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The NFL’s preeminent scouting Bowl games have since concluded and the NFL Combine looms on the horizon. Chris Ballard and his scouting staff will have an opportunity to mold the roster to fit Shane Steichen’s scheme. Who will the Colts pick in the 2023 NFL Draft? Jay Robins might have the answers…

Round 1 | CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State

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Before anyone asks, no I am not projecting the Colts to trade up for a QB in this mock. The Bears do make a natural trade partner with GM Ryan Poles’ connection to Chris Ballard from their Kansas City days and HC Matt Eberflus’ tenure as the Colts DC from 2018-2021. However, unless the Colts view one QB as a whole tier above the rest, they have little incentive to move up. Frankly, guessing trade compensation for this has been an exhausting endeavor. Some are fairly reasonable. Others are a tad delusional.

The 2023 QB class has 4 QBs worthy of 1st Round picks. Bryce Young has a ton of tools but his smaller frame does leave some durability concerns. Will Levis and Anthony Richardson represent two tantalizing prospects with high athletic upside, but glaring inconsistencies. Ballard could fall in love with any of these prospects based on their athletic traits.

If he wants a highly accurate and smart decision-making QB who checks the size, toughness, and leadership boxes: CJ Stroud is Ballard’s guy in this class. He might not have the athletic potential as the others in this class, but Stroud showcased enough escapability, arm strength, and decisiveness against the vaunted Georgia Defense in the NCAA playoffs.

If Ballard wants to make the safe pick on a QB that can lead an offense and won’t get him fired, CJ Stroud should be the pick.

Round 2 | John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota

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After being one of the most dominant units in the NFL from 2018-2020, the Colts’ offensive line has regressed in the last 2 years. 2022 in particular was ugly at times, and the Colts finished the season allowing 60 sacks. There were many reasons for this regression, but the most egregious one: Miscommunication. All too frequently, unaccounted rushers hit the QB, either due to QB, iOL, RB, or TE not knowing their blocking assignments.

With Raimann’s 2nd half of 2022 development potentially solving the Colts’ LT hole and Nelson + Smith’s contracts likely locking them into another year with the Colts, change needs to happen. A new QB and Head Coach combo could help with the communication issues, but typically the OL in charge of making sure everyone on the same page is the Center. Ryan Kelly’s age (30 in 2023), contract ($4.5m dead cap hit, $7.875m freed 2023 cap if cut/released), and declining play (8 sacks and 54 pressures allowed 2021-2022) could indicate that change coming at Center.

Should the Colts choose to move on from their veteran center, they could select the top C prospect in the 2023 class: John Michael Schmitz. After all, there is a ton to love about his portfolio:

  • 1 sack allowed in 2,500 career snaps
  • One of the Best Zone Blockers in years
  • Strong base and hands
  • Polished technique with footwork and hand placement in sync
  • Smart player
  • Gets out in space with solid athleticism
  • Clean bill of health
  • Named Senior Bowl Captain

The only concern on his resume is he might not be quite the elite athlete as some other former top C specimen like Creed Humphrey. After watching both his tape and Senior Bowl performances, it is fair to say that is far from an issue with JMS routinely making plays in space and on the move while boasting a 320lb frame.

Take John Michael Schmitz in Round 2, and the Colts will have solved their Center position for the next ~10 years.

Round 3 (WAS) | Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State

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If there is one thing Chris Ballard should be known for: it’s that he LOVES long, freak athletes on the edge. With Yannick Ngakoue, Tyquan Lewis, and Ben Banogu all unrestricted free agents, there is a likely need for depth at DE. Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo are entering year 3 on the precipice of breakout seasons, but the Colts need further depth in the rotation.

With a very deep DE Class in the 2023 draft, there will be some value in Day 2 pass rushers. Zach Harrison likely will be one of them with his freakish athletic profile but inconsistent production. The 6’6, 270lb DE has an insane reported length (35.75″ arms) to go along with 4.47 (as of High School) speed. Unfortunately, the highly recruited former 5-star player never quite put it together in Ohio State as a pass rusher, getting only 12 sacks in 4 years.

