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After the excitement of the first wave of free agency and the trades for Ryan and Ngakoue, the last few weeks have been quieter for the Colts. Indianapolis has made some free agency depth signings in Armani Watts and Rodney McLeod, but once-anticipated big moves for players like Tyrann Mathieu or Odell Beckham Jr. now seem unlikely.

Chris Ballard will undoubtedly continue to make moves until the start of the season, but the focus of fans and the front office has shifted to the draft. Ballard will feel comfortable focusing on the draft; it’s where he has made his best moves and earned his reputation. The core of this Colts team was built in the 2018 draft, and the 2020 class yielded a lot of talent, including Blackmon, Pinter, Rodgers, and notably, the two offensive stars in Pittman and Taylor. That 2020 draft also illustrates what Ballard can achieve without a first-round pick, which was traded to acquire DeForest Buckner.

Chris Ballard has some significant needs to address in the draft, but the roster already contains a lot of talent. Having seven players named to the Pro Bowl meant little when the team missed the playoffs, but it still bodes well for the future. We also shouldn’t underestimate the benefit to rookies playing alongside Quenton Nelson or Kenny Moore II.

There appears to be a broad consensus as to what needs Indianapolis must prioritize in the draft. Wide receiver must be at or near the top of the list. As good as Pittman has become, the production of other wide receivers wasn’t good enough last season. There is room for growth from Dulin, Patmon, and Strachan, and we can all (once again) hope Campbell is healthy this season. But it’s clear the Colts can’t run it back with last year’s WR corps minus Pascal and potentially TY Hilton.

The introduction of Matt Ryan will likely help improve the Colts’ production at wide receiver. Still, another major weapon is required to force defenses to divert attention away from Pittman and Taylor. Tight end is a less significant but related need. Both need to be addressed in the draft, but if the Colts go big at tight end, they can afford to do less at wide receiver and vice versa.

Cornerback was already an original need, but it became a priority after Rock Ya-Sin was traded to the Raiders in exchange for Yannick Ngakoue. There were both encouraging and disappointing moments for the Colts’ secondary last season, although Kenny Moore was generally great, and Ya-Sin and Rodgers had strong seasons. Cornerback may be one position the Colts address with a veteran free agent with players like Rhodes and Fuller still available.

Left tackle continues to be a need for Indianapolis after the retirement of Anthony Castonzo and the failure of Fisher to replace him adequately. Matt Pryor will be given the opportunity to earn the starting position this year, but it’s not clear he’s the long-term option. Even if Pryor proves worthy, the team will likely need to add depth at the position. Left tackle is a challenging position for any team to address, a task that is only made harder without a first-round draft pick. It may be that Chris Ballard looks to find his long-term LT in a future draft, but this may not be much easier if the Colts end up using future first-round picks to move up and draft their long-term quarterback.

Fortunately for the Colts, wide receiver and cornerback are two positions where real quality can be relatively easily found in the draft’s middle rounds. A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, and Michael Pittman Jr. are examples of the quality wide receivers who have been drafted outside the first round in just the last few years. It’s not as easy to find a great cornerback later in the draft, but it’s certainly easier than finding an elite left tackle or edge rusher in those later rounds.

As it stands, Indianapolis has a second, third, fourth, two fifths, a sixth, and a seventh-round draft picks this year. Their main challenge is they have three positions in WR, TE, and CB, where they need to find a starter or at least a rookie who will play a considerable number of snaps. These are all positions where you can find quality in the first three rounds of the draft, but it becomes much more of a gamble trying to fill those positions in round four and onwards. LT is a slight anomaly because the Colts may be trying to find a starter, a depth player, or a long-term prospect to be developed. It depends on how they evaluate this year’s class.

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The Colts could use the fourth-round pick to fill one of the above needs, especially if the position is also addressed in free agency. But it feels like the Colts need an extra third-round pick this year to bring in the players they need. So the obvious way to do this is to trade down to acquire that additional capital.

It helps that there aren’t that many great players at positions of need for the Colts who will likely be available at 42 but won’t be available later in the second or at the start of the third round. George Pickens is an exception who would make me think very carefully about wanting to trade down. However, you can’t enter a draft banking on a specific player still being available. Most of the top prospects expected to be on the board at 42 are positions like edge rushers or linebackers, neither of which are priorities for Indianapolis. With that being said, you never know how the board will fall. If someone like David Ojabo does slip, don’t rule out Ballard taking him.

With that uncertainty in mind, many of the players assessed as being good fits for the Colts are expected to still be on the board significantly later than their 42nd pick. Why draft a player at 42 who will likely still be available at 58? You could trade back and pick up an extra third-round pick to draft another player you want. This strategy doesn’t work if there is a particular player you’re counting on still being available if you trade back. Fortunately for the Colts, their biggest needs look to have deep classes this year.

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At wide receiver, top prospects like Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams should be gone well before the Colts make their first selection. They might even lose the opportunity to draft George Pickens, Skyy Moore, or Christian Watson if they trade back. But Alec Pierce, Calvin Austin, Jahan Dotson, or John Metchie III could still be available. Likewise, there aren’t many great cornerbacks in this year’s class, but Tariq Woolen, Alontae Taylor, Zyon McCollum, or Coby Bryant could or should be available deep into the third round.

At Tight End, Ruckert, Jelani Woods, Greg Dulcich, or Isaiah Likely could all be available in the third or fourth rounds. Left tackle is harder to predict as it is more difficult to assess whether prospects like Kellen Diesch or Max Mitchell truly have the potential to be long-term starters. The three Left tackles most likely to be long-term starters will go well before the Colts make their first selection.

Indianapolis does have several needs to address in the draft, but the prospects they draft don’t have to transform the team overnight. They need a wide receiver to get 500 receiving yards, a few touchdowns, and take pressure off Pittman and Taylor; they don’t need someone who’ll get 1,000 yards in their rookie season. Likewise, they don’t need a lockdown cornerback; they need a capable starter who can slot in alongside Moore, Rodgers, and Blackmon.

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Trading down from the 42nd pick should give Chris Ballard the best chance to find these players, especially given Ballard has a better track record at drafting talent in later rounds than most GMs in the league. I believe that trading down makes much more sense this offseason than last season when the team’s two primary needs looked to be DE and LT. Those are two positions it can be hard to address outside of the top ten, let alone outside of the first round.

Regardless of what the Colts manage to achieve in this year’s draft, it’s unlikely to make them one of the favorites to win a Super Bowl. But a successful draft could help them finally win the AFC South again and set them up for deeper playoff runs in the years to come.

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SebastianBench

I'm a Colts fan from the UK. I started supporting the Colts when me and my brother bought Madden 08 and I choose The Colts because they had the best offense and worst defense in the game. My passion for the Colts and the NFL has really bloomed over the past five years and continues to go from strength to strength. For this I can thank finding the right friends and the magic of NFL Redzone. Twitter: @BenchSebastian

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