The NFL Combine is now behind us and with it, we’ve taken another step toward the 2023 NFL Draft. It will be the most exciting draft for Indianapolis since 2012, as the Colts look set to take a swing at finding their franchise Quarterback with their 4th overall pick (as it currently stands).
However, in this article, I’m less interested in which QB the Colts might take. Instead, I’ll be focusing on who else they might be targeting in this draft class and in particular who they might take with their 2nd round pick.
Given that the Colts’ second-round pick is the 35th overall pick in the draft, there is a good chance Indianapolis will have the opportunity to draft a first-round talent that has been passed over by teams with late first-round picks because they don’t fit those teams’ needs or style of play.
I will be considering in this article what the Colts’ biggest positions of need are and whether those needs could be addressed in free agency instead of the draft. To help judge prospects and the likelihood they’ll be available when Indianapolis is on the clock, I’ll be referring to Dane Brugler of the Athletic’s top 100 prospects list, alongside PFF’s Mock Draft Rank (not their ADP). However, in some cases, I do retain some wishful thinking in hoping players projected to be drafted at the end of the first round are still there at the start of the second.
But without further ado, who are ‘my guys’ for the Colts in this year’s draft?
O’Cyrus Torrence, Guard, Florida (Dane Brugler: 28, PFF:39)
RAS Score: 6.17 (as a Guard)
The Colts desperately need to improve their Offensive Line this offseason after a disastrous year for the unit. Some of that improvement should come from new Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano Jr getting better performances out of existing talent. But they will also need to bring new talent through the door.
I can’t see Indianapolis moving on from Nelson or Smith, whilst Raimann had an encouraging if challenging debut season. A change at Center is possible, but I think Right Guard is the position the Colts are most likely to try to upgrade.
Torrence would be a fine player and wouldn’t add to the already excessive cost of the Offensive Line. Torrence is the kind of player who could start immediately in the NFL, which would be important for a team that will likely be asking him to protect a rookie QB.
— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2023
However, I’m not convinced Torrence will still be on the board when the Colts make their second-round selection. Torrence is the best Guard in this draft class and there are a few teams in the back end of the first round who I can see taking him. If he is indeed off the board by the 35th pick, Steve Avila from TCU would be another option at Right Guard, and can also play Center.
On the other hand, I could see Indianapolis seeking to address Right Guard in free agency instead. Philadelphia Eagles Guard Isaac Seumalo would make sense and I think RG is a much easier need to address through free agency than some of the other positions the Colts need to target this offseason.
Nolan Smith, Edge Rusher, Georgia (Dane Brugler: 19, PFF: 21)
Speaking of positions I expect to be difficult to fill in free agency, we move on to edge rusher. The Colts only have Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo on the roster for next season at present. While both have made encouraging starts to their NFL careers, the team desperately needs more depth and quality at such an important position.
The need could be lessened by re-signing Yannick Ngakoue (likely to a cheaper deal) and re-signing Ifeadi Odenigbo, who I thought was a really good depth DE before he departed last season. However, if Chris Ballard doesn’t resign Ngakoue or bring in a similar alternative, Defensive End will be one of this team’s primary needs this offseason. Even if Ngakoue is re-signed, more depth will likely be needed as there are doubts Ngakoue can be an every-down player.
I’ve put Nolan Smith down for this position more in hope than expectation that he’ll still be there at 35. Both Dane Brugler and PFF expect him to be drafted earlier, but the number of edge rushers who could be drafted in late round one and round two means there’s a significant chance teams will fall in love with another prospect instead.
The main knock against Smith is his lack of production in Georgia’s defense, but there are some extenuating circumstances and he’s got great potential. He certainly increased his stock at the combine as he showed off his speed and athleticism.
4.44u@GeorgiaFootball DL Nolan Smith is out of this world.
— NFL (@NFL) March 2, 2023
If Smith is off the board, there are a number of alternatives The Colts could pursue. Derrick Hall has some technical flaws but exceptional intangibles, BJ Ojulari has great speed and Zach Harrison has the kind of wingspan we all know Chris Ballard loves.
The key thing will of course be how much Ballard and his team rate each edge rusher prospect. But whoever they prefer, I currently expect Indianapolis to take an edge rusher with the 35th pick.
Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia (Dane Brugler: 29, PFF: 71)
RAS Score: 9.88 (compared to ND’s Michael Mayer)
This brings me on to probably the most ‘my guy’ of all the prospects in this draft class. I fear the Colts will be unable to draft Washington because they have to prioritize other needs like edge rusher. However, if they do draft Washington I’d be delighted. It would be especially sweet if his PFF ranking is close to the truth and Washington turns out to still be available with the Colts’ third-round, 79th pick.
The Tight End room is a young group for the Colts, but one with a lot of potential. Jelani Woods showed some really positive signs on the limited opportunities he was given last year and will need to be used more in his second season. There were rave reviews for Drew Ogletree before his preseason injury and Kylen Granson has played pretty well. I don’t expect Mo Allie-Cox to be on the roster next year.
Darnell Washington’s value to the Tight End room would come through his impressive blocking skills. It’s a skill the Colts have badly missed since Jack Doyle retired and would really help get their anemic YAC game performing better next year.
