The NFL draft is still over six months away, but it is never too early to begin looking at the next crop of young talent that will enter the league next year. As fans of a “contender” team, the draft is often in the back of our minds until after the playoffs. However, the Colts do have glaring holes in their roster, as every Twitter general manager will remind you, and beginning to look at the players who could fill needs this coming April can be an exciting process. This series will feature an in-depth dive into four key positions the Colts will have to address one way or another this offseason, whether it be in the draft or free agency. The Chris Ballard way has been to be vigilant in spending as little money as possible in free agency and relying on young talent to develop. It remains to be seen if Ballard will stick to his philosophy with the current state of the roster or pony up more cash to build a more competitive team “on paper.” I took the liberty of identifying four positions that will absolutely need an upgrade this offseason and began scouting players that could fill these roles.
- Defensive End
- Wide Receiver
- Offensive Tackle
There are other positions where you could argue depth is needed, guard, tight end, safety, etc., but the four I mentioned above are the most evident. I included 6-7 players at each position that I thoroughly scouted, not all of them being the projected top picks. The Colts will most likely have a second-round pick in the spring, making scouting elite talents like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson, Evan Neal, and Derek Stingley Jr. almost pointless for our purposes. Some of these names may ring a bell, yes I’m referring to David Bell, and some may be completely new. One thing I can guarantee is that come April, these guys will be flying up draft boards and being taken earlier than currently projected. I want to get out ahead of this movement by shining the light on the talent that is only beginning to be recognized by the general fan population and maybe preview a future Colt long before you’re wearing his jersey on Sundays.
University of Lousiana
6’2 212 lbs
Games watched: Ohio University; Texas; Georgia Southern
Garner is a big corner with great length that he uses to his advantage to be physical in press coverage. Despite his size, he has deceptive catch-up speed for when he needs to stay in phase with a receiver going vertical. When tackling, Garner has a knack to punch at the ball and successfully forced a fumble against Georgia Southern. Due to his length and elite athleticism, Garner can be patient in press coverage, allowing the receiver to make his release before defending it. He hasn’t shown the tendency to be grabby or get overly excited in jamming off the line of scrimmage, limiting the number of times he’s been beaten. Despite this, Garner has 0 interceptions so far this year; however, this is mainly because the opposing quarterback rarely targets him. To continue rising up draft boards, Garner should continue to work on his tackling, as he often ducks his head or doesn’t wrap up when making a hit. This has led to multiple missed tackling opportunities. There are also times when Garner looks disinterested in tackling, especially on larger ball carriers. As he has shown on film, he can hit powerfully, but consistency will be key going forward if he wants to be a day two selection. Garner has all the tools to be a CB 2 in the league if he continues to grow aggressively in the run game and in block shedding on the outside.
Grade: Round 4-5
Pro Comp- Trill Williams
6’4 205 lbs
Games Watched: Memphis; Western Kentucky
Woolen is a massive corner listed at 6’4 205 for a resurgent UTSA team. Woolen was mentioned in Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List” for running a reported laser timed 4.34 forty. The UTSA standout was a former receiver, and along with that, has developed good ball skills to overwhelm receivers in contested catch situations. Woolen certainly can fly on tape, as his makeup speed is evident whenever he is beat off the line. This typically happens when Woolen is tasked with defending small, shifty receivers. He is relatively new to the position and, therefore, has difficulty matching quick, outside releases from time to time. As long as Woolen uses the sideline as his friend in these situations, he should find success in stopping outside release go routes going forward. Woolen isn’t consistent as a tackler, but he gives more effort than many of the other corners I studied on tape. Due to his size, Woolen frequently tackles high, which leads to ball carriers running through him from time to time. Woolen is currently a very raw player with loads of potential if he lands in the right situation. He shouldn’t be expected to contribute immediately but could be a late-round stash that turns into a gem a few years down the road.
Grade: Round 5
Pro Comp- Ifeatu Melifonwu
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
6’3 200 lbs
Games Watched: Notre Dame; South Florida
The next two players are DB’s that have been getting a lot more attention by draft media as Day 1 prospects. The first of these is the Cincinnati lockdown corner, Sauce Gardner. Gardner is primarily a boundary corner who is often playing press or press bail technique right at the line of scrimmage. Gardner often uses a two-hand jam as a stylistic preference. Some coaches may try to coach this out of him in the NFL, as effective hand swipe releases from receivers can leave him off-balanced from time to time. That being said, Garner has experience in both man and zone coverages. He is a long, rangy, athletic corner with a nose for the football, collecting an interception in both games I watched. He is very aggressive in man-to-man coverage and sticks to receivers tremendously out of their breaks. Garner is a twitchy athlete, and his mirror and match technique is fantastic. He is quite simply a lockdown corner. Where I would like to see more from Garner is in the run game. He doesn’t have a very big frame and probably needs to add more functional strength before he plays a down on Sundays. Garner doesn’t always seem interested in helping clean up tackles or get in on them in the first place. There were two different plays on film where he missed a tackle because he ducked his head or didn’t stay in his base. Garner is average when it comes to blocking destruction on the outside; however, he does a nice job keeping outside leverage on runs that break outside. Expect Chris Ballard to look long and hard at the rest of Gardner’s tackling opportunities this season on film.
Grade: Back half of Round 1
Pro Comp- Taller Byron Jones
Andrew Booth Jr.
6’0 200 lbs
Games Watched: Pittsburgh; Florida State
My favorite corner to watch was Andrew Booth Jr. of the Clemson Tigers. Booth is another great athlete with fluid hips, an underappreciated trait in cornerbacks. Booth also has experience in both man and zone coverages, and he excels in press coverage handling a variety of releases. His timing when breaking on routes is impeccable, which is important when playing in zone coverage. Booth separates himself, in my opinion, because of his physicality. Against Pittsburgh, he blew up a receiver trying to block him and pushed the player all the way back into the pass-catcher on a wide receiver screen. Booth was then able to finish the play and make the tackle. Booth is an elite competitor and fights hard on the outside when being blocked by receivers. He has shown the ability to play the slot but doesn’t have a lot of experience doing so. Booth is fluid in his transitions but sometimes “opens the gate” earlier than I expected in man coverage. This often means the receiver’s release surprised him, and he feels the need to catch up. Booth has excellent catch-up speed when he is beat and shows off his athleticism in the process. He isn’t a great tackler, but he gives effort. Booth should look to improve his awareness when the quarterback escapes the pocket, as his lack of eye discipline can allow receivers to get behind him for explosive plays. Bottom line, Andrew Booth Jr. is a top 15 talent in this draft class.
Grade: Top 15, Round 1
Pro Comp- Adoree Jackson
Next time: Kaiir Elam- Florida, Jermaine Waller- Virginia Tech, Trent McDuffie- Washington