Now 27 days from the 2018 NFL Draft, unflappable GM Chris Ballard is cementing his draft board in preparation for his second draft in Indianapolis. After trading back three spots with the New York Jets, and acquiring the 6th, 37th, and 49th pick in this year’s draft, as well as the Jets 2nd round pick in 2019, the Colts will have four selections in the first fifty picks. With a litany of holes and needs to choose from, here is your first Colts Authority mock draft of 2018:
Round 1, Pick 6
- The Pick: Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame
- The Measurables: 6’5”, 329 lbs., 35 bench press reps, 26.5” vertical, 105” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 12 games played, 12 starts
- 2016: 12 games played, 12 starts
- 2015: 11 games played, 12 starts
- The Reason: Before you get mad at me for this pick not being NC State’s Bradley Chubb: in my mock draft world, he was taken by the Browns with the #4 overall selection to be paired with Myles Garrett (it just makes sense that they pass on Barkley, and so would Indy at #6). Also, in my ideal world, the Colts would trade back in this situation, robbing Buffalo blind. However, this is a made up scenario, so just play along.
There may not have been a player who consistently dominated games as often or as impressively as Quenton Nelson in 2017. A three-year starter and a team captain, Nelson has been heralded by, well, everyone, as the safest, most sure-fire prospect in this class. Watching his game tape, it is easy to see why. Nelson physically overpowered pretty much everyone who he lined up against, which essentially sums up who he is as a player. Nelson is a nasty, tough player who seemed to enjoy controlling the line of scrimmage both in pass protection and in the run game. Just see what Nelson has to say for himself.
With the entire right side of the offensive line in shambles, drafting Nelson would allow the Colts to permanently kick Jack Mewhort out to right tackle, while simultaneously drafting arguably the most pro-ready player in this class. Listed as both a tackle and a guard (T/G) on the current Colts roster, Mewhort has the height (6’6”) and length (34” arms) to play tackle. Additionally Mewhort is only 26, and, when healthy, shows a great deal of potential. Drafting Nelson to put between Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly would completely solidify the left side of the line for the next few seasons (until Castonzo’s decline), and would give Luck a bona fide personal protector.
Round 2, Pick 4
- The Pick: Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State
- The Measurables: 6’4”, 256 lbs., 4.65 40 yard dash, 39.5” vertical, 124” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 141 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, 5 passes defended
- 2016: 27 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception
- 2015: 20 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass defended, 1 fumble recovery
- The Reason: Vander Esch may not be a household name, nor was he a blue-chip prospect coming out of high school, but he has quickly risen among mock draft boards over the last month or so. I have seen mocks where Vander Esch has been taken as high as 17 and as low as the 3rd While I think that Vander Esch certainly has deserving talent and could be taken in the first round, I am speculating that only having one season of starting experience in the Mountain West Conference will push him out of the first round. Regardless, Vander Esch is an absurd talent, and should not slip past the Colts if he is available.
With only John Simon, Antonio Morrison, and Anthony Walker penciled in as the Colts line backers with experience on the roster (with Jabaal Sheard and Tarell Basham seemingly transitioning to defensive end), drafting Vander Esch here would be the perfect combination of BPA & positional need, as he would probably be a week-one starter.
Vander Esch is a relentless tackler, who shows great control of his body when anticipating and diagnosing the run. Vander Esch lined up at multiple linebacker spots at Boise State, but regardless of where he was lined up, he consistently was in good position, never lost sight of the ball, and showed an adept ability to attack the ball in the air when presented with the opportunity. Watching him drop in coverage and cover both running backs and tight ends makes clear the possibilities and potential that Vander Esch shows.
Round 2, Pick 5
- The Pick: Will Hernandez, Guard, Texas – El Paso
- The Measurables: 6’2”, 348 lbs., 37 bench press reps, 24” vertical, 104” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 12 games played, 12 starts
- 2016: 12 games played, 12 starts
- 2015: 12 games played, 12 starts
- 2014: 13 games played, 13 starts
- The Reason: General Manager Chris Ballard decides to take the best player on the board here, and that just happens to be plug & play prospect Will Hernandez. Hernandez is a mammoth of a human, who simply bullies whoever lines up across from him. Though this is wishful thinking to bank on someone as talented as Hernandez falling to the 37th pick, I find it highly unlikely that Nelson, Isaiah Wynn, Billy Price, James Daniels, and Will Hernandez (all of whom are interior lineman who are consistently mocked in the first round) all get taken before the 37th
Hernandez was a 4 year starter at UTEP, and at times looked like a grown man playing against teams like UAB, UTSA, Middle Tennessee State, and North Texas. This is the biggest knock on Hernandez in my opinion, his opponent’s talent level did not always impress, and oftentimes he was able to overpower his opponent with minimal effort. No, I cannot fault Hernandez for going to UTEP and being better than his opponent, but I think this should raise enough concern to hold him out of the first round over his interior counterparts.
Though you could pick from a dreadfully long list of needs across the roster, drafting Hernandez here would have the Colts boasting a potential starting five (from left to right) of Castonzo, Nelson, Kelly, Hernandez, Mewhort – arguably the most intimidating front that the Colts will have had in a decade.
