going to be able to move the ball on the ground if they don’t have running lanes.
Thomas would be an investment pick for the back end of Luck’s career. And if the Colts do decide to bring back Castonzo on a veteran, team-friendly deal, they can still get Thomas onto the field with some jumbo packages.
Usually, left tackles are drafted to fill glaring needs on the roster. They aren’t usually a position that teams like to have an overabundance of like pass rushers.
But, Thomas is a tempting pick looking forward.
Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
We all know the status of the Colts’ current tight end situation. Could Eric Ebron ask for too much money? What if Jack Doyle isn’t the same after a rough, injured 2018 season?
In a perfect scenario, Ebron will come back after eclipsing Rob Gronkowski’s single-season receiving TD record for a tight end (17) on a lucrative, albeit team-friendly, deal, Doyle will return to form and Mo Alie-Cox and Ross Travis will make solid progressions in their respective careers.
But life isn’t made of pie and it’s possible that the Colts might need a new tight end infusion in their offense.
Reich likes to get athletic tight ends in mismatches down the field and Albert Okwuegbunam is an ideal tight end in the modern NFL at 6’5” and 255 pounds with an ability to oftentimes (somehow) slip by defenders down the field for big gains and scores.
A finalist for the 2018 John Mackey Award, which is given to college football’s best tight end, Okwuegbunam does a great job of keeping his eye on the ball as he’s anticipating throws from his quarterback.
Okwuegbunam is coming off of a season-ending scapula (shoulder) injury suffered against Florida later in the season, but did post 43 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns in only nine games.
Concerns with Okwuegbunam, though, include drawing flags and dropping the ball, but those are things that can be corrected in the right environment like, say, a coach who places a premium on the tight end position.
You can’t teach size, more speed is hard to come by at this point in Okwuegbunam’s career and his coaches rave about how coachable he is.
Fast. Athletic. Apt. Sound like a Ballard guy?
Derrick Brown, IDL, Auburn
This list is quickly becoming a banner for SEC talent, but it’s hard to exclude Derrick Brown from the list of players who the Colts have their eyes on even 11 months before the 2020 draft.
Brown, a senior with the Auburn Tigers, is everything you want in a defensive lineman. He’s big. He’s violent at the point of attack. He uses his hands well to force turnovers.
And, simply put, a man of Brown’s size (6’5”, 318 pounds) should not have his level of hustle. He performed well as a junior in 2018, recording 48 tackles, 10.5 of which were for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two pass deflections, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 13 games.
Brown also can play outside or on the interior, where he’s more productive in getting pressure. He’s also effective against the run, using his strength to move blockers to one side so he can get his mitts on running backs.
And you know how Ballard, Reich and Co. love players who also make an impact off of the field? Brown was nominated to be a member of the 2018 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which honors college football players “for their extraordinary commitment to making a lasting impact off the field,” according to an Allstate Insurance Company press release.
Brown is also the vice president of the university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and will serve as its president in 2019-20. In an article provided by Auburn, Brown stated, “We’re basically the student-athlete voice to the administration when it comes to what community service activities and events we want to do throughout the year.”
And it’s hard to imagine a young man doing so much great off of the field, but also doing this to a running back:
Raekwon Davis, IDL, Alabama
Surprisingly, the Colts didn’t spend any draft picks on the interior of the defensive line in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Throughout the first three rounds, the Colts had their choice of Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery, UCF’s Trysten Hill, Ohio State’s Dre’mont Jones, and Western Illinois’ Khalen Saunders, but they deferred on all of them, sticking with their current core of Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, Tyquan Lewis, Jihad Ward and Grover Stewart.
A four-star recruit coming out of eastern Mississippi, Raekwon Davis has slowly but surely come on as a force on defense for the Alabama Crimson Tide the last couple of seasons, what seems to be a rite of passage in Tuscaloosa.
Davis and 2019 No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams were side by side on one of the best defensive lines in recent memory for college football and Davis was almost as much of a reason as Williams.
So why would Davis stick around for an extra season for Alabama head coach Nick Saban? The Tide were whacked in the 2019 BCS Championship Game by the Clemson Tigers, so ending his college career on a high note is likely high on his priority list right now. He also stated publicly on Twitter that he wanted to finish his education.
However, it could also be because Davis’ production was better in his All-SEC honors sophomore season (69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and an interception in 13 games) compared to his junior season (55 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 14 games).
At this time, Davis is the top interior defensive lineman coming into the 2020 NFL Draft. His production is attributed largely to his size (6’7”, 309 pounds), but also his strength. Davis is going to need to be coached up on his effort, as sometimes he just gives up if he doesn’t get that initial win at the line of scrimmage, but that’s something that the right environment can do.
When Davis is in stride, he’s a game-wrecker and a day-ruiner for quarterbacks and running backs. He did punch an opponent during a conference game against Missouri last season, which did get him suspended for the first half of the next game against Tennessee, but that appears to be an isolated incident.
And you just have to love it when a guy gets this excited about putting work in the weight room.
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