Indianapolis Colts: Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 Draft
As we continue with our offseason coverage, we start to turn our gaze toward the draft, with our minds on team-specific needs and fits. For the Indianapolis Colts, there are plenty of needs to fill, although not as many draft picks to fill them.
With their five draft picks in mind, here are six positions the Colts could be looking for starter-type players in the 2014 draft, some top fits early in the draft and their pro-player comparisons. The positions I looked at for Indianapolis included wide receiver, running back, defensive line, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety.
While the Colts could look at interior offensive line as well, it's difficult to see them spending another high pick on a lineman after spending their third and fourth-round picks on Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes last season. With Donald Thomas returning from injury and Samson Satele being a prime waiver candidate, center could be the only major lineup change in 2014.
Keeping that in mind, here are some potential fits for the 2014 Colts to keep an eye on.
Wide Receivers: Best Fit, Jordan Matthews
Best Fit: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The team that gets Jordan Matthews will get a complete route-runner with an ability to make tough catches in traffic, a great complementary possession receiver and red-zone threat. Turns out, that's exactly the type of receiver that the Colts could use to round out their top three.
With Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, the Colts have two slot-type receivers who can both play outside as well, although they have different styles. Hilton is the explosive deep threat, while Wayne is the dependable possession receiver.
What they need to truly exploit defenses is another dependable possession receiver who can take advantage of space cleared out by Hilton's deep threat and the extra attention Wayne draws.
Matthews is that type of receiver with an extra inch or two that gives a team another red-zone threat, something the Colts desperately need. With Matthews' talents, you also get a potential long-term replacement for Wayne.
Other Fits: Allen Robinson, Penn State; Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
Running Backs: Best Fit, Bishop Sankey
Best Fit: Bishop Sankey, Washington
I wrote about Charles Sims last week for our Senior Bowl scouting preview, and I still contend that of any running back the Colts will have the chance to draft, he's the best fit.
Now, running backs are one of the more easily replaceable components on an NFL team, and I don't support drafting them high, generally. Other needs are more critical. An ideal situation would be signing a back to a short contract to complete the Colts' rotation.
But the Colts may choose to go to the draft for a back to complete the group, which is why we're here.
Because I, and Michael Schottey, already wrote about Sims, I chose to highlight Washington's Bishop Sankey here.
Sankey was compared to Giovani Bernard by Rob Rang of CBS Sports, an all-purpose back who may not be able to take on a full-time starting role in the NFL, but one who could excel in a complementary system.
But one thing that makes Sankey unique among the "all-purpose" backs is his inside vision. As Matt Miller states in the video above, Sankey could excel as a one-cut back on inside runs, something that Donald Brown did with great success in Indianapolis in 2014.
With Brown likely departing this offseason, Sankey could come in and provide a big-play threat through the air and on the ground as a good change of pace to Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson.
Other Fits: Charles Sims, West Virginia; Marion Grice, Arizona State
Defensive Line: Best Fit, Caraun Reid
Best Fit: Caraun Reid, Princeton
The Colts are somewhat married to their starting defensive line for 2014, but desperately need pass-rushing help for the future on the line. Reid represents the best chance the Colts may have at an impact pass-rusher at their draft picks.
Reid is one of the most explosive players off the snap in this year's group of interior defensive linemen, along with Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald. Along with a phenomenal strength-size ratio, Reid has a tenacity about him that possesses him to reach the backfield at any cost. If a quarterback is holding the ball for a few extra seconds, chances are Reid will get there.
Athletic phenom. MT: @MoveTheSticks: I didn't see the West practice but a bunch of scouts were buzzing about Princeton DT Caraun Reid.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) January 21, 2014
Along with the physical traits, Reid does have a few moves, including a strong rip move that gets him into the backfield quickly. He's never going to be a space eater in the middle, but he has a chance to blow up the play at any given moment.
Other Fits: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; George Uko, USC
Inside Linebacker: Best Fit, Shayne Skov
Best Fit: Shayne Skov, Stanford
Another Stanford player could be a key target in the 2014 draft for Indianapolis, as the Colts look to find a starting inside linebacker to shore up their run defense. With a bulked up (although not elite) defensive line, the Colts saw their run defense improve, but not by much, in 2013. The Colts went from 32nd in 2012 to 22nd in 2013, according to Football Outsiders' defensive run DVOA.
A big reason why they still are below average in that category is their linebackers, all of which were inconsistent at best. Skov could change all that, bringing a hard-hitting guided missile to the linebacking corp.
With the rangy, smaller linebacker Jerrell Freeman starting alongside him, Skov would fit in well with the Colts defense. His coverage skills aren't ideal, but Freeman is the Colts' three-down linebacker already. If the Colts have a decent nickel linebacker, Skov is strong enough against the run and has enough versatility as a pass-rusher to make it work.
Skov's strength and ability to fight through blockers is something the Colts' linebacking crew has been missing for years. If the Colts are serious about their "stop the run" mentality, Skov would be an ideal addition.
Other Fits: Yawin Smallwood, UConn
Cornerback: Best Fit, Bradley Roby
Best Fit: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Last season, Roby was one of college's premier corners and looked to be building toward a sure first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. But, due to some offseason issues and inconsistent play to start the 2013 season, Roby has slipped down some draft boards, and could fall to the Colts in the second round.
If he does, Roby has to be in the Colts' sights as a long-term option at corner, especially given the injury concerns with starting cornerback Greg Toler. Roby has the size and athleticism to play in a man-coverage scheme, and can be explosive when he gets his hands on the ball.
According to NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, Roby has the skills to be able to excel in both press and off-man coverage, a difference that would make defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's job much easier. Manusky loves showing different coverage looks, and Roby would give him plenty of flexibility to work with.
One key factor for Roby: He's a willing and aggressive tackler. None of the Colts' returning defensive backs got a positive grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) against the run, and some physical tackling from the cornerbacks could be an underrated boost.
Other Fits: Pierre Desir, Lindenwood; Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Safety: Best Fit, Lamarcus Joyner
Best Fit: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
If the Colts don't look for a starting safety in free agency, they'll have to look to the early rounds of the draft to fill both short and long-term needs. With LaRon Landry already in Indianapolis, the Colts need a free safety type they can play alongside him to leave with more coverage responsibility.
Joyner can play both safety or corner, and has great instincts along with speed to be able to cover large areas of the field. Joyner accelerates incredibly quickly and can close on throws with the best of them.
While Joyner doesn't have ideal size for safety (5'8", 190 pounds), he plays aggressively and isn't afraid to be physical. With a compact build, he can still pack a punch. If the Colts are going to try to play interchangeable safeties again, Dion Bailey out of USC may be a better choice, but if the Colts want to pair Landry with a natural free safety, Joyner could be a playmaker in Indianapolis.
Other Fits: Terrence Brooks, Florida State; Dion Bailey, USC