With less than two weeks to go until the start of the 2022 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts reminded everyone they’re not done with free agency by signing the elite cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Cornerback was generally accepted as being one of the main needs the Colts had to address this offseason. How does the signing of Gilmore change how Indianapolis prioritise getting a cornerback over a Wide Receiver or a Tight End in the draft?
It was already looking like this was a draft where Chris Ballard would focus on the offensive side of the ball. The pass rush has been addressed in recent years through trades for Deforest Buckner and Yannick Ngakoue and the drafting of Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. Cornerback looked like the one major hole in the Colts defence following the loss of Rock Ya-Sin in the trade for Ngakoue. Chris Ballard will still need to draft a cornerback at some point to develop as Gilmore’s successor, but it is less of an urgent and glaring need now. If the Colts wait until next year to draft Gilmore’s successor, there is still a case for drafting a CB in the later rounds this year to boost the depth at the position.
Gilmore’s signing makes it more likely the Colts first few selections will be skewed towards the offensive skill positions. Their defence is looking strong and their offensive line should be one of the best in the league even with a question mark at Left Tackle. Taylor and Pittman are great offensive skill players, but last season exposed the lack of talent behind them. Those groups have got weaker so far this offseason with the departures of Doyle and Pascal and with Hilton currently being unsigned. There are reasonable hopes the likes of Dulin, Strachan, Patmon and Granson can all improve significantly, but that’s unlikely to be enough.
I’d be surprised if Chris Ballard doesn’t use his first selection to take a wide receiver given how great a need it is for the Colts and how strong the position group should be for this draft. There is always the chance a great player like David Ojabo falls who Chris Ballard can’t pass on. But I think the first-round talents most likely to slip into the second round are wide receivers given the talent at the position and the relative ease of finding a great Wide Receiver. It’s far less likely that a great Left Tackle for example falls to the Colts.
I expect the Colts 3rd and 4th round picks to be more dependent on the talent left on the board. If Ballard likes someone like Tariq Woolen and they’re still available in the third round, I don’t think the Gilmore signing would stop Ballard from taking him. But signing Gilmore would affect Ballard’s decision if he had to weigh taking Woolen at CB or a player like Ruckert at TE.
Left Tackle is another need for Indianapolis that might be part of the equation. However, it is harder to guess whether the LTs who are likely to fall outside the first round are potential long-term starters. If Chris Ballard isn’t convinced a Left Tackle is the long-term solution, is he going to draft them ahead of a CB or TE he thinks will be a successful starter? I expect a Left Tackle to be drafted at some point for the Colts to boost the depth at the position, but whether the Colts try and draft a starting LT depends so much on how Ballard evaluates the prospects.
How does the Gilmore signing affect the argument for Indianapolis trading down in the draft to acquire more capital? I think it weakens the argument but doesn’t nullify it. It moves cornerback from a position you need to address with one of your first few selections, to one you can afford to address later or wait until 2023 to prioritise. That means Chris Ballard no longer needs to trade down to get another third-round pick so he can address three of WR, TE, CB and LT in the second or third rounds. However, that doesn’t mean that having the capital to address those multiple needs wouldn’t still be beneficial.
I think a lot now rests on how confident the Colts are that George Pickens will be left on the board at 42 (or close enough that they can trade up a few places to get him the way they moved up for Taylor in 2020). If Ballard is confident the Colts will be able to draft Pickens, I’d now say the ideal draft for Indianapolis would be staying put at 42 to take Pickens. They could then still address TE, CB and LT later in the draft, depending on who is left on the board for the Colts next few selections. I expect depth across the offensive line and perhaps defensive line depth will be the focus of Ballard’s last few draft selections.
As I discussed in my article on the case for trading down, it is risky to pin your draft strategy on one player being available. Therefore, the Colts may want to trade down in case Pickens isn’t available. Or wait until draft day itself to see how the board falls and try and manoeuvre a trade then.
One factor we must keep in mind is that so much of Indianapolis’ draft strategy will be determined by how Ballard and co evaluate prospects. We won’t truly know what prospects the Colts front office love until the draft itself and even then we’ll only know what the Colts think about a fraction of the players who entered the draft.
Whichever prospects the Colts love at this stage, the Gilmore signing gives them more freedom in the draft and should make Indianapolis a significantly better team in 2022. That should be enough to get Colts fans excited.