Round 2, Pick 17
- The Pick: Lorenzo Carter, Outside Linebacker / Defensive End, Georgia
- The Measurables: 6’6”, 250 lbs., 4.50 40 yard dash, 36” vertical, 130” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 62 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries
- 2016: 44 total tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recoveries, 1 touchdown
- 2015: 19 total tackles, 1 forced fumble
- 2014: 41 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
- The Reason: Using the final 2nd round pick acquired from the Jets, Ballard once again takes the best player available, this time a versatile defensive end / outside linebacker hybrid in Lorenzo Carter. For all of the talk about Roquan Smith of Georgia (deservedly so), Carter should be getting just as much hype. An impressive athlete with Madden-esque size and speed, Carter was a staple in the Bulldogs’ National Championship run in 2017. Built very similarly to former Bulldog and 1st round pick, Leonard Floyd (except faster), Carter’s physique and aggressive plays on ball carriers should pique plenty of interest in the 2nd round, if not sooner.
Carter has intimidating straight line speed, and unfair length that makes him a lethal pass rusher. One weakness that pops up with Carter (namely stemming from his tape against Alabama in the National Championship) is that once he does get engaged by a blocker, he tries to rely on his athleticism to shed the block, rather than relying on technique. This effectively took him out of most plays throughout that game, but he still showed a serious amount of effort, and always kept moving towards the ball, making a couple come-from-behind tackles in the game. Another notable weakness is that he has a slower step getting off the snap. The silver lining is that Carter’s weaknesses appear to be coachable, and he already possesses all of the physical tools needed to help him succeed at the next level.
Drafting Carter here would provide the Colts with a young, versatile EDGE defender, who would immediately compete for a starting spot for a team who needs to get younger and acquire as many pass rushers as possible.
Round 3, Pick 3
- The Pick: Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver, Colorado State
- The Measurables: 6’1”, 205 lbs., 4.51 40 yard dash, 36” vertical, 122” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 100 catches, 1,413 yards, 7 TDs
- 2016: 76 catches, 1,272, 14 TDs
- The Reason: Making no other move in free agency to acquire a receiver, other than giving 27 year old Ryan Grant a one-year contract after a bizarre failed physical voided his contract with the Ravens, the Colts desperately need a receiver to complement TY Hilton. A JUCO transfer to Colorado State, Gallup is one of the most enjoyable receivers to watch in this draft class. He is clearly a number-one type receiver and carries himself that way on the field as well. He wastes no time getting off of his routes, or getting in and out of his breaks. His routes are not as sharp or as refined as you would like to see, but he makes up for this with his quickness out of his breaks (and a knack for racking up yards after the catch, which is invaluable). I can’t help but be reminded of JuJu Smith-Schuster while watching Gallup, as they both play with an aggressive, yet fun sense of swagger. Gallup is a versatile player who can be thrown into motion, used in the screen game, and shows a mature sense of poise with his footwork in the end zone. With a deep group of receivers in this class, the third round would be ideal to snag a receiver to challenge both Grant and Chester Rogers for snaps.
Round 4, Pick 4
- The Pick: Shaquem Griffin, Outside Linebacker, Central Florida
- The Measurables: 6’1”, 227 lbs., 4.38 40 yard dash, 20 bench press reps, 117” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 74 total tackles, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception
- 2016: 92 total tackles, 11.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception
- 2015: 25 tackles, 1 interception
- 2014: 2 tackles
- 2013: 2 tackles
- The Reason: Shaquem Griffin deserves an entire book on why he deserves to be drafted, let alone a little blurb. The move to a 4-3 will require an athletic outside linebacker, (much like Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones, or Malcolm Smith) who can drop into coverage and defend the run without much disparity. Losing Barkevious Mingo to Seattle in free agency, and with both Jabaal Sheard and Tarell Basham presumably moving to a hand-in-the-dirt, 4-tech defensive end, this leaves a void with John Simon and Antonio Morrison left as the only experienced linebackers. After snagging Leighton Vander Esch at the top of the 2nd to hopefully provide some athleticism to the linebacker room, Griffin would be a perfect complement to the former. With Griffin’s 4.38 speed, it is not crazy to think that he would be able to stay on the field for nickel situations, or even to cover a receiver if needed.
With an almost identical build as Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (including the exact same 40 time), Griffin poses even more versatility than Jones, as he racked up 18.5 sacks over his last two seasons at UCF as an edge rusher. Griffin is exactly what you look for in a 4-3 outside linebacker: he has exceptional speed and strength, he does not quit on plays (nor does he take them off), he can drop into coverage, and he can rush the passer. I have seen Griffin mocked to go in the 5th & 6th round, however his physical traits, production, and versatility should boost his value.
