Representing half of last year’s Super Bowl equation, the Indianapolis Colts were the major story in the NFL through 15 weeks of the regular season, sitting at 14-0 with a legitimate shot at perfection. With home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs locked up, Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell decided to rest their starters over the final two weeks, leading to consecutive losses and a 14-2 record heading into the playoffs. Losing their chance at a perfect season didn’t stop the Colts from making the Super Bowl, where they were beaten by a more complete Saints squad with one of the few NFL quarterbacks that can be discussed in the same breath as Peyton Manning in Drew Brees. As long as Manning is around the Colts will be in Super Bowl contention, but they didn’t do much to improve their team in the 2010 draft according to TFY’s Chris Tripodi.
Picking 31st overall in the first round, Indianapolis landed TCU defensive lineman Jerry Hughes. Hughes fits the Dwight Freeney-Robert Mathis mold as an undersized defensive end with a quick first step and excellent pass-rushing ability, as seen in his 26.5 sacks over his final two years at TCU. At just 6-1 and 255 pounds, his size is a limiting factor but his strong lower body allows him to explode up the field and keep his leverage to match up against bigger offensive lineman. Hughes also shows impressive quickness, body control and array of inside and outside pass-rush moves to keep lineman off balance.
With Freeney and Mathis aging and Raheem Brock released in the offseason, Hughes makes a lot of sense for the Colts, who have used the league’s top four-man pass rush to hide holes in their defensive backfield for years. Hughes will provide insurance for both Freeney and Mathis and should see lots of action in pass-rushing situations even if both are healthy and effective.
The Colts took another step to improve their defense in round two, drafting Iowa inside linebacker Pat Angerer. Angerer is great against the run, one of the Colts’ major defensive weakness, displaying the instincts and discipline necessary to fill gaps and be a consistent force in the running game. Another player who is slightly undersized at 6-0, 235 pounds, Angerer works hard to shed blocks and has enough speed to get out to the flanks as well. He also shows ability in pass coverage, intercepting 5 passes as a junior, and should fit well in the Colts’ cover 2 while improving their run defense once he takes over for fellow undersized linebacker Gary Brackett in the middle.
Third-round pick Kevin Thomas out of USC is a cornerback with good size (6-0, 192) and speed (4.44) who was a backup before the 2009 season. Thomas is a good athlete with above-average ball skills, but struggles in route recognition as a result of not starting until his senior season. He also has issues in zone coverage and might struggle to fit in the Colts’ cover 2 scheme. Thomas is far from a finished product and has the potential to play as a nickel and dime back, but Indianapolis’ lack of depth at corner after losing Marlin Jackson might force him onto the field if he’s healthy. During the first week of May Thomas severely injured his knee during mini-camp and may be lost for the season.
The Colts finally turned to offense with their fourth-round pick, drafting Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon. McClendon has great size at 6-3, 324 pounds and shows strength in the run game, but is limited athletically. He has enough quickness and mobility for an interior lineman and could improve the Colts’ running game if he can break into the lineup.
Oklahoma tight end Brody Eldridge was taken at the end of the fifth round by Indianapolis. He played center and guard for the Sooners last season and is an excellent blocker who could be turned into a lineman. His potential as a tight end is limited to being a blocker in short-yardage and goal-line situations, as he caught just 13 passes for 98 yards at Oklahoma.
Cincinnati defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews should help the Colts depth along the defensive line. While he is undersized at 6-2, 287 pounds, his athleticism allows him to be used as a one-gap lineman or in a three technique. His quick first step and ability in pursuit will give the Colts options to use him in multiple spots along their defensive front.
The Colts took another undersized linebacker with their second seventh-round pick in Clemson’s Kavell Connor. His 4.59 speed allows him to fly around the field and run downfield with tight ends and even receivers. Connor’s size limitations mean he will be best-served as a weakside linebacker at the next level, but he has the upside to develop into a starting-caliber player who fits well in the Colts defensive scheme.
Indianapolis finished their draft with Indiana cornerback Ray Fisher, whose NFL impact depends on his ability to return kicks as well as whether he can add depth to a shallow stable of cornerbacks. His speed and vision allowed him to rack up a 37.4-yard average on kick returns as a senior and should at least improve the Colts below-average kick return game and give Manning shorter fields to work with on offense.
Grade: C- As a result of their Super Bowl run, the Colts were stuck with a low pick and didn’t make any moves to acquire extra picks early in the draft. Hughes and Angerer are the only prospects from this draft that can make a major impact this season or next, when the Colts will be primed to make deep playoff runs. Thomas and Connor are projects that could develop given a few season, but that might be too late for this squad. They did add depth to their front seven, which will need to continue to provide a great pass rush and improve against the run to cover up their inexperience in the secondary. Indianapolis didn’t have much to work in terms of picks in this draft, but they didn’t make great value picks either outside of Hughes, who should contribute immediately.