A bit of a tweener as he can be used as either a Leo/Jack role if he slims down or be a DE/3 Technique DT if he bulks up, there is potential to use his athleticism in a variety of ways. He might not be the most naturally bendy or flexible rusher with a bull rush style. However, with a handful of moves in his arsenal yet lacking in counters, he has shown flashes of success.

Harrison’s two-sack game versus Maryland stands out, as both came toward the end of the game and in dramatic fashion.

His game vs. Iowa was highly touted by PFF as well. Hawkeyes fans still have nightmares of him.

Harrison has some enticing potential athletically, but he needs to have a properly defined role carved out. He has run-stuffing ability and some tools to work with in pass rushing combined with an explosive first step and dynamic length to get separation from linemen. The ceiling has always been an elite pass rusher and Edge, but even if he never gets there Harrison has the ability to be a strong rotational piece to start his career. I wouldn’t mind seeing him take over some of fellow former Buckeye Tyquan Lewis’ snap counts and seeing what he can turn into.


Round 4 | Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina

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The Colts’ cornerback room is heading toward a state of transition. Stephon Gilmore & Isaiah Rodgers Sr. both thrived in Gus Bradley’s scheme, but the former will be 33 in 2023. Kenny Moore II, unfortunately, seemed like a poor scheme fit in the new system, and like Gilmore is on an expiring contract after 2023. Moore II might even be on the trade block if contract negotiations break down. With so much uncertainty post-2023, it makes sense for the Colts to add another CB to the room.

A hallmark of Chris Ballard’s evaluation process has been long and lanky athletes on defense. And Darius Rush certainly fits the bill with a 6’2, 200lb frame bolstered with ~33″ arms and 21.65mph top speed in the Senior Bowl (fastest recorded in 2023, 8th fastest all time since tracking began). More than just the physical tools, Darius might be Rushing (pun-intended unapologetically) up draft boards after his stellar performance in the Senior Bowl.

A former WR converted to CB, Rush displays a smart and instinctive style to mirror and match opposing WR’s routes. His ability to read both the route as well as a Quarterback’s eyes has been remarkable, showing a lot of playmaking potential.

Darius Rush might have gotten overshadowed by his fellow Gamecock CB Cam Smith in college, but he still flashed excellent coverage skills on tape as the CB2. With 3 INTs and 15 deflections since 2021 considering he was only targeted 70 times in that 2-year stretch. His fluidity despite his size is pretty remarkable, and combined with his length helped him allow just 48.6% of his targets caught in his career, including just 41% in 2021. Add to all of this a vocal leader and Special teams gunner experience and there is a lot to like about his profile.

The downside to Rush is his inconsistencies in tackling, versus the run, and a bit of an injury history. He has some issues shedding blocks as well as taking some poor angles against ball carriers in the run. Rush’s injuries include a red-shirted freshman year, a spring 2021 shoulder injury, and some hamstring issues in 2022. Assuming his medicals turn out well in the Combine (which after his Senior Bowl performance I would expect they should) this shouldn’t be a problem, but it is something to take note of which could limit his draft stock rise.

Round 5 | Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia

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Dontayvion Wicks has been a bit of a polarizing player to evaluate. On the one hand, he is one of the most detailed and smooth route runners in this class. Pairing a 6’2 frame with a strong release package and crisp routes can make a WR rise fast on boards. Especially when said WR puts on a clinic at the Senior Bowl, even winning reps vs Cam Rush and Indianapolis-native Julius Brents in the Senior Bowl.

However, there were times left something to be desired on tape vs press, (Ex: getting completely shutdown vs Devon Witherspoon against Illinois), and additionally had one of the worst drop rates in college football in 2022. Despite his large frame, arm swipes, while he was attempting catches, caused drops far too often. Strength at the catch point needs to be developed if he wants any chance to maximize his frame in contested catch situations. Simply put: Wicks knows how to get open, but needs to work on catching consistently.