Round 5, Pick 3
- The Pick: John Kelly, Running Back, Tennessee
- The Measurables: 5’9”, 205 lbs., 35” vertical, 120” broad jump
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 189 attempts, 778 yards, 9 TDs | 37 catches, 299 yards
- 2016: 98 attempts, 630 yards, 5 TDs | 6 catches, 51 yards
- 2015: 40 attempts, 165 yards, 1 TD
- The Reason: One of the fastest risers among #DraftTwitter seems to be running back John Kelly, and after watching him, it is evident as to why. Buried on a depth chart featuring current Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara, and physical freak Jalen Hurd, Kelly did not get to fully display his skillset until this past season. Playing on an abysmal 4-8 Volunteers team that has had a perpetual identity crisis, Kelly was nothing short of a bright spot in 2017. Kelly consistently fought for extra yardage in games that did not matter, and ran through contact. This was a common thread that I saw when watching Kelly – he was the hardest working Volunteer on any given play – when Kelly goes, so went the team. Kelly plays with an impressive amount of physicality for his size, and does not shy away from lowering his shoulder or throwing ambitious stiff arms. Kelly’s straight line quickness would not compete with Marlon Mack, however his quickness and lateral agility would be comparable.
Kelly would be a young, physical counterpart to Marlon Mack’s finesse-based skillset, who would be a fine change-of-pace back who could be trusted to consistently pick the right hole to run through. Additionally, Kelly would only be 21 years old at the season’s start, which is a nice bonus.
Round 6, Pick 4
- The Pick: Brandon Facyson, Corner, Virginia Tech
- The Measurables: 6’2”, 197 lbs., 4.53 40 yard dash, 16 bench press reps
- The Numbers:
- 2017: 19 total tackles, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended
- 2016: 48 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 11 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
- 2015: 31 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 10 passes defended
- 2014: 6 total tackles, 5 passes defended
- 2013: 27 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
- The Reason: Brandon Facyson will most likely be 24 years old before the Colts play their first game of the 2018 season, but he makes up for his *advanced* age with 4.5 speed and remarkable length as an outside corner. The Colts badly need for their young corners (namely Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston) to develop and play at a respectable level sooner rather than later, as they lost Rashaan Melvin to Oakland in free-agency and only resigned Pierre Desir to a one year contract. Facyson is a 4 year starter at Virginia Tech, and should be able to contribute immediately, albeit most likely not in a starting role. Facyson may not make consistently aggressive plays on the ball in the air, but he is almost always in good position. This should be expected of a redshirt senior who has been playing at Tech since 2013. Specifically, Facyson impressed me with how he uses his length and the sideline symbiotically, making passing windows difficult for QBs. An area he will need to improve on at the next level will be to get his hands on the ball or on the receiver’s hands as they make contact with the ball. This is evident on almost all of the catches that he allows (which I suppose is better than getting beat straight up). At Virginia Tech, he was used almost exclusively as the left, outside corner, often in man or cover 3, an asset that will be valuable to new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. One weakness that I do not love about Facyson’s game, is that in the run game, when he is finally able to get off his blocks to make a tackle, he frequently attempts to go with a high and inefficient arm tackle, which rarely works in his favor.
Round 7, Pick 3
- The Pick: Ka’Raun White, Wide Receiver, West Virginia
- The Measurables: 6’1”, 199 lbs., 33.5” vertical, 24 bench press reps, 118” broad jump
- The Numbers: (per ESPN)
- 2017: 61 catches, 1,004 yards, 12 TDs
- 2016: 48 catches, 583 yards, 5 TDs
- 2015: 15 catches, 275 yards
- The Reason: Beyond TY, both Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers are set to become free agents after the 2018 season. The Colts need to seriously consider drafting another receiver in the 2018 draft to develop in time to assume a sufficient role in the offense, if Ballard does truly believe in building through the draft. Accounting for over 25% of West Virginia’s 13th nationally ranked passing game in 2017, Ka’Raun White is one of the most intriguing and productive wide receiver prospects in this class. The younger brother of former 7th overall pick in 2015, Kevin White, and older brother of fellow draft prospect Kyzir White (projected 1st or 2nd round pick), it is abundantly clear that he comes from an athletically elite family. Aside from his family though, White is wholly impressive in his own respect. Having worked with NCAA student athletes first hand, I can attest to how difficult maintaining high grades can be. White was just as impressive in the classroom as he was on the field, as he earned Academic All-Big 12 second team during his time at WVU.
On the field, White shows tremendous ability using his hands to fight through press coverage, and frequently gets his body into indefensible positions (namely in the red zone) as he high-points the ball. This leads me to what most impresses me about White, he has incredible hands, and makes it a point to use his hands, not his body, even on routine patterns. Just check out his WVU career highlights here. White will not blow people away with his athleticism, because he is not the freak specimen that his brother Kevin is, nor will he put up the gaudy numbers of other prospects. However, White is ultra-consistent, is a sound blocker, and is a play-maker in the red zone who shows off exceptional hands
In the combine, White managed to lead the receiver group in the bench press. Sure, this may seem like an arbitrary figure, but this only furthers White’s ability as an adept run-blocker. West Virginia frequently ran long-developing outside zones from both pistol & shotgun formations to White’s side with success due to his strength, and highlights an underrated part of his game. White would be a steal in the 7th, and would fiercely compete to make the 53 man roster.
All measurables are property of NFL.com | Statistics drawn from ESPN.com & Sports-Reference.com