At 6-7 and 280 pounds, I’d also relish the prospect of Washington being used in two TE sets alongside Woods or Ogletree. That size certainly helps him be such a good blocker, but also gives him potential as a receiver. Washington is another example of a player who surely moved up draft boards at the combine by showing off his exceptional athletic talents.
OH MY, DARNELL WASHINGTON.
WHAT A CATCH. @GeorgiaFootball
— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2023
Given this Colts offense needs to significantly improve in both the trenches and at the skill positions, drafting a Tight End seems to be a good way to partially address both those needs by getting yourself a prospect who can do a bit of both. I would also like the fit of having a massive, receiving TE in Woods and a massive, blocking TE in Washington on the same roster.
I don’t think there’s another Tight End in this draft class who quite brings to the table what Washington does. But Michael Mayer, Dalton Kincaid, and Luke Musgrave seem to be the other Tight Ends considered the top 4 TEs in this class. As with DE in this year’s class, it’ll be difficult to tell exactly how various teams rank these prospects compared to each other.
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia (Dane Brugler: 32 PFF: 74)
RAS Score: 9.65 (compared to SC’s Darius Rush)
Cornerback could be one of the team’s more significant needs this offseason, although just how big a need it is will largely depend on how free agency goes. If they keep Stephon Gilmore and/or re-sign Rock Ya-Sin, it will be more of an issue of improving the depth of the position. If they don’t make those kinds of moves in free agency, they’ll be looking to find a starting CB in the draft.
If the Colts are searching for a starting Cornerback, there should be plenty of options they might want in the second round. At the risk of mentioning too many Georgia players, Kelee Ringo should be a prime candidate. Ringo is considered one of the best athletes in the entire draft and illustrated his athleticism at the combine. And we know how much Ballard loves athleticism. That being said, there are criticisms of Ringo’s anticipation and he may have work to do once he gets to the NFL to get up to speed to start games.
4.36 for Georgia DB Kelee Ringo@GeorgiaFootball continues to dominate the combine 💪
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) March 3, 2023
If Indianapolis wants to go for a different Cornerback in round two, then Deontae Banks and Emmanuel Forbes are two possible candidates. I know a lot of Colts fans also love Darius Rush for the Colts this year. He’s currently ranked 79th on Brugler’s list, so he may be an excellent fit for a third-round selection. As you can see, Rush is also insanely athletic.
At this stage, I’d be surprised if the Colts pick a Cornerback in the second round. I don’t think it’s as great a position of need as some of the others I’ve mentioned, and it tends to be easier to get good secondary players in later rounds than it is edge rushers for example. I do expect Chris Ballard to draft a CB this year, but think the 3rd or 4th round selections are more likely times for them to be taken. That being said, if the right talent falls down the board, the Colts won’t be afraid to take them.
Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina (Dane Brugler: 45 PFF: 30)
RAS Score: 7.82 (compared to Cincinnati’s Tyler Scott)
The Colts need to improve at skill positions, even if their young receiving corps didn’t really have a chance to showcase their potential given the catastrophic issues at QB and O-Line. We know Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. can be great weapons while rookies Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods showed flashes of what they can achieve. However, the group looks a long way off from elite units like the Cincinnati Bengals, and any offense that performs as poorly as the Colts’ did last season needs to improve at every level.
One way to give the Colts a more threatening receiving corps would be to draft Josh Downs. He’d be smaller than the typical Colts WR but has strong route running and great hands. Those attributes could provide a good balance to Pittman Jr. and Pierce’s skills and make him a valued and reliable weapon from Day 1 for whoever the Colts draft at QB.
So smooth from Josh Downs. pic.twitter.com/1hNw8Wgymy
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) March 4, 2023
That being said, I think a wide receiver is far down the list of the Colts’ offensive priorities this offseason. Getting the right Quarterback and giving them an Offensive Line capable of keeping them upright has to be the focus. Without sorting those two issues, talent at the skill positions won’t really matter. There is also a reasonable chance the group gets better anyway through Pierce and Woods making a jump in their second years in the league.
I think it’s more likely Indianapolis take a WR in the 3rd round than in the 2nd. Although as I mentioned earlier, they may want to use that 3rd round pick on a CB. If the Colts do look to draft a WR in the third round, the likes of Tyler Scott, Marvin Mims, and Cedric Tillman could be available and are solid value options. Although both Downs and Scott would be atypical of the kind of WR that GM Chris Ballard likes to target, we could very well see a change of philosophy from Ballard this offseason after a seat-warming campaign in 2022.
There are a number of excellent Wide Receiver prospects I’m expecting to be taken in the first round, including Jordan Addison, Quentin Johnson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. If one of these receivers falls to 35, they might be too good for Ballard to pass up.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised if Indianapolis gives their receiving corps a modest boost in free agency. I’m not expecting a blockbuster signing, but securing someone like Robert Woods could give the group more depth (and blocking skill) without breaking the bank.
These are all merely prospects I like. Guessing which players Chris Ballard will actually draft is a different ballgame entirely. Although if we’ve learned anything from his time as GM so far, it’s that he loves elite physical traits and trading back in the draft to secure more capital. With that in mind, he’ll probably end up trading back from 35 and rendering most of these suggestions redundant. Until that happens, I look forward to continuing to speculate with you as to what the Colts will do in the draft.