Wicks can be a dynamic playmaker in space, with YAC ability and deep separation skills in his route running leading to an 18.8ypc career average at Virginia. His Junior year tape was very strong, with a 1200-yard and 9 TD season on just 57 catches. His hands looked markedly better that year too. However, in 2022 he had a severe regression before ending the year with a bone bruise injury. The Senior Bowl performance was highly encouraging, but is it enough to help him rise after his disastrous 2022 season? If teams think that Senior Bowl and 2021 season is more reflective of his skillset and abilities, Wicks could rise to be a top 100 pick. If not, Wicks might be a Day 3 WR in yet another deep class of receivers.

Round 5 (BUF) | Chandler Zavala, G, NC State

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The Colts double-dip on interior offensive line in this draft. After getting John Michael Schmitz in round 2 as a starter, the Colts hope to add to the RG competition in Chandler Zavala. The 6’3, 310lb Guard certainly has the promise to be an answer at the other Guard spot besides Quenton Nelson.

Chandler Zavala had an unorthodox journey in college, starting from humble origins in Fairmont State before transferring to NC State for his Junior year. Once he got to NC State, Zavala had a strong end to his career, with 0 sacks and 1 QB Hit allowed in 615 passing snaps. In the run game, Zavala also shone brightly, with a solid run-blocking grade of 73.4 (particularly dominating in zone with a 79.1 grade). His impact was sorely missed at the end of 2021 when he went out with a back injury to end the season. in the 5 games he played the Wolfpack averaged 172 rushing yards. In the 7 games without him, that average went down to just 93 yards.

Considering the late blooming after transferring, the subsequent smaller sample size of being a 2-year DI starter, and his shoulder injury, Zavala could wind up taken at the top of Day 3. However, after a strong week at the Shrine Bowl getting rave reviews, he might not stay as a hidden gem of a Guard for much longer.

Round 7 | Noah Daniels, CB, TCU

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Noah Daniels is another highly polarizing talent in this draft class. On one hand, there is plenty of talent, athleticism, & instincts to make teams want to run up to the podium and take him early. On the other, there is a near-tragic amount of injuries in his collegiate career. After a redshirted freshman year in 2017, Daniels missed all of 2019 with a preseason injury, played only 4 games in 2020, as well as 5 games in each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons (despite seeing playing time in 5 games in ’22, he only saw 40 snaps). With such a limited sample size and lengthy injury history in the last 4 years, it is easy to see why some teams might have Daniels off their boards entirely.

However, the one year that Noah Daniels played the entire season in 2018 was something special. A 6’0 210lb Corner with 33″ arms with 4.27 speed, the ability to play inside or outside CB, can cover in man and zone with strong press ability, and displayed the skill to shutdown opposing WR1s? That sounded like an easy 1st round-caliber player.

The question is how much of that athleticism is still there, and can Daniels finally shrug off the injury bug? When Daniels is healthy and at his A game, he would likely be one of the top 3 CBs in a really stacked class this year. The potential is there for Daniels. The problem is that after so long of not seeing that version of Daniels, there is a legitimate concern that he might never be that level of player again.

Some teams might be willing to roll that dice on Day 3 of the draft, others might not want to draft him at all. If Daniels is available in Round 7, I am willing to roll that dice for the upside at that price.

Round 7 (TB) | Devonnsha Maxwell, DL, Chattanooga

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Devonnsha Maxwell may be the smallest school prospect in this mock draft, but his career is highly decorated out of Chattanooga. The 2021 SoCon DPOY has made it to 4 straight All-Conference 1st Teams as he racked up a record for the most sacks in its history (37.5). How did this scrappy Mocs player get such a dominant career?

Despite a 6’1 frame, Devonnsha has a 299 lb frame and 34″ arms. The old adage “low man wins” in the trenches is true as he is able to have natural leverage against most OL he faces. Maxwell displays a good first step and strong hand-fighting techniques to get separation from linemen, and his favorite move seems to be a spin move. In spite of his large size, Chattanooga used him not solely in the interior. Maxwell was used both as a DT and an Edge rusher. He was a strong gap plugger in the run game against FCS competition and continued to do so even against stronger opponents like Illinois. With enough tools, dominant production against smaller competition, and a clean bill of health, taking a flier on Maxwell late seems like a worthwhile endeavor.


Jay Robins

Twitter: @RobinsLucas Instagram: Lucas._.Robins

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